Spirituality is a complicated topic to tackle, and many people have their own ideas about what it means. It’s even made a bit of comeback recently, with millennials and Gen Z’ers embracing their spirituality…while also embracing the science behind it. When it comes to spirituality’s connection with science, it can seem even more complicated, but you can actually use science to enhance spirituality and explore the spiritual connections you’re looking for as an open-minded beginner.
That’s exactly why we’ve created this science-based spirituality guide to conscious connection, to share how science and spirituality connect, the empirically-proven benefits of spirituality, and how you can improve your mental health by understanding the spiritual and scientific connection. Let’s get to it!
What is Spirituality?
Spirituality simply describes a conscious connection with something bigger than ourselves, whether it comes from a supreme deity in religion, artistry, nature, relationships or other inspiring powers. In scientific literature, due to its inability to be measured as physical matter like most elements that make up the body are, spirit is described as something incorporeal; meaning that its true essence exists free from physical convention.
And in religious scriptures, spirit refers to the part of a human being that connects and communicates with a deity (a perceivably supreme character in existence beyond what’s physically observable).
By dictionary definition, it’s categorised in three similar, separate, senses:
- Way of feeling – “her spirit was dampened”
- Not of body – “he’s still with me but in spirit”
- Of energy – “they performed with great spirit”
Even if someone doesn’t consider themselves as spiritual, they can still experience a feeling of spiritual connectedness, whether it be a sacred moment or just the feeling of being “in the flow.” Whatever it is, it helps people find meaning within their lives, ultimately making it a universal human experience.
Though sometimes confused with religion, spirituality offers a broader understanding of our connection with the transcendent aspects of life. And though it sounds simple, if in their beliefs, someone will label or define the experience as “spiritual” – which differentiates the experience from others which are regarded as “non-spiritual.”
Spirituality allows us to give up some control over our own life to a higher power or universal consciousness or energy, which can lead to relief, inspiration, and a sense of purpose.
How are Science and Spirituality Connected?
Science and spirituality are connected in a variety of ways.
For one, the insights from science can lead to spiritual revelations. For example, with the advent of new technologies in logic, math, and scientific experimentation, many people have seen a new way to see God (whatever your definition). The scientific method has led to a new religious movement in the United States known as “hard religion,” which is a way of relating to spirituality in a scientific way. One of our favourite books on the topic is God and the New Physics. Author Paul Davies does an excellent job weaving together the pillars of quantum theory and religion – proving that spirituality and science are two sides of the same coin.
At first glance, people might consider science and spirituality at odds, but if you review the definition of spirituality above, it allows for the opportunity to study the benefits of spiritual practice using scientific research.
From psychology to neuroscience to physics, scientists across many fields have spent time understanding how spirituality can improve one’s mental, physical, and emotional health, and have the studies to prove it.
And with over 300 studies out there working on the relationship between spirituality and health, we’re well on our way to IMPROVING our wellness using science and spirituality together.
The Science in Spirituality
A quick Google search reveals over 4 billion results that thread together science and spirituality. These are some of the ways modern scientists have been observing the impact of spirituality through empirical research.
- Neuroimaging techniques with fMRIS and PET scans demonstrate neurobiological mechanisms within spiritual practices
- Academics are using neurotheology to address theological issues using a neuroscientific approach to religious and spiritual phenomena
- Biological substances are ingested are seen to aid in the spiritual journey, such as within Shamanic practices
- Studies are proving how meditation can change emotional, psychological, and physiological responses
And, a whole lot more.
Benefits of Spirituality, Proven by Science
Taking the science of spirituality from research and studies into practice requires a concerted effort, but it’s worth it.
The benefits of spiritual study are tough to refute. Some benefits of spiritual practice, supported by scientific research:
- Human emotional connection: The human emotions of gratitude, compassion, hope, awe, elevation, and forgiveness have been empirically validated to support prosocial behavior and stabilize human connection. All of these emotions are commonly seen when experiencing spiritual transcendence.
- Increased parasympathetic responses: Your parasympathetic nervous system is what calms your body down after a “fight or flight” response. Several studies have reported that spiritual practices boost the activity of your parasympathetic nervous system with lowered heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure, and oxygen metabolism.
- Stress reduction: Several neuroscience studies have explored the therapeutic effects of meditation, stress management, and prayer for disorders including anxiety, hypertension, heart disease, and even cancer.
- More positive emotions: Searching for a purposeful connection with a higher power, or something bigger than yourself, can actually lead to more positive emotions. These moments are often filled with the emotions we spoke of above, as well as with peace and contentment, showing the interconnection between emotional well being and spiritual wellbeing.
- Self-transcendence: The definition of self-transcendence can vary based on one’s views, but generally it’s about rising above the self and relating to that which is greater than the self–whatever that may be. Feelings of self-transcendence are linked to increased spirituality, and are often tied to the broaden-and-build theory: a theory in positive psychology that suggests positive emotions can open one’s conscious awareness and encourage exploratory thoughts and actions…perhaps into deeper spirituality and self-transcendence! Plus, these positive emotions we’ve discussed can sometimes stimulate a self-transcendent state, creating a feedback loop between spirituality, self-transcendence, and positive human emotions.
- Enhanced longevity: A meta-analysis of over 40 independent samples reported that spiritual and religious involvement is significantly and positively associated with longevity. And not only that, but those people have more satisfying and meaningful lives, as well as lower rates of depression.
- Job satisfaction: An increase in spirituality in the workplace through interconnective experiences and a deeper sense of meaning has shown to increase in job satisfaction and productivity.
