The Art of Living Through Yoga and Islam
I fell in love with yoga three years ago when I started taking classes at a local studio. It helps me on physical and spiritual levels. Yoga practice helps me find inner peace, control my thoughts, let go off all the bad, and set my mind free. There has been many times during my yoga class where I find myself doing a pose and think to myself “wow this is just like a posture I would do while praying”. Muslims pray five times a day, holding body postures similar to five of the yoga postures. These pictures show the body posture resemblance between the two practices.
What could be the reasoning? What is so significant about these postures? and why do we go though them in both yoga and Islamic prayer?
There are health and physical reasoning behind these postures. A desired acts in Islam can be found in the second sutra (rule) of yoga. “Yogas Chitt Vritti Nirodhah”, which means the mind is set free from any intonations. In Islam we have a similar goal to stop the wondering mind and find a connection with God. (Rajaque Rahman, July 2012) “Interestingly, for the millions of people enrolled in yoga classes, the Islamic form of prayer has provided Muslims for fourteen centuries with some of yoga’s same (and even superior) benefits. This simple form of “yoga” offers physical, mental, and spiritual benefits five times a day as Muslims assume certain positions while reciting Qur’an and athkar (remembrance). (Karima Burns, July, 2014) Islamic prayer and yoga share some similar intentions. There is the peace of mind, for example: being present at the moment, being able to focus, finding inner piece, balance and more.
While praying we do Takbir, Al-Qiyyam, Ruku, Sujud, and Julus. Similarly in yoga we do Mountain pose/Tadasana, Hands to heart center/Prayer hands, forward bend/Uttanasana, Childs pose/Balasana and Vajrasana/ kneeling pose in Yoga. According to modern scientific research (Karima Burns, July, 2014) there are five positions in the Muslim prayer, and they all have a consistent connection with our spiritual and mental wellbeing. The seven chakras, which are our energy centers, are all activated through these postures. It is more than just a routine when you are praying or practicing yoga. Each pose has a goal and is there for a reason.
The Takbir and Al Qiyyam together are very similar to the Mountain Pose and prayer hands in yoga, which has been found to improve posture, balance, and self-awareness. This position also normalizes blood pressure and breathing, thus providing many benefits to asthma and heart patients.”
The position of Ruku is very similar to the Forward Bend Position in yoga. Ruku stretches the muscles of the lower back, thighs, legs and calves, and allows blood to be pumped down into the upper torso. It tones the muscles of the stomach, abdomen, and kidneys. Forming a right angle allows the stomach muscles to develop, and prevents flabbiness in the mid-section. This position also promotes a greater flow of blood into the upper regions of body – particularly to the head, eyes, ears, nose, brain, and lungs – allowing mental toxins to be released. Over time, this improves brain function and one’s personality, and is an excellent stance to maintain the proper position of the fetus in pregnant women.
The Sujud is said to activate the “crown chakra,” which is related to a person’s spiritual connection with the universe around them and their enthusiasm for spiritual pursuits. This nerve pathway is also correlated to the health of the brain, nervous system, and pineal gland. Its healthy function balances ones interior and exterior energies.
In addition to the body movements the sound, music and what is being cited also affects both practices. Muslim researchers have shown that when Muslims recite the Qur’an, old thoughts, feelings, fears and guilt are released or healed, and blood pressure and stress levels are reduced. (Shabbir Ahmed Sayeed and Anand Prakash, Jan, 2013) Similarly in yoga every single sound, the music, the tone of the instructors’ voice can affect a practice. I sometimes pick my classes based on the instructors’ tone of voice and/or the music that they play in class. What is heard in the studio, while practicing, can deepen a practice and the intentions.
I did a short interview, on Islamic praying specifically, with Ajwa Aljoudi and Roya Rasoulzadeh. Ajwa is 24 year old Muslim International graduate student from Saudi Arabia. Roya is a 27 year old Iranian Muslim who has lived in San Diego since 2001. Despite the fact that both women are far from their home country they both practice their religion. I wanted to know if Roya and Ajwa knew why these postures where followed and the importance of the movements. I was also curious to how praying affected their emotional and well-being.
1. Did you ever think about why you are doing these five poses? Why are you going through these different body movements?
Ajwa: “I have never thought why I do these movement while I’m praying… I do them because that is how Islam taught us to pray, but I know that every body movement symbolize something. For example when you do Sujud it you are in a position closest to Allah, you can ask Allah whatever you want in these moments. It makes you humble to god and takes all of the negativity away from your body.”
Roya: The order to the movements help focus the mind. When performing these movement we are working on some of the major muscles of our body that help release tension and negative energy.
2. How do you feel when you are praying? And how do you feel after you have finished your prayer?
Ajwa: “The feelings are emotional and physical. As physical I mean feeling more active. Since the times of the praying, like fajr (morning) or the late night praying, our bodies are usually in rest or kind of sluggish. The praying gives my body the right amount of energy I need to go through the day or have a good night of sleep. Moreover, when I have a headache and I “do sujud” I feel my head much lighter. Also, when I have a back pain “ruku” helps ease the pain. Usually after praying I feel more energetic and peaceful at the same time. All the things on my head seem much easier to handle.”
Roya: When praying, my goal is to focus on what I want (what I am asking for) — to reach this point both our body and mind have to align.
I myself am a Muslim, and personally I did not know anything about the significance of these postures. I believe there are others who are unaware of “why” we move through Al-Qiyyam, Takbir, Roku and Sujud. It is usually about how we connect to god and being able to free the mind rather than, make sure we have the right posture cause it matters. Doing yoga made me realize the connection. What I find interesting is how detailed the movements are and how important they are while praying. There is all that intention that is transformed through these poses which also help us reach our goals through both praying and practicing yoga. In the end yoga and Muslim praying both have some mutual goals followed by the more specific direction that takes them further.