Spirituality & Health

Either the magazine racks of this fine nation are positively teeming with spirituality/mental wellness titles nowadays, or I simply stalled in front of the wrong Barnes & Noble kiosk the other day during my publication-pursuing constitutional. Seriously--it seems like every patchouli-scented healer sort has publisher aspirations and, somehow, the financial wherewithal to act upon them.

I randomly chose the October issue of Spirituality & Health, owing mostly to its vaguely "Karate Kid"-ish cover illustration and motto ("The Soul/Body Connection," which I would otherwise have assumed to be the name of James Brown's backup band). I got lucky. While I'm predisposed to dislike anybody who pushes his or her spirituality on anybody else, I found myself duly impressed by the magazine's low-key advice and advocacy.

Does Spirituality & Health boast its share of hippy-dippy moments? Absolutely. But the mag frames its every proclamation within the context of healthier and more spiritually satisfying living. You don't have to buy into everything the mag is selling to appreciate its approach, which is the highest compliment I can pay to a title that chronicles spiritual endeavors and wellness techniques for which I personally have little use.

"Updates and Observations" alternately showcases the magazine's best and worst tendencies. On one hand, short blurbs on brain chemistry and the role that singing may play in diminishing anxiety attacks offer insights rarely heralded by more mainstream media outlets. On the other, a quickie item on the Cherry Hill Seminary, an institution that instructs pagans in spiritual leadership, might have benefited from some actual reporting. Too, the suggestions for inclusion in an "alternative" first-aid kit, such as homeopathic remedies and prayer/poetry snippets, strike me as fodder for a potential wrongful-death lawsuit: "Oh no, Dad just got mauled by a rabid puma! Quick, grab the charcoal pills and 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock!'"

Where the October Spirituality & Health earns its keep is in its expansive features, all of which are smartly appended with telling if sometimes slightly abstract artwork (check out the shoulders-down shot of San Miguel's Indian dancers). "Calling the Power of Women" might come across as tonally strident--attitudinally, it feels like a cross between a pep rally and a drunken feminist freshman's semi-informed ranting--but its argument that more women should be seated at the peacekeeping table makes an awful lot of sense.

The punchy "Hero's Journey" profiles of Emily Dickinson and Lucretia Mott position well-known subjects in a different light, while the first-person remembrance of an on-foot pilgrimage to a Virgin Mary statue in Mexico deftly illustrates for non-believers the lure of such journeys. These stories are slightly diminished, however, by their proximity to a meandering "20 Minute Workshop for Better Health" workshop/quiz, which belongs in a lower-aiming women's title. If I were put on the spot and asked to answer a loaded question like "at a deeper level, which of your core values would excellent health promote?," I'd probably stare dumbly at the questioner before responding,"football."

Once again, I don't believe that intensely personal choices/issues like spirituality and health should ever become cocktail-party fodder, the level to which any mass-market publication necessarily reduces them. But Spirituality & Health seems to understand this and treads lightly with the rhetoric. For its skillful execution alone, the title bears further watching.

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