The new age rage about mindfulness and meditation reminds me that Muslims have been doing for centuries what psychologists are now finding to be healthy and beneficial.
When we pray Salaah, we step outside our busy day and attempt to focus completely on our Creator and on being aware of our faith. We have to quiet our minds and calm the rush of life. To stop… and pray.
The new-age pundits realise that stopping your day to be calm and mindful for even a teeny, tiny bit of time is a Big-Ask. So they suggest even putting aside as little as 5 minutes a day to sit quietly, focus on breathing and…be zen, or something.
But Muslims don’t need modern self-help gurus to tell them this. Salaah is compulsory, it is one of the most important aspects of Islam. And it forces us to, in some ways, meditate (and apart from that, Jamaat then brings even more benefits, like strengthening the community etc).
It’s hard to focus in Salaah. I’ve tried (and I try, and I try). But we have to keep trying, because that may be part of the test.
I recently watched this TED talk by Jessa Gamble about sleeping patterns and in the middle of the 4 minute talk was a gem of a statement.
She said that what we think or know about our sleep cycle is wrong. The 7 or 8 hours that we’ve been told that we need is maybe true, but the optimal way of sleeping is this: go to bed around 8pm, sleep till midnight, wake up for about 2 hours (she seemed to imply that in those 2 hours the person would just faff around in bed) and then sleep again from 2am until sunrise. They tested people in some underground bunker to let their bodies find the natural optimum sleep cycle – and when they reached this type of sleep cycle, their productivity soared and they reported feeling more awake than ever.
This instantly made me think of Esha (finish around 8pm or 9pm, depending on the season, and then you can go to bed), then Tahajjud and some night-time Zikr (between midnight and 2am) and then Fajr (sunrise). Islam gave us the perfect sleep cycle and I didn’t even know it!
I also heard something recently about why it’s important to sleep between 8pm and sunrise – something to do with chemicals or cells in your body that needs that type of sleep, to fight off disease (okay, that was a vague sentence but I really can’t remember the details, just the gist – which makes the same point – sleep early, wake early).
Islam is good for your body. For more proof (my own anecdotal proof, but whatever) my cousin Rania (studying biology at the time) told me that if you look at the range of motions that a healthy human being can or should do, Salaah encompasses all of these motions. It sounded almost like Salaah makes your body go through this range of healthy motion. So there. Boom.