My participation in this year’s USF Ignatian Teaching and Research Fellowship has been timely, inspirational, and productive. Our monthly readings and discussions of Ignatian values, pedagogy, and initiatives have motivated me to add a spiritual component to my health promotion projects. Studies show that individuals with greater spirituality and religiosity may have better chronic disease outcomes, less depression and anxiety, stronger coping skills, and better quality of life. As part of the fellowship, I am developing a project called Examen Your Health / Examen Tu Salud that is based on Ignatian values and pedagogical pillars. The goal is to bring the daily Ignatian Examen to USF students to strengthen their physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Examen Tu Salud builds on research I’ve conducted over the past few years with young adult Latinas. These young women have spoken about the link between mental and physical health and their desire for age- and culturally appropriate health and wellness support, especially in the areas of stress and depression, and healthy eating and exercise. I believe that 13 Examen Tu Salud is a promising approach for motivating health and wellness, a creative way of educating and encouraging students to embrace Ignatian values, and an accessible platform to invigorate the Ignatian tradition in support of health and well-being for our multicultural community. The initial project will focus on Latinx students, although the Examen Your Health approach is suitable for others who seek healthier lives in and beyond the USF community.
Examen Tu Salud focuses on four areas — Gratitude, Today, Tomorrow, and Action/Consolation — that will encourage deeper spirituality and daily reflection to support stress management, better health, making connections with others, and action for social justice. “Gratitude” encourages setting aside time for spiritually healthy activities, such as meditation, prayer, yoga, nature walks, religious services, and community service. Reflections on “Today” ask questions like, What did you do for your family and friends today? and What did you do that made you joyful today? Reflections on “Tomorrow” ask, What can you do for your self-care and spiritual health tomorrow? and What does a healthy tomorrow look like for you? The “Action / Consolation” reflections encourage students to be people for others with an emphasis on action for social justice with questions like, What can you do to help the environment, to heal our planet? and How can you be a voice for people who are not heard?
I believe that encouraging deeper spirituality and daily reflection will help our community live happier and healthier lives, especially as we face new challenges like COVID-19 and other emerging threats.
Linking spirituality to health is a new area for me, and I am enthusiastic to support better mental and physical health for young people that is based on the Ignatian Examen and orientation toward gratitude, reflection, action, and consolation. We need to figure out ways to support our young people and communities now more than ever!
KELLY L’ENGLE is associate professor, PhD, MPH, and lead for the master in public health – behavioral health concentration at the University of San Francisco. She is also an Ignatian Teaching and Research Fellow at the Lane Center. She develops innovative programs and conducts research to promote positive health, especially among young people and vulnerable populations, and she has a special interest in health communication and digital health technologies.