Salud Saturday: The Healing Power of Faith

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Guest post by Laura Tellado (@Laurita86)

We’re not human beings that have occasional spiritual experiences — it’s the other way round: we’re spiritual beings that have occasional human experiences. -Deepak Chopra

Whether you are Spanish, Mexican, Argentinian, Puerto Rican, or Dominican, there is no denying that religion and spirituality have played an integral role in every aspect of our culture.

On Día de los Muertos, Mexicans celebrate and pray for ancestors who have passed away. Altars are often built to commemorate the deceased. In Puerto Rico, many school children have their spring break during Holy Week, in pious observance of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And for the many Christian Catholics in Latin America, it is tradition to gather in praying the Holy Rosary for a recently deceased or ill loved one. Often a novena will be offered for someone, which consists of praying the Rosary on nine consecutive nights.

Indeed, some of the most painful as well as joyous occasions in my family have been marked by a religious ceremony. As my grandfather lay dying of cancer, he was surrounded by his grown children and grandchildren, who joined hands in devout prayer for his soul, which remained in a limbo between life and death, until he finally passed.

Recent studies have shown that the human focus on spirituality and prayer has not been in vain. Research published in many different peer-reviewed journals indicate that a sense of faith in a higher power can help heal or at least comfort us during our times of greatest trial.

According to a study published in Baylor University Medical Center’s journal Proceedings in 2001, “Some observational studies suggest that people who have regular spiritual practices tend to live longer.”

In another study analyzing the effects of spirituality among Latinos and Latinas, it was found that “religious attendance was associated with psychological well-being across 3 generations of Mexican American families and with physical health.”

But other studies show that faith and spirituality do more than just keep us happy and psychologically stable— the spiritual component of our lifestyle also helps us to survive and overcome very dire circumstances. A study conducted by the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio zeroed in on the religiosity and spirituality (R/S) of 117 Latinas who survived breast cancer.

The Latinas surveyed in the study were evaluated on their level of spirituality using the Systems of Belief Inventory. The results indicated that Latina breast cancer survivors with a high level of R/S positively correlated with their health-related quality of life. The findings suggest that, indeed, there is, well, a reason to believe.

On March 10th, the LATISM community gathered online to discuss spirituality in our culture. There was a vast amount of differences, but I think our similarities trumped them. A cross-section of our denominations might reveal Judaism, Christianity, Islam, spiritism, and/or a loose interpretation of many beliefs. (Superstition also plays a big part for many Latinos, regardless of religious affiliation!)

An article published on the American Psychological Association Web site highlights just what a pivotal role spirituality plays in Latino lifestyle when it comes to mental health, too. Psychologists whose Latino clients are more religious or spiritual are being encouraged to recommend to their patients that they seek guidance from a spiritual leader in addition to their mental health practitioners.

This is not to say that anyone should neglect physical, mental or emotional symptoms that may be indicative of a serious condition. But it is encouraging to learn that the spiritual component of our lives helps us to stay healthy to a certain degree. It reaffirms my longtime hunch that a belief in something positive can help anyone cope with an illness or trial.

But there is a vast amount of diverse, often conflicting, belief systems and sets of ideologies. Which should we buy into that will positively influence our health? My answer is simple: whatever keeps you warm at night.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laura Tellado is a journalist/blogger from Puerto Rico dedicated to generate public awareness of Spina Bifida, a neural tube defect of the spinal cord that is the #1 cause of paralysis in children in America. Follow Laura on Twitter @Laurita86. Read more about her campaign at her blog: http://holdinoutforahero.org/

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