Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Benefits of Long Night Prayers

Moreover, the social contact during tarawih or qiyam (long night prayers) and other social spiritual activities should act as a zeitgeber (from German ‘time-giver’). This is what regulates any desynchronized biological rhythm.Throughout the year, the average Muslim performs his 5-time daily obligatory prayers, as well as the optional ones. This amounts to gentle physical exercise, involving each and every muscle in the body. During the month of fasting, additional prayers of 8-20 rak`as (physical unit of prayer) are also performed at nights. Approximately, 200 kcals. are utilized during qiyam for the 20 rak`as.Such additional exercise utilizes any extra calories, ingested at iftar (meal for breaking the fast) approximately 1-2 hours earlier. Simultaneously, the blood glucose is steadily rising in the blood from the ingested nutrients; the circulating glucose is oxidized to CO2 and H20 during the prayers.The physical movements during qiyam prayers improve flexibility, co-ordination and relaxation response. It also reduces stress-related autonomic responses in normal persons and relieves anxiety and depression. Adrenaline and noradrenalin are secreted during the physical exercise of qiyam. They are responsible for the consequent dynamism, which now combines with the tranquility and the serenity, due to the secretion of enkephalins, endorphins, dynorphins and others.This makes the night prayers unique in the sense that dynamism is combined in the same individual with serenity, euphoria and dignity. The effects of adrenaline and noradrenaline are apparent, even after long night prayers is over, as evidenced by the continuing activity. In fact, even the thought or intention of performing qiyam prayers is sufficient to activate the sympathetic nervous system. Persons who fast and perform qiyam report feeling much better and healthier.Repeated and regular movements of the body during prayers improve muscle tone and power, tendon strength, joint flexibility and the cardio-vascular reserve. The body movements help to prevent osteoporosis in the osteoporotic bones of elderly men and post-menopausal women.

The strain put on the forearm, during prostration in lifting the body from the ground, increases the bone mineral content of the forearm. The varying load during the different postures causes a lubricating effect and a protective flow of synovial fluid into the joint cavity. The reinforcement of the calf muscle pump by active ankle movements prevents deep vein thrombosis, which is a common cause of chronic ulcers of the legs in the elderly.Exercise prevents coronary heart disease, improves carbohydrate tolerance and ameliorates late-onset type 2 diabetes. Growth hormone secretion elevated by fasting is further elevated by exercise of long night prayers. As this hormone is necessary for collagen formation, this may be an important factor in the long delay of the wrinkling of skin for the fasting Muslim who performs qiyam prayers.Exercise of qiyam improves mood, thought and behavior. Memory for short-term events deteriorates with old age. Prayers improve memory in the elderly, for short-term events, by keeping the memory pathways in the brain open and communicating with each other, especially with constant repetition of the verses from the holy Qur’an and other supplications of Allah’s glory. This also helps to screen the mind from other incoming thoughts.The repetition of a prayer, supplications of glorification, dhikr (words glorifying Allah) or muscular activity, coupled with passive disregard of intrusive thoughts, causes a relaxation response, leading to lowering of B.P. and decrease in oxygen consumption, as well as a reduction in the heart and respiratory rates.All these are combined in qiyam prayers, which is an ideal situation for relaxation response, as it combines repeated muscular activity with repetition of words of glorification of Allah and supplications. Thus qiyam puts the mind at ease. Islamic prayers are unique in that tension builds up in the muscles, during the physical movements of prayers, with accompanying adrenaline and noradrenalin. Simultaneously, tension is relieved in the mind due to the spiritual component, assisted by the secretion of enkephalins, endorphins, dynorphins and others.All those persons who perform qiyam prayers feel more alert and active, even after the age of retirement. They can meet with unexpected challenges of life much better, such as running for a bus! This improves their stamina, self-esteem and self-confidence in being independent.

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