The Science of Spirituality: 5 Tips to Build Your Spiritual Practice

Mindfulness Psychology

The science of spirituality explores the link between religion and well-being. Does maintaining a spiritual practice improve people’s biological health?

If you are curious about the health benefits and biochemical effect of religion, then this article is for you.

“Spirituality lies not in the power to heal others, to perform miracles or to astound the world with our wisdom, but in the ability to endure with right attitude whatever crosses we have to face in our daily lives and thus rise above them.”

– Sri Daya Mata


Why Spirituality?

For years, philosophers, psychologists, and thinkers have returned to the following questions:

  • Why are we here?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • Does everything happen for a reason?
  • Why do we suffer?
  • Is there a best way to live?


To answer these questions, some people lean into religion, philosophy, art, and nature.

Others turn to spirituality and science.

In this piece, we offer a unique look into the scientific underpinnings of spirituality. Why separate the two fields when there is worth in exploring their connection?



What exactly is spirituality? There are many definitions, but here are a few:

  • “The experience or expression of the sacred” (adapted from Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 1967);
  • “Certain kinds of activity through which a person seeks meaning, especially a “search for the sacred. It may also refer to personal growth, blissful experience, or an encounter with one’s own “inner dimension” (Wikipedia);
  • “The search for transcendent meaning” as expressed in religious practice. It can be expressed in relationship with “nature, music, art, philosophy, or relationships with friends and family” (Astrow et al. 2001);
  • “The search for meaning in life-events and a yearning for connectedness to the universe” (Coles 1990);
  • “A person’s experience of, or a belief in, a power apart from his or her own existence” (Mohr 2006);

A lot of people equate spirituality with religion, but the two are different.

Spirituality might include peace and harmony with nature and humanity. Others feel spirituality via connection with their loved ones, their music or their art. Others find it in their values and principles.

Moral guidance allows many people to find meaning in the messy world we live in. This meaning helps some humans find purpose.

Spirituality and its expression are unique to each individual.


Spiritual or Skeptical?

In a world driven by science and evidence-based systems, are we losing the value of “spiritual” in place of skepticism? Do people have to choose between the two approaches?

Religious trends throughout history offer insight into the “science-verse-religion” dialogue. One trend shows how over time, many countries shifted from spirituality towards a society rooted in science.

Recently, Americans have become less religious, as measured by the frequency that they attend religious services and by the value that they assign religion in their life (Masci, D., Lipka, M., & Posts, 2016).

Despite this decrease, the number of people who identify as spiritual has increased.

There has also been growth in expressed wonder about the universe, and the deep quest for well-being, both explorations blurring the lines between spirituality and science (2016).

Data supports this trend: between 2007 and 2014, the percentage of U.S. Christians who report weekly wonder about the universe increased from 38% to 45%. There has also been a 17 point rise among self-described atheists (Masci, D., Lipka, M., & Posts, 2016).

This rise in spirituality has occurred among both religious and non-religious people.

So in America, even as religiousness decreases, spirituality shows an increasing trend.


Benefits of Spiritual Practice

If Western societies continue to increase the role of spirituality into discussions and practice, then health benefits may also follow.

According to the APA in 2014, people who report having a spiritual practice are more likely to:

  • Live longer;
  • Report higher levels of happiness;
  • Experience more commitment to their romantic partners;
  • Promote the healthy development of their children;
  • Cope better with the death of a loved one;
  • Have a lower risk of depression and suicide;

If you want more information before continuing, here’s a Ted Talk about Science and Spirituality.


Spirituality and Stress-Reduction

Dr. Emma Seppala, science director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism and the author of “The Happiness Track,” explains the mechanisms that can lead to these outcomes.

According to Dr. Seppala’s research, spiritual people engage in practices known to reduce levels of stress. For example, spiritual people are more likely to:

  • Volunteer or donate to the poor; According to research, regular community service can serve as a buffer against the effects of stress, thus leading to longer lives;
  • Meditate to cope with stress; 42% of spiritual people meditate when stressed rather than overeat or indulge in unhealthy coping behaviors. Meditation has all kinds of benefits—from improved health, happiness, and focus to decreased pain and depression;
  • Live with a built-in community. After food and shelter, social connection is the top predictor of health, happiness, and longevity. Religious people are more likely to spend time with family and feel a strong sense of belonging to a community of like-minded people;
  • Turn to prayer. Research suggests prayer helps people find comfort by helping them deal with difficult emotions, encourages forgiveness, and leads to healthier relationships;


Of course, these findings could also be placebo – we tend to feel better when we believe something will make us feel better.

Even if they are placebo effects, can it hurt to go to a yoga class, volunteer at a homeless shelter or attend a silent retreat? The benefits may be worthwhile.


Starting Your Own Practice

“Spirituality is recognising and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives.”

– Brené Brown

So how does anyone increase the role of spiritual practice in their life? There are many ways to begin and the positive psychological effects of stress-reduction are well-supported.