- Lower blood pressure: Individuals can lower blood pressure and hypertensive levels by using transactional therapy (a form of psychology that uses social interaction to encourage positive change and growth). Nurses can even help patients lower their blood pressure by finding “inner peace” with appropriate training.
4 Ways to Foster a Spiritual Connection Using Science-Based Techniques
There are tons of benefits to spirituality, proven by science. Here are some of the ways you can access those benefits in our guide to higher spirituality:
Meditation is one of the most powerful, studied spiritual practices on earth. Millions of people do it every day – Buddhists and secular people alike – and for good reason. First, it is a way that many access a higher power, or at least a higher state of being. Second, meditation has been widely studied to reduce anxiety and depression.
According to Dr. John Denninger, director of research at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, says this is due to its effect on two sections of the brain. The medial prefrontal cortex and the amygdala in depressed patients tend to be very overactive. Meditation has been proven to break the connections between these two brain sections, which allows the practitioner to escape depressive episodes.
“Meditation trains the brain to achieve sustained focus, and to return to that focus when negative thinking, emotions, and physical sensations intrude — which happens a lot when you feel stressed and anxious,” says Dr. Denninger.
2. Focusing Your Energy
Surfers, yogis, and almost anyone who practices something they love can understand the feeling of “being in the flow.” That flow state is more than just a feeling – it’s science. Experience-dependent neuroplasticity is the phenomenon that occurs when we do something repeatedly and our brains adapt to perform the task better and with more focus over time.
So not only will focusing on a craft – your job, a sport, or a hobby – make you better at it, but you’ll be happier and more fulfilled doing it. What’s more spiritually satisfying than that?
3. Enhancing Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence enables you to connect with yourself and others in a much deeper way. It’s unsurprising that multiple studies have confirmed that more religious people demonstrate higher emotional skills.
If you wish to cultivate a higher emotional intelligence with our spirituality guide, there are three steps you should take to.
- Experience: Take inventory of your differing emotions throughout the day. By understanding and labeling your emotions in your day-to-day life, you set the foundation for developing a higher emotional intelligence.
- Reactivity: Once you begin taking inventory of your experiences, you then need to train yourself to control and manage your reactions so you can respond to situations accordingly.
- Behavior: The final component that makes you an emotionally intelligent individual is to empower yourself with compassion and communication skills to deal with daily situations involving others.
While developing emotional intelligence is easier said than done, we hope this site helps you get a little closer to doing so.
4. Experiment with Breathwork
Breathwork is the awareness of breath through controlling the rate and depth of breathing. Often a part of yoga or meditation, breathwork dates to ancient India, where it was referred to as pranayama, from the Sanskrit word “prana,” meaning “sacred life force.”
The healing power of deep breathing can help in relaxing into a deep sleep at the end of the day and may reduce inflammation for those with autoimmune disorders. Deep breathing, timed breathing, alternate nostril breathing, and other breathing techniques helps encourage your body’s parasympathetic nervous system to activate, and calms your sympathetic nervous systems reactions.
After practicing breathwork, beginners may see benefits including less tension, pain and anxiety, and lower blood pressure. improved mood and circulation, reduced stress and tension, boosted your immune system, better sleep, and even more feelings of self love.
Breathwork is often incorporated into spirituality guide practices, and breathwork can also lead to spiritual experiences. Because deep breathing can help forge a connection with oneself, as well as with a power outside yourself, many people who practice breathwork experience spiritual awakenings and the ultimate state of mediation and relaxation.
Try this breathwork practice right now and see how you feel:
Belly breathing is easy to do and can be done anytime to relieve stress.
- Sit or lie down comfortably.
- Place one hand on the abdomen under the ribs and the other on the chest.
- Inhale deeply through the nose. Your chest shouldn’t move, but the abdomen should rise.
- Exhale through puckered lips.
- Repeat, inhaling and exhaling slowly.
After a few breaths (at least three) take a note of how you are feeling. This will require a certain body awareness that will all improve with trying breathwork techniques.
Enhance your breathwork and connection to a great power by reading our beginner’s guide to creating a breathwork practice here.
5 Science-Based Spirituality Books
- God and the New Physics: As said earlier, God and the New Physics is one of the best books connecting physics and spirituality. Author, Paul Davies addresses some of the most profound questions of the universe like, “What is matter? What is the mind? How did the universe begin and how will it end?” And he does it all through the lens of physics.
- 10% Happier: Nightline anchor Dan Harris embarks on an unexpected, hilarious, and deeply skeptical odyssey through the strange worlds of spirituality and self-help, and discovers a way to get happier that is truly achievable.
- Uncovering Happiness: Author, Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. runs through the fundamentals of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) programs focusing on helping people not to relapse into depression. This book is chock-full of science-based spirituality and mental health best practices.
- Hardwiring Happiness: Rick Hanson Ph.D. crafts an incredible book that shows the reader a wise path for daily living, based on the latest findings of neuroscience.
- Finding God in the Waves: Mike McHargue’s book is full of insights about the universe. It’s a vital exploration of faith in a secular world.
Continue Learning About Science and Spiritual Connection
There have it! Our spirituality guide with scientific evidence where possible. We hope you found it useful and encouraging to start a spirituality connection practice. Science and spiritual connections are two subjects that are often discussed separately. One is often considered to be “factual” and the other is considered to be “deeply personal.” But, they’re not mutually exclusive. People, too, are deeply personal and factual.
And in reality, spiritual traditions can augment scientific approaches, and vice versa. You truly can’t separate science from spirituality while seeking to understand the world we live in.