Sufi whirling

The practice of Sufi whirling, a whirling meditation, originated among the ancient Indian mystics and Turkish Sufis (and is still practiced by the dervishes of the Mevlevi order).

Following a recommended fast of several hours, Sufi whirlers begin with hands crossed onto shoulders and may return their hands to this position if they feel dizzy. They rotate on their left feet in short twists, using the right foot to drive their bodies around the left foot. The left foot is like an anchor to the ground, so that if the whirler loses his or her balance, he or she can think of their left foot, direct attention towards it and regain balance back.

The whirling is done on the spot in an anticlockwise direction, with the right arm held high, palm upwards, and the left arm held low, palm downwards. People who feel discomfort from whirling anti-clockwise can change to clockwise. The body of the whirler is meant to be soft with eyes open, but unfocused so that images become blurred and flowing. A 15 minute period of slow rotation is followed by a gradual build up of speed over the next 30 minutes. Then the whirling takes over.

When the whirler is whirling so fast that he or she cannot remain upright, his or her body will fall by itself. The whirler does not consciously make the fall a decision or attempt to arrange the landing in advance; if his or her body is soft he or she should land softly—and the earth will absorb the energy. If the idea of letting oneself fall is too much for the practitioner then the whirler should allow his or herself to slow down very slowly. If the whirler has been whirling for an hour then the process of slowing down might take some time—even 10 minutes or more.

Once the whirler has fallen, the second part of the meditation starts—the unwhirling. The whirler rolls onto his or her stomach immediately so that his or her bare navel is in contact with the earth. If anybody feels strong discomfort lying this way, he should lie on his back. The practitioner feels his or her body blending into the earth, like a small child pressed to his mother's breasts. Eyes remain closed and the whirler remains passive and silent for at least 15 minutes. After the meditation whirlers try to be as quiet and inactive as possible.


Sema is a term that means hearing in Arabic and Persian. It is used to refer to some of the ceremonies used by various sufi orders and often involves prayer, song, dance, and other ritualistic activities.

Sema dancing is known to Europeans as the dance of the Whirling Dervishes; see "Sufi whirling". It inspired the Dances of Universal Peace.

In the Mevlevi sufi tradition, sema represents a mystical journey of spiritual ascent through mind and love to "Perfect." In this journey the seeker symbolically turns towards the truth, grows through love, abandons the ego, finds the truth, and arrives at the "Perfect"; then returns from this spiritual journey with greater maturity, so as to love and to be of service to the whole of creation without discrimination against beliefs, races, classes and nations.

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