We have seen in most evangelical churches people falling during prayers. There has been many questions as to why it happens but no very conclusive answers have been put forward and this has left it to be attributed to spirituality. There are explanations that it is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit while others have attributed it to demonic attacks.
When people fall during the prayers, they are seen to convulse and others produce incomprehensible sounds. People try to explain that it is the Holy Spirit talking while others feel that its demons coming out of that person. This can be very tormenting to people who do not know spirituality or to people who cannot explain it in scientific terms.
So exactly what happens until one gets into the deep feeling and just lets go? This can well be explained scientifically by explaining the events that occurs from the time one hears the first word in the prayer until the time the person touches down. It’s all to do with emotions.
Before we get to the main explanation, we will first study the brain and the major functions it controls as far as our topic of study is concerned. We will first study the parts of the brain that control emotions.
The human emotions are processed in the Limbic system in the Amygdala. The Amygdala is a little almond shaped structure, deep inside the antero-inferior region of the temporal lobe. The temporal lobe is the part of the brain on either part of the head just above the ear level. To keep it simple, let’s just say the Amygdala is located in the deep temporal lobe.
The Amygdala plays a very important role in friendship, affection, love, fear, rage, aggression, and sexual behavior. It tells an animal on what do in case of danger whether to fight or run. Persons with injuries of the amygdala are not able to display feelings. They will see somebody they know very well but cannot show a facial expression of love or hate, that is their faces remain expressionless.
Monkeys fear snakes but with experimental lesions of the Amygdala, the monkeys step on and eat the snakes. Animals with lesions of the Amygdala have no sexual inhibition and mount on animals of different species and even inanimate objects. I has been suggested that in order to make fearless soldiers, we can induce lesions to the Amygdala and our soldiers would fight fearlessly but this is not acceptable in the modern world.
The amygdala is connected to other parts of the brain. The thalamus has nerve fibers coming from the Amygdala. The thalamus has a role in changes in emotion reactivity that is how one reacts to a given emotion, whether to show it or hide. The thalamus does not control emotions alone but together with other parts of the brain especially the limbic system. Don’t worry about the names we will provide a nice image of the brain with all these parts labeled.
The Hippocampus is the part the part of the brain that is involved in converting short term memory into long term memory. The role in emotions therefore is keeping memories and emotions alive.
The hypothalamus is the thermostat of the body. It regulates temperature, heartbeat, pulse, blood pressure, breathing, and arousal in response to emotional circumstances. The hypothalamus is also believed to play a role in emotion. Specifically, it seem to be involved with happiness and rage, while the median part is like to be involved with aversion, displeasure and a tendency to uncontrollable and loud laughing. However, in general terms, the hypothalamus has more to do with the expression (symptomatic manifestations) of emotions.
Now back to the connection between falling due to prayers. During prayer either by individual or by other people, the emotional brain is highly activated. When the prayer state goes on for sometime, signals are relayed from the emotional parts of the brain to the hypothalamus which is the thermostat of the body. This leads to reduced pulse rate and consequent reduction in blood pressure. And this leads to reduced supply of oxygen into the brain and the person faints. The reduced blood supply to the brain also leads to the increased breathing seen during that state.
Some people also convulse during these evens. This is caused by nerve signals sent to the motor area of the brain which in return sends hazy signals to the muscles and hence the convulsions.
We must also note that one minute of prayer cannot cause one to fall. It has to be enough time to reach the threshold of emotional stimulation.
The role of the emotional brain and prayer can be supported by the fact that it’s mostly women who fall during prayers and women are known to be more emotional than men. Children cannot fall because their brain is not mature enough to process the emotions resulting from the prayers.
The same mechanism can be used to explain why people fall during grief like in funerals.