If you want to increase your spirituality, we have five ways to begin:

  1. Determine the type of people that you want to surround yourself with. Join groups and events where you are likely to find them;
  2. Volunteer or donate to a cause that is important to you;
  3. Learn to meditate. This doesn’t mean you need to sit cross-legged forever. There are many different techniques and types of meditation, it’s a matter of experimenting until you find one that suits you. You may even create a meditation routine specifically for you. (Don’t forget to share it in the comment section, we’d love to know).
  4. Use movement to connect with your own body. Research shows that “green exercise” decreases stress, improves mood and enhances focus. Whether walking, running, or practicing breathing exercises, take it out in nature.
  5. Create rituals. Which small activity increases your sense of calm? And how can you transform it into a daily ritual?


Remember to start slow, if you are adding a new practice to your daily or weekly routine. You are more likely to stick to your practice if you start small (APA 2014).

So whether you are walking outside, or adding meditation to your life, begin with a 10-15 minute practice.

Do you think there are other ways to connect science and spirituality? What are ways you find spirituality in your daily routines? Please leave your thoughts in our comments!

American Psychological Association (2014). Religion or spirituality has a positive impact on romantic/marital relationships, child development, research shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved here.

Brown, B. C. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Philadelphia, United States: Hazelden Information & Educational Services.

Hawthorne, D.M.; Youngblut, J.M.; Brooten, D. (2016). Parent Spirituality, Grief, and Mental Health at 1 and 3 Months After Their Infant’s/Child’s Death in an Intensive Care Unit. Journal of Pediatric Nursing; 31 (1)

Highly religious are most likely to report being “very happy.”Retrieved here.

Masci, D., Lipka, M., & Posts. (2016). Americans may be getting less religious, but feelings of spirituality are on the rise. Retrieved here.

Publications, H. H. (2016). Attending religious services linked to longer lives, – Harvard health. Retrieved here.

Religious service attendance associated with lower suicide risk among women. (2016). Retrieved here.

Spirituality, religion may protect against major depression by thickening brain cortex. Retrieved here.

The surprising health benefits of spirituality. (1991). Retrieved here.

About the Author

Catarina Lino, BSc., MAPP, is a Positive Psychology coach, writer, teacher and life-long student of behavioral sciences as well as a yoga teacher in Lisbon, Portugal.


  1. Muazzam Khalil

    Spirituality exercise begins with not looking at women who are not related with you, only taking food which was earned honestly, not to use foul language, not to hear foul language, not to indulge in extra marital sex, try to help people when they are in need. try to keep a healthy mind and body, strive for purity. Do not hurt people or their feelings. Try living for others.

    • G O D

      Disagree.. These are a lot of manmade beliefs that have been superimposed onto spirituality. You can still be spiritual and do all the things you described. To each their own.

  2. Soniya Shrivastava

    Hi Catarina! Thanks for letting me know about spirituality and its benefits, and giving us information on how spirituality helpful to our life. Your blog is really amazing. Keep posting such type of blogs

  3. Vegah

    The change we can expect from spirituality is so ambiguous that it leaves the mind at timey with doubt clauses. Keeping high levels of spirituality is neither easy but can go a long way to move one from fear to sadness to joy and sometimes to ecstasy and good leadership too. Thanks for the insight

  4. Min chapagain min

    Spirituality comes from spirit which is different from the body.soul is said to be immortal. Love,happiness, nonviolence, peace, honesty, truth and so on are related to spirit,and the knowledge beyond spirit May be spirituality. It is related to subprime God not specific one religion but all if they have such qualities.spirituality is inner qualities.

  5. Manishi

    I think Spirituality is the only way which can change the current situation of the world. It may realize people to understand the real purpose of their life, to know their actual identity and responsibility towards the entire universe, to experience God, to find-out their hidden capabilities by refining and expanding their consciousness with the help of meditation practice. The Spirituality can re-establish the peace, love and harmony among people. It can reveal the truth that the actual happiness can only be achieved by making others happy; that all incarnation are playing its role and are equally important and deeply connected with each other for the existence of this universe.

  6. The Gyansagar

    Spirituality is beyond religion. This is the final route for the SOUL effort to merge back with SOURCE / GOD / THE LIGHT. During the spiritual journey a person learned to control (not win): lust, anger, greed, worldly attachment and ego. Thus sees God in all His creation! spirituality definition the true inner meaning
    Religion keeps us alive, while spirituality inspires us, for spirituality (soul), there is no caste, color, creed, gender, nationality or religion. We are sons/daughters of the Almighty.
    If you want to know more about spirituality meaning in hindi. Thegyansagar website is welcome to give you all the information.

  7. Larry Weaver

    I didn’t realize that research in prayer find that it helps with coping with difficult emotions and leads to healthier relationships. My wife and I decided that we want to find a Christian church to attend with our family because we just had a baby and have been reflecting on life. We will have to try our praying more often as we find the right congregation to attend.


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