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Posted: November 05, 2004

Spiritual Caregiving

Spirituality vs. Disease

(Editor's Note: We know that spiritual practices can help us address factors such as stress, which can depress our immune systems and cloud our outlook, making a wide variety of physical or mental challenges even worse. These two articles show how these practices can come to our aid in facing particular illnesses.)


Carbohydrates for the Spirit:
Coping with Diabetes Through Meditation

Although individuals who suffer from diabetes are often able to manage the disease from a medical standpoint with insulin and a proper diet, the spiritual aspect of the condition is too often overlooked by both patients and healthcare professionals.

The American Diabetes Association has published Meditations on Diabetes: Strengthening Your Spirit in Every Season, a book that invites people with diabetes to look at their lives meditatively and find inspiring thoughts to help them cope with their disease.

Written by Catherine Feste, a health educator and diabetes patient, the book provides meditative readings from a wide variety of world and religious literature, citing works of such scribes as Shakespeare and Siddhartha. ?Many publications focus on the disease from a medical perspective, but for people who have diabetes, it's more of a life experience,? she said.

Feste organizes the readings according to the four seasons and attributes spiritual qualities to specific times of the year. ?When I thought about it, joy is summer, fall is harvesting wisdom, courage is winter, and spring is certainly synonymous with faith and renewal of life,? she said.

Each section contains quotations and stories followed by suggestions on how to incorporate the readings into coping strategies and everyday life. For example, the spring section includes a quote about faith as a healer and adds, ?What carbohydrates are to low a blood sugar, inspiring words are to the spirit.?

Most of the meditations deal with the uncertainties of facing life with a chronic condition and how to cope. ?It's long been my belief that the same wisdom, courage, and faith we need to take on any challenge in life can help us live with a chronic disease like diabetes,? Feste added.

-- Margaret McKegney


Fighting Cancer? Bang the Drum Joyfully

One goal of modern cancer research is to identify therapies that stimulate natural killer (NK) cells, the immune system cells that seek out and destroy cancer cells. And it turns out that one such cancer fighter is almost as old as human cancer: It's group drumming.

In their research, Dr. Barry Bittman and his team at the Mind-Body Wellness Center in Meadville, Pennsylvania, tested novice drummers in four types of one-hour group drumming sessions: Basic, in which an instructor spent half the time discussing drumming and half the time leading the group; Impact, in which the drumming time was increased to 80%; Shamanic, in which a Mayan shaman led the group and punctuated the drumming with a presentation of spiritual and cultural elements; and Composite.

Composite showed the largest increases in NK-cell activity during preliminary testing and formed the basis for the final experiment. Here's how it worked:

Subjects began by passing bead-filled "shaker eggs" around in a circle, faster and faster, until inevitably the eggs would drop to the floor. The giggling group then played their drums in rhythm with the syllables of their own names. Then they drummed together varying tempo and rhythm, and finally they drummed along with two guided imagery themes.

These lighthearted drummers showed significant increases in NK-cell activity. The control groups, who listened to drumming rather than played, showed no change and some actual declines.

Bittman says drumming -- especially playful composite drumming -- represents a reversal of the so-called classic stress response. It's a "stress-buster," analogous to laughter. In other words, if you want to boost your immune system, take up drumming, but don't take it up too seriously.

-- The Editors

This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at Contact staff directly via email at

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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