Can Spirituality Protect Against Negative Emotions in Heart Disease?

By: Traci Pedersen

There is no doubt how strongly our negative emotions affect our physiology. When we feel anxious, there is a gnawing sensation in our gut. When depressed, our whole body seems to slow down into deep fatigue — our thinking becomes sluggish and cloudy. Even heart attacks have been tied to rage and suppressed anger. But once these negative feelings have settled into physical symptoms and disease, can spirituality (a force of positive emotions) help us heal emotionally?

In a new study, researchers examined the connection between negative emotions in patients with coronary heart disease (CHD) and seven dimensions of spirituality. Not only do feelings of anger, anxiety and depression contribute to CHD, but these emotions tend to remain prominent as the disease progresses.

The research involved 293 individuals with CHD who were being treated at one of the three largest hospitals in Bandung, Indonesia. The participants answered widely-used psychological tests to measure levels of depression, anxiety, anger and social support.

They also completed the Spiritual Attitude and Involvement List (SAIL). This test measures a person’s attitudes on seven dimensions of spirituality: meaningfulness, trust, acceptance, caring for others, connectedness with nature, transcendent experiences and spiritual activities.

On a scale of 1 to 6, patients rated how strongly they agreed with 26 statements about their spiritual lives, including the following:

  • I approach the world with trust .
  • Whatever happens, I am able to cope with life.
  • When I am in nature, I feel a sense of connection.
  • I have had experiences in which I seemed to merge with a power or force greater than myself.
  • I meditate or pray, or take time in other ways to find inner peace.

The researchers discovered that patients with higher overall levels of spirituality had fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety and anger. There were surprisingly specific connections as well. For example, high levels of trust were strongly related to fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. Higher levels of caring for others and spiritual activities were linked to less anxiety, and higher levels of connectedness with nature were tied to fewer feelings of anger.

The study, entitled “Spirituality and Negative Emotions in Individuals with Coronary Heart Disease” reveals the unique, important roles that specific spiritual attributes can play in helping us guard against negative emotions. It is published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing .

And although these particular findings relate to patients with coronary heart disease, the connection between spirituality and emotions (and their subsequent effects on physiology) applies to everyone. Gently replacing our negative feelings with thoughts of meaningfulness, caring for others and spiritual activities can work wonders.

As healer and author Karla McLaren said “When your emotions are allowed to take their proper place in your whole life, all healing is possible, because all energy is available.” In other words… As within, so without .

Traci Pedersen is a professional freelance writer who specializes in psychology, science, health, and spiritual themes. Some of her most recent work includes covering the latest research news in science and psychology, writing science chapter books for elementary students, and developing teacher resource books. When she is not researching and writing, she is spending time with her family, reading anything and everything, and going to the beach as often as possible.


Shift into Freedom: The Science and Practice of Open-Hearted Awareness by Loch Kelly

It is possible to access the same sense of well-being, clarity, inner freedom, and loving connection realized by the world’s meditation masters. We can do this by shifting our awareness in the midst of our daily lives. Shift into Freedom presents innovative teacher Loch Kelly’s training manual for actively participating in the evolution of your own consciousness.

Synthesizing insights from neuroscience and psychology with wisdom from the world’s contemplative traditions, Shift into Freedom offers an accessible and remarkably powerful series of meditations that lead us to a little-known natural capacity called “awake awareness.” Through an unfolding process of “small glimpses, many times,” these exercises shift us from a thought-based knowing to an awareness-based way of operating in the world. With continued practice, we learn to “unhook” from our customary home in our ego-based identity-and then sustain an embodied presence and relatedness known as “open-hearted awareness.” Loch Kelly teaches that is “the meeting place of awakening and growing up, where we have the capacity to handle a fully emotional, intimate life and act with authenticity and compassion.”

Learn more about:

  • How to separate awareness from thinking to realize that thoughts and emotions are not the center of who we are
  • How insights from neuroscience can help us learn how to embody awakening
  • Ego-identification, a pattern of thought that co-opts the body’s boundary program and creates a mistaken identity
  • The paradox of “being home while returning home”
  • Finding the off-switch for the chattering mind
  • How to intentionally and immediately shift into peace of mind any time of your day
  • Awakening as a natural process of human development, which unfolds as waking up, waking in, and waking out
  • Meditation practices for all phases of the journey of awakening and embodiment
  • Four stages of spiritual growth: recognition, realization, stabilization, and expression
  • Untying the “knots” in our mindbody system to liberate us from our deepest doubts and fears
  • How to move from deliberate mindfulness to effortless mindfulness and heart mindfulness
  • How to effortlessly focus without using attention
  • Discovering your innate happiness that is not dependent on circumstances
  • How to welcome and liberate sub-personalities after initial awakening
  • A user’s manual for your consciousness to help you free yourself from the limits of ego-identification and live from open-hearted awareness

Loch Kelly, MDiv, LCSW, is a teacher, consultant, and leader in the field of meditation and psychotherapy who was asked to teach by Mingyur Rinpoche and Adyashanti. The founder of the Open-Hearted Awareness Institute, he is an emerging voice in modernizing meditation, social engagement, and collaborating with neuroscientists to study how awareness training can enhance compassion and well-being.
Loch Kelly: Falling Awake

Loch describes how awakening is not something you can accomplish. Awake awareness is our natural condition and is equally available in each of us, as each of us now. We can learn how to intentionally shift awareness so that our true nature becomes primary, which changes how we view everything.
Loch Kelly – Awakening: A View with Some Room

This is a wonderful video from one of Loch’s classes. He describes in a beautifully simple way how we move from a limited, ego-centered view to an awake, spacious, and embodied feeling of Being. It’s not an animated video, but you will enjoy Loch’s animated style of communicating to you.

“The Journey After Awakening” Adyashanti & Loch Kelly

Awakening to our true nature does not mark the end of the spiritual path—it’s just the beginning. In this intimate and compelling dialogue, Adyashanti and Loch Kelly explore the journey after awakening.

Adyashanti, author of Emptiness Dancing, The Impact of Awakening, and True Meditation, dares all seekers of peace and freedom to take the possibility of liberation seriously. His spontaneous and direct teachings have opened the door for many seekers to awaken to their true nature and live an awakened life.

Loch Kelly, founder of the natural Wakefulness Center in New York City, has practiced nondual psychotherapy and taught meditation for twenty years. Invited to teach the direct path by Adyashanti, Loch offers a unique experiential teaching to assist in the recognition, realization, and full embodiment of our true nature.

Dissolving Tensions in the Body in the Light of Awareness

Published on May 26, 2015

A discussion addressing tensions in the body during yoga meditation.

For access to the full length video click here:…

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