Effect of Zikr on Heart Rate Variability

It is a well – documented fact that praying or any form of chanting, has a powerful effect on a person’s mind, and through it, their physiology. As is known, physiology deals with the functions and activities of all living matter, and the related physical and chemical activities. It is documented that chanting affects the human physiology in a positive manner.

In – order to verify this belief, Wellness Space carried out a case study in April 2018. The intention was to evaluate the positive physiological impact through a scientific method, using the HRV as the measure.

Zikr, also known as dhikr, is the name given in Islam for short prayers which are recited repeatedly. The prayers or phrases can be recited aloud, or silently within the mind. Nigar Parvez, a budding hypnotherapist and NLP practitioner, volunteered to be the subject for this case. (NLP, or neuro linguistic programming, is one of the many approaches to communication, personal development and psychotherapy.)

To begin with, Nigar’s HRV was recorded for 3 minutes before she began to silently chant Zikr. HRV is a physiological phenomenon denoting the variation in the time interval between heartbeats. This interval is measured in milliseconds and is called the ‘R-R interval” or the “inter-beat interval”. It is important to understand this concept because a low HRV, i.e., less variability in the heart beats indicates that the body is under stress due to physiological reasons, exercise, or any other external stressor. Also important is the nature of the variation. Stress, anger, frustration, anxiety and other such negative emotions cause the variations to be chaotic. Positive emotions e.g. gratitude, love etc. lead to rhythmic and ordered variations.

Figure 2: Variations in Heart Rate (Beats Per Minute), i.e. HRV. Notice how Appreciation creates a coherent pattern and frustration creates an inconsistent pattern. (Source: R. McCraty, Ph.D., M. Atkinson, D. Tomasino, B.A., and R. Trevor Bradley, Ph.D., The Coherent Heart: Heart-Brain Interactions, Psychophysiological Coherence, and the Emergence of System-Wide Order, Integral Review, Dec 2009)

Nigar then chanted Zikr for 10 minutes. The HRV was once again measured during the last 3 minutes of her chanting. Her HRV was measured using Emwave pro software. This unique system monitors the heart rhythms and displays the physiological level of coherence. Coherence is that optimal state where the heart, mind and emotions are all in balance. This leads to the coordinated functioning of the immune, nervous and hormonal systems. At this point, the body is said to be in balance, in sync, in HOMEOSTASIS.

Figure 3: Nigar’s Heart Rate Variability before and after Zikr Chanting.

An analysis of Nigar’s coherence and achievement scores, before she started Zikr chanting, and in the last 3 minutes of her chanting, clearly indicates a positive effect on her physiology. Her overall coherence showed a significant increase i.e. there was an improvement in the measure of the rhythms of various systems of her body, such as the heart rate, breathing and blood-pressure. Achievement (sum of coherence scored awarded every 5 minutes) also increased significantly. Thus, chanting increases overall coherence between heart beats, mind and the emotions !!

This case study thus helped reinforce that positive emotions / energies have a calming effect on our physiology and help in establishing balance and coherence.

In order to further validate and authenticate this mind-body connect, we welcome volunteers. If you would like to volunteer, please contact us at info@wellness-space.net

Written and compiled by:

Dr. Hemalatha Ramani (PhD, Bangalore University) has taught economics at the National University of Singapore, BK School of Management, Ahmedabad and in the International Baccalaureate Curriculum at many schools in Ahmedabad.