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Surrender to Divinity: the relationship between the brain and prayer

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The spiritual experience and enlightened mindset brought on from prayer is one that throughout human history has been elusive to describe. For different religions prayer means different things: for Catholics it is meditation with prayer beads, for Buddhists it is deep medetive states, and for Muslims it is Salah, the second of the five pillars of Islam.  Salah uses both physical symbols and mental preparation to achieve a meditative state that connects one fully to God - from standing to Takbir, the recitation of Fatihah to Ruku, and then to Sujud; the closest surrender to Allah.

              Many Muslims find that the act of Sujud is the moment where you are able to free yourself from sin - illustrated in the drawing below - it is the moment where you can connect with god, detach from the physical reality of day to day life, of troubling emotions, and to find peace to move onwards with your life and daily interactions with others.

The peace one finds after prayer is universal - and there may be more going on in the brain than initially thought. A 2015 study in the Journal of Physiology-Paris, has linked the experience of ‘surrendering to god,’ with decreased activity in the frontal regions of the brain - there are the regions that govern social functions such as language, impulse control, spontaneity and judgement:

‘The findings support our hypothe-ses that these intense prayer practices, especially when accompa-nied with an experience of surrender, are associated with decreased activity in the frontal regions. In addition, the decrease of activity in the parietal regions may be associated with the subjective experience of spacelessness and a feeling of being connected to, or one with, God.’

Although the study suggests that there needs to be more research done on islamic prayer, it seems that science is learning more about the connection between spiritual states and what exactly happens in the brain. Salah is often described as a connection to the divine, and by learning how the brain reacts in the midst of prayer.

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