Let the mind heal the body
By Esther Williams
The recently inducted President of the Sri Lanka Medical Association, Dr. S. Seneviratne Epa has proposed a new health model to incorporate the spiritual dimension. For this to come from someone in the medical profession, which generally bases all theories on scientific evidence, reveals that there is truth in assuming that religious activity promotes health.

The health model we follow today called the bio-medical health model is based on the philosophy that the mind and body are separate, having two distinct entities. Rene Descartes masterminded this theory in the 17th century. Since then, the use of western medicine has closed off the entire domain of body-mind interaction.

Based on the bio-medical model we cannot understand how the mind has a healing power on the body, although we have to accept the interaction between mind and body. NK (Natural Killer) cells in the body act as a policing body and remove abnormal cells from the body. "During depression, the activity of immune cells or NK cells in the body is suppressed, resulting in people developing various kinds of diseases."

It is thus established that the state of mind can cause illnesses. "If the mind can cause illness, it should also be able to heal," argues Dr.Seneviratne Epa. He points out that there is scientific proof that the activity of NK cells is enhanced during meditation.

This brings us to spiritual healing of which meditation is an aspect. "There is now scientific evidence that people who meditate and say prayers have longer life and better physical health."

The challenge in the 21st century is to evolve methods of enhancing the power of mind in healing. Spiritual activity seems to be one way of doing just that. But why is it important to bring forth this dimension into healing when there are advances in medicine that can heal anything? "Because there are limitations in the existing model,” Dr. Seneviratne Epa says.

He proposes a new health model called the medico-spiritual health model and hopes that the medical profession would carry out the recommendations. "The time to leave religion solely to the priest should stop. The medical field should take the responsibility of undertaking research into meditation and other religious practices irrespective of religion because it is a universal dimension, applicable to all mankind."
He adds that there is a further need to redefine health to include the spiritual dimension in addition to the three existing dimensions, namely - physical, social and mental, health being the fourth dimension. "Present day doctors will find it difficult to accept this concept, although there is compelling scientific evidence.”

Dr. Seneviratne Epa recommends that hospitals should give spiritual medicine in addition to chemical medicine. What is more important, stresses the doctor, is that by this acceptance, we give power to the patient and thereby enable self-healing. With the self-power of healing, patients can live in more hope and indulge themselves. It will also reduce total dependence of patients on doctors and medicine.

A critique of western medicine, Ivan Illich has said, "Modern medicine has destroyed the human capacity to deal with pain, sickness and death." It has taught patients that healing powers are totally in the hands of the doctor and medicine. "It is time we corrected it," says Dr. Seneviratne Epa.

The SLMM is hoping to have a Convention in March with participation from international experts, on the theme of Spiritual Health: A new dimension in health. A scientific forum will be formed to discuss this. It would be the first time this subject is being addressed in Sri Lanka.

Many local doctors seem to welcome spirituality into healing. Working at alleviating suffering, they have realised the limitations of medicine. The new generation doctors must be taught this dimension of health. While getting a patient's medical history, they need to also record spirituality. With doctors giving a place to spirituality in hospitals, they set an example to patients. Health should be redefined as "a state of complete physical, mental, spiritual and social wellbeing and not merely absence of disease or infirmity”.

How would this work in hospitals? The whole of the medical profession, be it nurses, doctors or health workers should take responsibility. However, it should not be mistaken as an alternative treatment to the orthodox. "This is an augmentation of the existing system. By this method hospitals will be environments which promote and nourish the inner capacity for healing.”

When a patient is admitted to hospital he feels totally insecure. Now, patients will think, “I have the healing power. Doctors and medicine will only aid the process.”


  • The medical profession has to acknowledge the spiritual dimension of health.
  • Doctors and health professions need training to address this issue.
  • Relaxation, meditation and spiritual involvement should be encouraged to promote health.
  • Patients should be educated on the healing powers of relaxation, meditation, etc.
  • Undertake scientific research to define effects of meditation.
  • The above practices should be considered as complementary rather than alternative.
  • Spiritual dimension should not be confined to any particular medical speciality.
  • Hospitals should nourish patients' inner capacity for healing by providing appropriate spiritual support.

My second chance at life

"Look to your health;
And if you have it, praise God,
And value it next to a good conscious;
For health is the second blessing that we mortals are capable of,
A blessing that money cannot buy."

Izaak Walton
1593 - 1683

I was wheeled into an elevator on the balmy afternoon of September 6, last year after being dislodged from the cardiac unit of the General Hospital, Kandy. A nursing sister of the Suvasevana Cardiac Hospital down Peradeniya Road greeted me with a pleasant smile, which put me at ease.

I was there to have my angiogram. I walked into the theatre ready for the procedure which would tell me if I was to have coronary artery bypass surgery or not.
I recollect having two angina attacks even before I could lay myself on the table.

There was a hive of activity, strange-looking apparatus with 1,000-watt bulbs looking down on me, two monitors hanging from the ceiling gaping directly from my left. The faces of those attending on me were unfamiliar; I was seeing them for the first time and my life was in their hands. In the adjoining room there was a tall gentleman sporting a mustache giving me a very reassuring smile.

Then up came a bearded gentleman with an exemplary bedside manner, the all-important anaesthetist. He felt my neck and said he needed to insert a needle which could deliver drugs in a moment to my heart should I develop further angina attacks while the angiogram was in progress.

All I could remember of the angiogram was the cardiologist instructing the staff to take me immediately to the ICU. I was inundated with angina attacks and clearly remember once pulling the young doctor by his shirt to plead with him to put me out of my pain.

I was told that I needed to have bypass surgery as I was suffering from triple vessel coronary artery disease. So I began preparing myself mentally to face this life saving operation. I was wheeled into the theatre, which was much larger than the one I had the angiogram in.

There were more faces but before I could count to... I was away.
Total Arterial Re-vascularisation was performed on me and I was told it took six and a half hours to set me free of the vagaries of unstable angina. Then I was back at the ICU among the sweet young nurses. All those who were involved with my 'op' were courteous and gentle.

I was gently persuaded to cough off the phlegm, walk one step at a time and was brought to near normalcy by the time I was taken to the recuperative room. With each moment I continued to grow stronger under the eagle eye of the medical and nursing staff that worked round-the-clock to keep the patients comfortable.

I was discharged some days later and according to the cardio thoracic surgeon left Suwasevana Cardiac Hospital 'ten years younger', a happy and cheerful human being determined to live every moment of the second chance I have been fortunate to have.
Bandula Jayawickreme

Back to Top  Back to Plus  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.