By Rabia Salim
As a parent and now a teacher, a term that I have come across a lot in the classroom over the last five years is mindfulness, and it makes me think of yoga and meditation. I first came across yoga in high school in a ladies group in the UK, and even then it was seen as a beneficial practice mentally and physically. Many instructors have walked through the doors of my children’s Montessori classroom and given the children a quick class in making animal shapes with their body. They would practice breathing techniques, and, my favorite, silence!
The main reason I chose to write an article about spiritualism with my brush with yoga is that mindfulness is a definite buzzword in the realm of education and psychology these days.
Very briefly, I recently read that certain social behaviors have the same effect as cocaine on our brains; for example, sugar consumption (1) and smartphone use (2). These learned behaviors make the brain light up with pleasure, and the effect is addictive, we reach for our phones or a sugary snack when this dopamine in our brains starts to dip. Although drugs have a greater negative effect on the body than sugar, this is still an important point. Mindfulness and meditation allow a person to be present, with all the pain, suffering, or anguish that is part of the nature of existence for a human. Those feelings are allowed to flow through the body and allows it to pass and move on to a positive human state, whereas addictive behaviors try to block any negativity completely, making a human, in my opinion into a trained rat.
For example, in the Holy Qur’an talks about peace and still during prayer time (3), “It is all peace till the rising of the dawn.” The peace mentioned here is about the mental peace that believers feel even in the midst of hardships. Peace during Prayer allows all feelings to flow and ebb. In Islam, there are five formal Prayers in one day, and each Prayer lasts about ten minutes. Nowadays recent research is enlightened with the benefits of mindful meditation. The Prayer prescribed in Islam provides that effect of meditation also.
There are parallels between organized religion and spiritualism, but there has been an overall decline in people with particular religious affiliation (4). People’s internet use correlates with an open religious affiliation, but they are still open to many different spiritual practices. And as I mentioned earlier, in psychology and education, even in corporate fields, spiritualism is a term that people are extremely aware of. For example, in psychology, mindfulness is seen as crucial in helping people with anxiety and depression as the practice of this can fight off stress. In education, teachers are seeing its benefits for children. In the primary school, I worked at last year, a minute of silence did the trick to calm children’s excitability. However, it works even better when the techniques are consistent and frequent, so we would share our work with the parents too, to make it worthwhile. In the corporate world, like Google, there was an article in 2013 about why employees of Google were meditating (5), and the reasons were all positive effects on well-being. The effect was more resilient, focused and emotionally intelligent individuals. Emotional intelligence helps people form stronger relationships with people and to understand their colleague’s motives, a giant plus in the workplace!
In a Muslim Times article, Dr. Zia Shah also quotes this spirituality and that there is less affiliation to organized religion, yet, the search for spirituality is real, and some populations are more open to discover the benefits of meditation. (6) This population is the young Millennials, and they would use it as a means to gain spirituality and happiness of mind. The article suggests that chanting scriptures, like the Qur’an, as well as philosophers’ sayings, or mantras as in some traditions, is another useful meditative practice. Indeed the Islamic five daily Prayers, at ten minutes per Prayer repeats Arabic phrases from the Holy Qur’an, and it is like meditation in my experience. It has the benefit of being highly spiritual as well because the focal point is God.
Origin of Yoga was in the organized religion too, but this practice in the West is not always followed and used for worship. Non-religious people practice it as well for its health benefits. Hindu Sun God salutations are not used in the same way and mantras are omitted. And what is making yoga more secular, is the other elements added by various individuals to the original practice. Just as what my children learned with their school instructors introduced English animal names rather than the Sanskrit names. (7)
I feel that while spiritualism has enormous benefits, ultimate spirituality is linked to organized religion, although general mindfulness is a stepping stone towards becoming a little more spiritual. I say this because so many mindful practices, like yoga, are branches of the main root of religion. Using yoga as one example of possibly many, this practice was grown from the holy Vedic scripture. It was initially developed by the Brahmans and Rishis and evolved into Hatha yoga, which is what we see today. Hatha yoga practice for many Westerners means the path towards enlightenment, focusing on building physical and mental strength (8). For many of my colleagues in school who participate yoga, it is a relaxation activity that increases their strength and flexibility.
As already referred to, Islam has a five-a-day prescription to ward off mental and physical fatigue. The formal five daily Prayers have a big physical component, as there are postures that the worshipper makes during the Prayer, from standing to kneeling to prostrating. The attainment the spiritual component is done by attracting God. The way this happens is it fills the worshipper with spiritual light from God.
A tradition from the Holy Prophet (sa) states: “‘If one of you had a stream running by his door and he takes a bath in it five times a day, would any dirt be left on him?’ The companion replied, ‘No dirt will be left on him.’ The Holy Prophet (sa) said, ‘This is the case with Salat (Prayer). Allah makes the Salat wipe out his sins.’” (9) Prayers are likened to washing yourself in clean water five times a day. The practice of washing reminds me of the Christian practice of baptism, which “washes away” a person’s sins. The supplication of “Tasbih” after a Prayer is when a Muslim chants praise to God in his head and track the number by joining his thumb to each finger, this is like the Hindu joining the thumb and middle finger seen in yoga today. Mantras are seen in all religions, from chanting of Biblical verses to Qur’anic verses, clearing the mind and feeling at peace, similar to what is seen in Jewish Kavanah, which is a meditative mindset required for Jewish prayer and rituals. Without bias, I believe spiritual practices borrow these concepts from organized religion.
In Islam, there are three spiritual states of man. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam of Qadian, Messiah and Mahdi of this age (as), explained this in his writings: “The first stage is the self that incites to evil. A person cannot wipe away evil at this stage because he cannot be guided by reason yet. He follows his natural urges and is not trying to get out of this life. Following this is the reproving self, where he can stumble, but picks himself up again. At this stage, man develops morals such as truthfulness but cannot completely follow virtue. The regulation of his human instinct is moral. Every physical action has an inner quality corresponding to it, which is called a “moral.” For example, when someone cries out of sympathy, the inner quality is called tenderness, or they help a person, the inner quality is called benevolence. At a moral stage, he is remorseful for his weakness and feels sorry if he missed a chance to do something good. Therefore, virtue attracts, while vices repel. The third stage is the final stage, and this is the soul at rest and man is delivered from struggle and gains spiritual power. God is his source at this stage; his prize is paradise on earth. He does not have to wait to enter heaven after death; he gets it in this very life. This person achieves full prosperity, and this stage shows a man that only the true carrying out of virtue is achieved with heavenly help. It is like a strengthening breeze blowing upon the soul.” (10)
The common practice nowadays of spirituality in everyday settings, such as colleges, schools, and within offices is a sign of how much information Millennials have these days which they can access and tap into with their fingertips. However, all these elements are ultimately found in a disciplined, mindful religion such as Islam, providing the most effective way to reach a high stage of spirituality and a higher power.
- The Holy Qur’an (97:6)
- Syed Mahmood Ahmad Nasir (1988), “Selected Sayings of the Holy Prophet,” Islam International Publications Limited, Islamabad, UK.
- Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), “The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam,” p 4-117, Islam International Publications Limited (Edition 2010), Islamabad, UK.
Last modified: April 2018