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Millennials turn to meditation, online prayer to beat stress

There has been an uptick in consumption of playlists around self-help, wellness and yoga over the past few weeks

Rahsaan Noor hosts virtual iftar every evening.
Rahsaan Noor hosts virtual iftar every evening.

After putting her two toddlers to sleep, Shweta Khandelwal, 33, spends an hour every night with meditation app Calm to manage the anxiety she feels about a rapidly-spreading virus that’s infected more than 3 million people worldwide. “I couldn’t sleep during the first week of the lockdown because I kept worrying about my kids," says Khandelwal, who quit her career in jewellery design five years ago to care for her children. The soothing voice of the woman in the app “makes me feel as if everything’s going to be okay."

There’s much talk about how the novel coronavirus will create a new normal for us in the future, but it’s already forced us to adapt to ways that were unthinkable few months ago. Millennials stuck at home and stressed about the future, are turning to technology to beat anxiety, relax, and even find god.

There has been an uptick in consumption of playlists around self-help, wellness and yoga over the past few weeks, says Amarjit Singh Batra, managing director (India) of Spotify, the music and podcast streaming app. “In music, we have seen a surge in ‘chill’ playlists for calm inspiration from instrumental and acoustic tracks, as well as nature sounds and meditation playlists," he says.

There’s enough research on the power of prayer and meditation and its effect on the body and mind during a crisis. “It helps give people a sense of purpose, hope, a positive mindset," says Sameer Malhotra, head (mental health and behavioural science), Max Super Specialty Hospital, Delhi.

Rahsaan Noor, 32, had planned to be in the US with his family to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan and enjoy elaborate evening meals after breaking the day’s fast. Instead, the actor-director is in Mumbai searching YouTube videos daily to make “something special" for his virtual iftaar get-together after the virus outbreak grounded all international travel.

“If someone told me I’d be hosting virtual iftars in 2020, I would have laughed," says Noor, who started the online evening gatherings five days ago. Colleagues and friends join him from across the world over Zoom. “We pray, eat, talk, it’s all fun and feels good," says Noor, who made noodles and chicken last evening. He’s yet to celebrate iftar with his family because of the 12-hour time difference.

The dependence on technology for prayer and faith is not just restricted to millennials. Vijayakumari Kallen never thought that in her 69 years of existence, she would have to attend Sunday mass on YouTube. The retired schoolteacher in Kozhikode spends much of her idle time listening to priests on the CSI Cathedral Church’s channel on the video streaming site. “Around 29 March, we got a message on the church WhatsApp group that they we will be offering prayers live online every Wednesday and Sunday. I was stunned. I never thought it could happen," says Kallen. “I feel as if I’m inside the church. I feel closer to God. In those few moments, I forget about the pain this world is going through."

That’s the reason Meenakshi Dogra, 43, decided to get her name added to the WhatsApp group of a temple near her home in Faridabad. “Initially, I was apprehensive about listening to live aartis on Zoom, but all the social media posts and texts on covid-19 were leading to debilitating worry," says Dogra, who leads HR head at a multinational company. She now participates in the aarti twice a day, and finds it calming. “If covid is keeping us away from temples, technology is bringing us closer to God," she says.

(Mukta Lad contributed to this story from Mumbai)

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