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What happens in prayer
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 27 - 11 - 2015

Five times a day, Muslims all over the world face the direction of the Kabah in Makkah, to perform the obligatory prayers. Prayer is the second pillar of Islam; meaning it is compulsory on every Muslim to pray at the prescribed times.
The Muslim prayer, unlike in other religions, combines the physical, mental, and spiritual. The prayer or salah involves a series of movements, along with the recitation of certain verses of the Holy Qur'an and the mentioning of Allah, while being in a mental state of mindfulness of the presence of Allah. It is due to this unique combination, that when performed correctly and mindfully, the prayer can lift the spirit, repel anxiety and depression, induce relaxation, keep one away from bad deeds, and bring about physical health benefits as well.
The prayer is like a safeguard for psychological well being, because the believer is in contact with the Creator 5 times a day.
The first prayer is at dawn, before sunrise. Beginning the day with remembrance of Allah and seeking His protection from evil sets the believer for his day with the right attitude and mindset. The noon prayer is a welcomed break in the midst of working; it is also a chance for physical activity in the middle of a monotonous day. Again, in the afternoon, just when the mind and the body are stressed from the pressures of daily involvements, the believer is rewarded with the spiritual and physical benefits of the prayer thus, emerging reenergized. The believer prays again after sunset, once the working day has come to an end. It is time to express gratitude to Allah and seek forgiveness for sins that may have been committed. The last prayer is in the night time, before bedtime, a superb way to unwind and prepare the body for restful sleep.
In their research, published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, researchers Shabbir Ahmed Sayeed and Anand Prakash said, "The five daily prayers put the believer in connection with God but also equip him better to go ahead with his worldly endeavors. Spiritual enlightenment and a sense of peace and tranquility relieve the worshiper from stress, anxiety, and negativity."
Before praying, the Muslim makes the intention or niyyah in the heart. What is amazing about this is that it helps bring one into the present moment, and improves mental awareness and presence. This is a form of mental training. By learning to live fully in the moment, without lamenting over the past, or fretting over the future, one can truly find peace and happiness.
After making the intention, the believer lifts his hands upwards behind his ears and says aloud, "Allahu Akbar." "God is great". The Muslim tries to put all worries of the world behind him in prayer, and he/she knows that God is greater than all the troubles in the world.
Standing in prayer and reciting verses of the Holy Qur'an has spiritual rewards but also physical. In the standing position, there is an even distribution of body weight to both feet. This will ease the nervous system and balance the body. The body is charged with positive energy. This position straightens the back and improves posture.
Next, the believer bows down and rests the hands on the knees; the back is held straight for a few seconds while uttering words to glorify Allah. This posture is actually an excellent way to stretch almost the entire body: the back, thighs, calves, arms, and neck muscles. It also works on the abdominal muscles to hold them firmly and keep the tummy tucked in. The peak moment of the prayer, and the joy of the true believer is in sujood, prostration to the Lord.
In a Hadith, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, "The nearest a servant comes to his Lord is when he is prostrating himself, so make supplication (in this state)." (Saheeh Bukhari).
The researchers, Sayeed and Prakash, stated that the psychological advantage of realizing that one is in a physical posture best liked by the Lord and that his supplications will be answered; besides the humility attained in this bodily position is incomparable.
Prostration is a remedy to rid oneself of arrogance and egoistic tendencies, and it also helps relieve stress and anxiety arising from worldly concerns.
As for the physical benefits, prostration is the only position in which the head is lower than the heart, which increases blood flow to the brain. This surge in blood supply has a positive effect on memory, concentration, and other cognitive abilities. This position strengthens stomach muscles and prevents flabbiness in the midsection. It maintains proper position of fetus in pregnant women, reduces high blood pressure, increases elasticity of joints and alleviates stress, anxiety, dizziness and fatigue.
It is the repetition of these movements in prayer, evenly distributed throughout the day, that make them exercise for the body. Even the sitting position (julus) in the prayer is good for the body.
"Julus aids the detoxification of the liver and stimulates peristaltic action of the large intestine. This position assists digestion by forcing the contents of the stomach downward. It helps in curing varicose veins and joint pains, increases flexibility, and strengthens the pelvic muscles," said Jasmine Ibrahim-Issa.
The prayer should not be rushed; it should be savored and performed slowly, with heightened mental and spiritual awareness.
Since Prophet Ibrahim understood how important the prayer was to lead a healthy, fruitful, happy, and God-fearing life, he asked Allah, {My Lord, make me an establisher of prayer, and from my descendants. Our Lord, and accept my supplication.} (Chapter 14, verse 40)

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