Watching how easily, if not weightlessly, Mevlevi dervishes whirl in their white robes, often we do not even think about the reason of this weightlessness. Just imagine: the velocity of Semazen’s turns depends on musical rhythm and can reach 33-40 turns per minute. The Sema can last up to approximately two hours. This article is going to tell about some physical and physiological aspects of the Sema ceremony.
How can Mevlevi dervishes whirl during quite a long time without feeling any dizziness, queasiness, or other “vestibular symptoms”? This is achieved only through the system of exercises and trainings held according to certain rules.
Everyone, who starts Sema training, is observed to have the mentioned above symptoms. This is a normal physiological reaction. To avoid overburdening the vestibular system, Sema training goes step by step, starting with short, two-minute exercises. Duration of trainings increases when a Semazen stops feeling dizziness.
Dervishes believe that the one wishing to become a Semazen, must clear himself of negative emotions and bad thoughts. This clearing happens in the process of training, along with clearing of the organism. Despite the absence of strict alimentary prohibitions, Mevlevis tried to avoid eating junk, indigestible foods. Semazens must be neither stuffed, nor too hungry. As a rule the Sema is performed few hours after meals, towards evening time.
If talking about the Semazen’s posture during whirling, it should be noted that such movements as a full turn, a turn with raised up arms, balance on one leg, walking along a straight line with simultaneous spinning about oneself are applied in modern otolaryngology and neurology for diagnostic testing of the vestibular organ. Exactly due to such a head posture three semicircular canals, located in the inner ear, are stimulated evenly, which decreases the risk of dizziness, being caused by overstimulation of one of these canals.
Nowadays medical recommendations on fighting dizziness coincide generally with those used by Semazens in their practices: sitting close to the centre of gravity in transport, holding the head upright, avoiding excessive movements, looking straight ahead at the horizon, practicing vestibular rehabilitation: gaze stabilization, habituation, balance training, counting, guessing puzzles and riddles, singing, etc..
Balance of a moving man is provided with functioning of three systems: the vestibular organ, sight and feet nerve terminals. From medical point of view the Sema represents a complex of exercises, which aids to prevent dizziness, and its value in this aspect has not been depreciated also nowadays.
The Semazen’s skirt, when expanding during the Sema, creates the so-called aerodynamic effect, thanks to it a Semazen feels himself lighter and starts whirling faster. This helps to decrease dizziness. Mevlevis call the skirt “a pan lid”, it reminds this item because of its round shape. White colour of the tennure (robe) does not provoke dizziness, unlike other colours.
Semazens know that if they fix gaze at a certain point, their head will not be swimming. That is why they fix their gaze at the thumb of the left hand. Their eyes are half-covered with eyelids. They do not care what is happening around them. In such a posture a Semazen sees everything around him as in the dump haze, and dizziness stops.
Such techniques, as it is known, are used during sea-voyages or overland journeys. It is necessary to look ahead, in the direction of movement. By fixing gaze at some immobile item – a tree, a rock or a mount, you can weaken the feeling of nausea. Seamen usually recommend passengers to look at the sky-line.
The Sema is a ceremony aimed at concentration, unification with the Universe, self-denial, and service. There also exist religious and psychological aspects in the Semazen practice, which improve physical resistance of their organism. Before the Sema begins a ritual ablution (bath) is made. During the revolutions the name of Allah is repeated. By opening arms during revolutions, Semazens hold them in the shape of the Arab letter “lam”, thus the very body of theirs represent the words of the prayer “La illaha il Allah” (“There is no God except for Allah”).
Based on the book by Professor Fuat Yöndemli “Training in the Sufi fraternity of Mevlevi” translated by Yury Averyanov