When someone unfamiliar with yoga sees a class lying flat in shavasana, or corpse pose, they might wonder why the exercise involves a period of stillness at the end. Taking brief pauses from the outside world is a broad summary of what mindfulness feels like.
Folks who vigorously practice mindfulness tend to be in touch with spirituality, extending their consciousness to separate themselves from the outside world in and outside of mindfulness practices. Outsiders of spiritual healing might view spirituality practices as mystical hoo-ha, but a California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) psychologist argued elements of these practices can produce a healthier brain.
Reiki master and tarot card reader Adam Hostetter agreed “spirituality is a broad category” that has multiple meanings. Meditation, crystal work, manifesting and yoga are practices of widespread knowledge, but there are layers to all of them, with several techniques created to suit the individual partaking in them.
On TikTok, #spiritualtiktok and #witchtok have spread like wildfire over quarantine, where many share how they became better acquainted with spirituality. Meditation in the form of speaking with spirit guides, astral projection, creating herbal remedies, connecting to the universe and more are all popular topics related to those hashtags. Although these practices are being shared as a sort of trend, they relate to the common theme of spirituality everywhere: to establish self-love, healing and compassion in order to live peacefully.
Hostetter defined reiki as a Japanese healing meditation technique, where a practitioner moves energy through their hands and into their patient – without touching the patient’s body – for healing. He has seen a mental shift in many of his patients after conducting reiki work.
“To meditate, one must get quiet – quiet the mind. To have that kind of focus, but direct it toward another is a kind of non-judgement,” he said. “When you see how non-judgement works and feels as it relates to that other person, it becomes more and more applicable to yourself.”
Releasing mental negativity creates space not only for personal well-being and satisfaction, but also makes a person less fearful. This creates space for individuals to react soundly to a difficult situation rather than letting their emotions take the wheel.
“When we meditate, we react less from a place of fear and can slow down and thoughtfully respond to a situation or stressor,” said CSUMB psychology professor Shannon Snapp. “Taking time to slow things down in moments of stress often leads to better decision-making that also minimizes harm to ourselves and others.”
While scientific support on meditation is often expressed, it does not necessarily extend to all forms of spirituality. Spiritual practice can be highly personalized and there is no way to measure every form’s affect on the brain.
Many videos on #spiritualtiktok dive into the metaphysical, where literally speaking and seeing their spirit guides – either through deep meditation or astral planing – is part of their weekly practice. Topics like differentiating one’s true self from their ego and seeing their life as a stepping stone into later becoming one with the universe are also common.
Not much scientific research can be found on what happens in the brain when an individual practices speaking with a spirit guide or has an out-of-body experience during astral projecting. Instances like these are commonly established in science as dream states, although individuals who practice these activities might argue otherwise.
Benjamin Radford wrote in a Live Science article that, “because there is no scientific evidence that consciousness can exist outside of the brain, astral projection is rejected by scientists.”
Because of this, while the plethora of spiritual videos on social media are not institutionally supported, according to Snapp, they have a low risk of harming people. More information on spirituality means more people will have the opportunity to practice mindfulness.
“[Spiritual practices being shared] is most certainly a good thing as we need to develop more care and concern for our fellow human beings in order to develop creative, innovative and sustainable solutions to systemic issues that we currently face as a country and a planet,” Snapp said.
She asserted the only potential harm in spreading spiritual knowledge would come from “the teacher of this content manipulating the students,” whether that be through deliberately spreading misinformation or hiking up the prices for their teaching services. But on platforms like TikTok, these informational videos are free and easily accessible.
Hostetter said connecting to spirituality can truly uplift people because it is a separate entity from religion. “Our religions demand that we experience them historically.”
When all a person learns about the creation life is how Jesus was born and died on the cross, Hostetter argued it leaves them feeling hollow and confused, as it doesn’t allow them to connect with their own life in the present. He said spiritual practices can deepen our sense of religion and produce compassion.
“When we break free from that, and transcend, realize in our hearts that spirituality is about connecting to the mystical, religion takes on a whole new meaning,” he said. “Love for all can grow – as opposed to believing the other has the wrong religion and therefore is going to hell.”
The themes of spirituality – taking a step back, slowing down one’s thoughts and allowing oneself to feel love – are great ways to produce a calm and compassionate mind. Although there are several spiritual practices unexplored by scientists, those deeply connected to spirituality do seem to be happy, as seen through the several TikTok creators teaching on the matter.
“Our bellies and our hearts know more about spirituality and symbols than our minds,” Hostetter said. “Rationalization only goes so far before someone says, this doesn’t make sense … we need to find more ways to bring the brain and body together.”