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The performance of the five daily prayers is one of the pillars of Islam. As with most things which are done repetitively, it can soon turn into a ritual, done without true consciousness. For us prayer is not just a communication with Allah, because of the specific set of movements, it becomes an active act of worship. It is done in veneration, in gratitude and in obedience. Even the preparation for Salaah is different. We are required to take ablution, this means we cannot just fall into prayer mode. We stop what we are doing and in so doing we exercise discipline for the performance. When we open the tap for wudhu, the feel of the water on our skins also serves a function. In winter, when it is very cold, it serves to jolt us into awareness of what we are about to do. And in summer, when the heat is so intense, the coolness of the water brings a healing balm, serving also to centre us for what lies ahead.
With the frantic pace of our lives, it is all too easy to fall into automatic mode. When we actually understand what happens to our bodies during these so called ritual movements, it will become easier to appreciate the benefits of our Salaah.
Let us make a conscious decision to make the shift, let us look at all the benefits of the Salaah. 
When we go into Rukuh extra blood flows into the upper part of the body. The spine becomes supple and flexible, while the spinal nerves are nourished. This relieves backache and pain. The lower back, thighs and calves are stretched while blood gets pumped into the upper torso. The bowing tones stomach muscles, stomach and kidneys. When we return to the standing position after rukuh, the blood which has come into the upper body comes back to normal and the body is relaxed. This blood carries away toxins and releases tension.
When we do sujood, with eight parts of the body touching the floor, the forehead on the ground is the most relevant position in Salaah. We are constantly bombarded with electro static charges from the atmosphere, and these are lodged in our central nervous system.
These charges have to be dissipated or we will constantly have headaches, pain in the neck and muscle spasms. When we place the frontal lobe of the brain on the ground, these charges are discharged. The frontal lobe is where our thinking capacity is situated, and by placing our forehead on the ground there is less chance of getting headaches. The sujood also allows extra blood to flow into the skin, neck and face, which increases circulation of these parts. It also allows mental toxins to be cleared from the brain, which in turn prevents fibrositis and chilblains. There is also less chance of getting sinusitis because there is drainage of the paranasal sinuses. Due to the decrease of gravitational force in sujood there is extra venous return from the abdominal organs. This extra venous return to the right atrium of the heart causes a healthy heart.
We use only 2/3 of our lung capacity, which leaves 1/3 as residual air. In sujood, the abdominal viscera presses against the diaphragm, this in turn presses against the lower lobe of the lungs. This causes the residual air to be expelled, resulting in a healthy lung. The rukuh and sujood postures are great postures to prevent femoral and oesophageal hernia. In sujood we have our forehead, knees and hands on the floor. This posture helps the inter-vertrabal joints and can help in diseases of the cervical spine.

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It is also helpful in prolapse of the uterus, and preventing piles. The knees form a right angle, allowing the stomach muscles to develop, prevents growth of flabbiness and it reduces high blood pressure.
Prayer prevents varicose veins. Varicose veins on the legs are a common dysfunction, which takes the shape of large, zigzag veins filled with blood of a changed colour all along the lower limbs. Dr. Tawfiq Elwan, a Professor in Alexandria's Faculty of Medicine, Egypt, indicated that with the meticulous observation of prayer movements, it was found that prayer is distinguished by a wonderful measure of smoothness, harmony and coordination, represented in standing, kneeling (ruku), prostration (sujud) and sitting between every two prostrations. A scientific study on the measure of pressure exerted on the walls of the saphenous vein at the ankle joint found that a great decrease in that pressure occurs during kneeling; such pressure being reduced by almost one-half. As for the state of sujud, the average pressure becomes very slight. Naturally, this decrease provides full rest to that vein, which is greatly exhausted by long periods of standing. Sujud also helps the blood circulate work in the same direction as earth's gravity, as blood from the soles of the feet to the cardiac muscle, now pour smoothly and easily from top to bottom. This process greatly reduces the vein pressure over the feet dorsum. Amazingly, the reduction in pressure from standing to prostration represents around 80%. Consequently, the risks of having varicose veins, which rarely affects those performing prayers regularly and properly, are diminished.
Sitting on the knees after sujood helps to toughen the hips and legs and makes them stronger. This ensures greater flexibility in joints and stretches out the muscles. It encourages an upright posture, which is good for the spine. In addition, the body returns to even greater relaxation, and this posture assists digestion by forcing the contents of the stomach downwards. Since most of the pressure is going to the lower half of the body, the upper body is relaxed. Repeating the sujood within a few seconds after sitting on the knees cleanses the respiratory, circulatory and nervous system.
Salaah is also a way to exercise without moving other limbs if they cannot move. Just turning the head and neck from side to side as we do at the end of Salaah, is a beneficial exercise.
The wudhu is itself an act of Ibadah. When we use water to physically cleanse our limbs, we are also figuratively cleansing our minds and hearts. When we take the time to ponder on the various aspects of Salaah (prayer), and search for the benefits of every act and every movement that we perform, we will never lose the benefit for which it was instituted.  Translating the word Salaah into prayer is an oversimplification. Salaah means ‘connection’. It is an opportunity to connect with our Creator. It is when we are fully present and we can ask Allah to give us the necessary strength to do what needs to be done. 
We perform our Salaah because it is incumbent upon us, but do we ever ponder for what other reason we do it. The best form of prayer is when we pray in gratitude. We should be so grateful for all we have that the ritual becomes a joy to serve Allah. We obey because of our love for Allah.  It is an affirmation that we are open to willingly receive what already exists, and that we are grateful. Do it with mindfulness, aware that we are standing in the presence of Allah. This awesome realization alone should make us pause, ponder, and slow down. Do the movements slowly and with grace, recite with conviction, be aware from second to second what you are doing. Performing Salaah is a form of tapping into the divine within us, connecting with the spirit that is inside of us. It brings our mental, physical and emotional bodies into alignment.  This alignment of body, spirit, and mind ignites the divine spark within us.  This is how we acknowledge the divine presence within us. .  Salaah is an opportunity to call forth the divine, calling on Allah who created us.
Salaah is a light exercise and heavy in spiritual deeds, ensuring a 2 in 1 workout. Moreover, the Quran is recited in Salaah and during the recitation the sound vibrations of the long vowels: AA, Thee and Oo, stimulate the heart, thyroid, pineal, pituitary and adrenalin glands, as well as the lungs, resulting in their purification.
May Allah grant us to perform our prayers with consciousness, and this will bring about contentment, Insha’Allah.
©Jasmine Khan
Published Muslim Views December, 2011

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