Physical Wellness: Smell and Sleep

This is the fourth in a series of articles on physical wellness based on Abu Zayd al-Balkhi’s work. The full seminar can be accessed here: Physical Wellness Workshop: Balkhi’s The Health of Bodies and Souls.

There is a fascinating thing Abu Zayd writes about, we do not necessarily associate it directly with physical health but it is about smell. Smell has an impact on us. There are benefits and harms of smell. Often we ignore the relationship between good and bad smells and wellness.

Good Smells and Health

Good smells have a good effect on oneself emotionally. It can even help one spiritually as one can be more positive, attentive, and grateful. Good smell that arises from the body is indicative of taking care of one’s body. Natural good smell is a good sign and adorning oneself can be a sign of purposefulness.

There are also benefits to others. Often, spouses distance themselves from each other and one of the reasons is smell. The spouse may not take care of their bodily smell or they may not perfume themselves. 

Bear in mind the smell of your breath. If your teeth smell good, it can be a sign of the health of your teeth. It is a sign that you keep your teeth clean and that you are following the Sunna, for example, concerning the tooth stick (Siwak). 

A bad smell can sometimes be a negative indicator. You probably need to shower,  use perfume or other things. It may be an indicator of neglect. It also gives negative signals to others.

Sunna of Perfume

One takes care of one’s good smell through bodily cleanliness and perfume both in private and in public. The Sunna for women is to use perfume indoors but not outdoors because of prophetic teachings regarding that. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) instructed that women are not to wear perfume that another can smell in public. One of the ways is that one applies perfume to parts of the body that one could just rub off so that it does not remain on one.

One also takes care of good smell in one’s home environment. Taking care of good smell in one’s home brings people together. Having a good smell creates a good environment. Similarly, in your work environment. Of course, if you are at work you need permission, but have a good smell or keep a flower or other thing that exudes a good smell.

It is from the Sunna to apply perfume before one’s acts of devotion of prayer or remembrance (Dhikr) etc. These help stir gratitude, focus, and positive emotions. Apply perfume before going to sleep, for example.

Sleep Well

Excess is not in sleep, rather excess is in waking. Many people worry about their sleep in terms of productivity thinking, “If I sleep less, I can get more done.” 

Take care of the 16 hours you are awake. Once you have taken care of them, then worry about reducing your sleep. Your waking hours are discretionary, you can do something about them. In modern times, there is grave harm in people not sleeping enough. Strike the right balance because your body has rights over you.

Sleep is also governed by the considerations of benefit and harm. Sleep is needed by the body. It is a healing, a recovery, and a re-charging for the body. It has many physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual benefit.

The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) would sometimes after Fajr prayer ask the companions about their dreams, and if there was anyone who had a good dream to share it. If someone has a healthy spiritual life, they are likely to have good spiritual dreams. That is one of the secondary benefits of sleep.

Natural Light

Excessive sleep is to sleep beyond need or benefit. This is harmful as well. In pre-modern times, people did not have electricity and unnatural light, it would require actual effort after nightfall to keep lights (candles or the like) on. It would require great effort to illuminate things and it would be costly. At night there was a natural inclination to sleep, this is very healthy. 

In our times, we keep too many lights on. It is good to practice the human experience of experiencing darkness at night. Dim the lights, reduce them even more for it is not good to keep excessive lights on. 

Sleep in accordance with the Sunna. Learn the Sunnas related to sleep. Sleep on ablution (Wudu). Engage in the remembrance of Allah before you go to sleep. Sleep with the intention of getting up minimally for Fajr prayer, but also, sleep with the intention of getting up for night prayer. Sleep on your right side facing the direction of prayer (Qibla). It is best to sleep on your side rather than on your back. Avoid sleeping on your stomach. 

Sleep on something that helps you rest but is not excessively comfortable so that it facilitates waking up.