Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Heartbeats align during an Islamic ritual, new study finds

Researchers found that the hearts of Sufi devotees harmonized as one during a mystical practice. And this isn't the first study to show heart synchronization between people.

  • Anthropologists at the University of Connecticut discovered that the heartbeats of Sufi practitioners synchronized during an important ritual.
  • Sufism is a mystical component of Islam that emphasizes coming to know God through direct experience, like trance.
  • Other studies have also found that individuals who are closely connected emotionally and socially experience physiological alignment.


New, unpublished research claims that during an important Sufi ritual, the heartbeats of participants unified.

What is Sufism?

Photo Credit: Max Pixel

Sufism is a mystical dimension of the Islamic faith. Dimitris Xygalatas and Christopher Manoharan, two anthropologists at the University of Connecticut who conducted the study, describe it as "a meditative and highly devout form of Islamic worship that emphasizes a heart-based knowledge of God's oneness." This is a spiritual knowledge that Sufis call marifat, which practitioners come to know through direct experience such as meditation, dreams, music, ritual, and entrance into deep states of religious trance.

According to Xygalatas and Manoharan, the largest and most important Sufi ritual is the dhikr. Translating to "remembrance," it is often referred to by Sufis as "the way of the heart." This communal ritual lasts several hours and includes devotees joining together in deep meditation or ecstatic trance, and sacred sound and movement including the whirling dervish, a dancing meditation started by the 13th-century Sufi mystic and poet Jalaluddin Rumi.

The authors, who study ritual and religion, did an in-depth study on a Sufi Muslim congregation called the Uşşaki order that meets weekly in downtown Istanbul for a dhikr ritual. In the study, Xygalatas took a unique ethnographic approach. He monitored 20 of the practitioners' heart rates using heart monitors worn under their garments. The reason for doing this was because, according to Sufi's, during their ritual hearts are said to "beat as one" as they come together to remember Allah.

"We were curious to see whether this notion would be supported by biological data," wrote Xygalatas and Manoharan. "Our recent (not yet published) research shows that their quest to unify hearts in celebration of God does go beyond metaphor: Their hearts really do beat as one."

The discovery, though deeply intriguing, is not unprecedented. Other studies have found that individuals who are closely connected emotionally and socially experience physiological synchronization. For example, a 2013 study found that lovers' heart beats synch up. And, in another study reported by Aeon, during intense rituals like fire-walking, remarkable degrees of heart-rate harmonization were found between the participants of the event as well as onlookers. Similarly to the study on lovers' heart rates, the study on fire-walking found that the participant's heartbeat was more closely aligned with those he was in social proximity to, such as his wife or friends. This correlation was so strong that researchers were actually able to predict the level of social proximity between two people solely by looking at the heart-rate data.

A natural explanation

What these heartbeat studies tells us is that, although we may believe we live our lives in isolated bodies, we are not physically severed off from the rest of the world. Natural rhythms have influence over us and our relations to others. In fact, according to Michael Richardson, a psychologist at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, the harmonization of heartbeats is a part of a natural law.

"The natural law of coupled oscillators holds that when two or more rhythms meet, they will become coordinated—a phenomenon seen across the natural world, from fireflies matching their flashes to groups falling into step," Richardson told National Geographic in 2011.

It has long been the subject of fascination by anthropologists and sociologists that rituals, particularly intense rituals, bind people together. Research like that conducted by Xygalatas and Manoharan on Sufis is starting to give us a glimpse at how bonding is achieved at the physiological level.

Strong social connections have long been linked to living a healthier, longer, happier, and more meaningful life. But to achieve the social binding benefits of the Sufi's heart-synching practice, you don't need to attend a dhikr or adhere to any religion at all. If group prayer, or walking barefoot over scalding coals, isn't really your thing, similar states can be achieved simply by snuggling with a pet you love, going to a theater performance, or rapturously belting out your favorite songs with your friends this weekend. (Ideally in harmony.)

Is the universe a graveyard? This theory suggests humanity may be alone.

Ever since we've had the technology, we've looked to the stars in search of alien life. It's assumed that we're looking because we want to find other life in the universe, but what if we're looking to make sure there isn't any?

According to the Great Filter theory, Earth might be one of the only planets with intelligent life. And that's a good thing (NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team [STScI/AURA]).
Surprising Science

Here's an equation, and a rather distressing one at that: N = R* × fP × ne × f1 × fi × fc × L. It's the Drake equation, and it describes the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy with whom we might be able to communicate. Its terms correspond to values such as the fraction of stars with planets, the fraction of planets on which life could emerge, the fraction of planets that can support intelligent life, and so on. Using conservative estimates, the minimum result of this equation is 20. There ought to be 20 intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way that we can contact and who can contact us. But there aren't any.

Keep reading Show less

The key to better quality education? Make students feel valued.

Building a personal connection with students can counteract some negative side effects of remote learning.

Future of Learning
  • Not being able to engage with students in-person due to the pandemic has presented several new challenges for educators, both technical and social. Digital tools have changed the way we all think about learning, but George Couros argues that more needs to be done to make up for what has been lost during "emergency remote teaching."
  • One interesting way he has seen to bridge that gap and strengthen teacher-student and student-student relationships is through an event called Identity Day. Giving students the opportunity to share something they are passionate about makes them feel more connected and gets them involved in their education.
  • "My hope is that we take these skills and these abilities we're developing through this process and we actually become so much better for our kids when we get back to our face-to-face setting," Couros says. He adds that while no one can predict the future, we can all do our part to adapt to it.
Keep reading Show less

Study details the negative environmental impact of online shopping

Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.

A truck pulls out of a large Walmart regional distribution center on June 6, 2019 in Washington, Utah.

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
  • Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
  • Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
Keep reading Show less
Personal Growth

Childhood sleeping problems may signal mental disorders later in life

Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast