It is a month of introspection, devotion and self-discipline. Comprising 30 days of abstinence, during Ramadan, it is important to keep your mind and body strong. Yoga builds flexibility and strength — not just for the body, but also the mind, which makes it a perfect accompaniment for fasting.
Hunger. Yoga. Cooking. Prayer. Restraint. Family. In his book, Fasting for Ramadan: Notes from a Spiritual Practice, yoga instructor and Oberlin College creative writing professor, Kazim Ali, touches on these parts of the human experience. Writing about the Islamic month of Ramadan, Ali articulates the process of fasting from dusk to dawn:
“Twenty-nine or thirty days to explore the line between the interior of the body and the surrounding world, to think about what is brought to us and what we owe," he writes. "Yoga is a practice, not unlike fasting, that allows us to practice linking the inside — the private experiences of the body and the mind, with the outside, the pulsing, breathing, actual world.”
Here are some aspects of yoga that may help you during Ramadan.
Gentle stretching helps to speed up the elimination of toxins. Releasing toxins can help relieve symptoms of fasting such as migraines and fatigue. During Ramadan the best time for a little yoga is just before breaking fast or 2-3 hours after iftar.
Ahimsa is one of the key principles of yoga and also of fasting. It refers to non-violence in action, words and thoughts. This includes not only violence against others but also oneself.
Don't be greedy
Aparigraha is another key principle of yoga which says we must avoid hoarding and greed. Ramadan is a great time to practice restraint and compassion. This should apply to meals as well. Try not to binge during iftar.
Soucha is also a key principle of yoga, which means cleanliness. This refers not only to ablutions, cleanliness of the body, but also of the mind. Wash out your negative thoughts. This may be a good time for some 'spring cleaning'. Get rid of things you no longer need. Get rid of thoughts that no longer serve you, or that limit and disempower you. Get rid of bad habits.
Shavasana or corpse pose takes focus on remaining still and simply 'be'. It is also known to boost your mood, relieve stress, fatigue, headaches and lower blood pressure. Lie back, elongate your spine on the floor, and connect with the earth. This is the perfect time to reflect, re-centre and ready yourself for the rest of the day.
Sheetali is a form of pranayama. It is a cooling breath that calms the body and mind. It also has a positive impact on our nervous system and endocrine glands. “A person becomes young and charming by practicing this process,” according to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Swami Swatmaramji. It helps people to control thirst and hunger.
Sit comfortably and inhale through your rolled tongue, like pulling through a straw. If you cannot roll your tongue (and don't feel bad just blame your parents because it's genetic) then push your tongue against the back of your top front teeth with a wide smile, keeping your teeth together and inhale. You will feel the cool air entering, cooling your tongue. Close your mouth and retain the breath within for a moment, then exhale through your nose. Repeat ten to twenty times whenever you like.
Make sure to drink lots of water. Also fresh juices such as beet juice, bitter gourd juice and carrot juice are very helpful for detox.
Load up on healthy food options like soups, yoghurt, fruits and vegetables. Dates and dried fruits are perfect as you break your fast. They are high in carbs, giving you energy, and iron to combat anaemia. Guava and papaya are a great source of fibre to help you digest your food and release your waste daily. Cucumbers and hummus are another healthy favourite and watermelon is a low-calorie filler upper. Please limit your peyajis! Fried food on an empty stomach is a recipe for ulcers.
Make this Ramadan the perfect opportunity to exercise healthy discipline and devotion, to detox your mind and body, shed a few kilos and embrace some positive lifestyle changes.
Shazia Omar is a writer, a yogi and an activist. www.shaziaomar.com