How To Be More Mindful During Ramadan
Illustration by Mr Luis Mendo
It’s the first day of Ramadan. You’re up at the crack of dawn thanks to an absurdly loud alarm because it’s time for Suhoor – you must get a few bites in before the sun rises and your fast begins.
Today, it’s overnight oats, a few dates and a glass of water. This is probably as good as Suhoor will get. By the end of the month, you’ll be lucky to wake up early enough to have a single date. “I should work on building a proper routine,” you think. If you’ve observed Ramadan, you’ll relate to the urge to self-reflect that comes with it.
And as April rolls around this year, it’s time again to do exactly that. After all, fasting is Islamically prescribed as a practice of gratitude, with the idea that forgoing food and water will increase awareness on the immaterial aspects of life. Voluntary hunger is meant to make one conscious of those less fortunate and allows for reflection on one’s personal blessings. So, while Ramadan is generally associated with the physical discipline of fasting, spiritual growth is its foundation. Refraining from gossip, cursing and lying is of equal importance as refraining from food and water.
While most assume that the constant state of hunger is the most challenging aspect of Ramadan, it’s the practice of mindfulness that tends to be either completely neglected or a struggle to maintain. So, over the course of the month, as feelings of hunger and thirst become less and less overwhelming, take the opportunity to shift your focus to setting mindful intentions even to the most minute of actions; small shifts make the process less intimidating.
“Meditation is one of the easiest things to do and incorporate into a daily routine. It can be just five minutes spent sitting on your couch. You can pop in your earphones, open up a guided meditation video on YouTube and just sit with yourself for a little while,” explains Tunisia-based life coach Ms Eshraf Kanfoud and the first female mental trainer to a professional football league in the Arab world.
She points out that there is no one-size-fits-all method to it. The five daily prayers prescribed in Islam can be great occasions for self-reflection and meditation; journaling is an easy second. The biggest takeaway is that meditation just be any amount of time spent with yourself. Whether that’s two or 20 minutes a day, it will make a difference.
Of course, depending on where you are in the world, the degree of difficulty of accomplishing everything you set out to achieve may vary. “If you’re in a Muslim country, working hours typically get shorter for the month, which facilitates building a well-paced routine and the ability to try new things that you typically wouldn’t have the time to do,” Kanfoud says. “If you’re abroad, it’s a bit harder because your environment doesn’t change, but the spirit of Ramadan can still create the desire to be more spiritual and mindful.”
“Meditation forces you to concentrate on yourself. It teaches you to pay attention to yourself. It can help you understand your thoughts and your senses”
Regardless of your geographical location, Kanfoud insists that practicing mindfulness is necessary for good mental health – and something to practice all year round. But Ramadan is always a good time to start.
“It’s important to remember that meditation is foundational to personal development,” Kanfoud adds. “It forces you to concentrate on yourself. It teaches you to pay attention to yourself. It can help you understand your thoughts and your senses, which, with practice, you’ll be able to organise and filter out the negative and keep the positive.”
And although one may think exercising while fasting is out of the question, it needn’t be. Kanfoud suggests light exercise such as walking, which has the added benefit of being a mindfulness exercise as well as a chance to reconnect with the body. Mr Ramu Mahrajan, a personal trainer at Dubai’s 51 Gym, cosigns Kanfoud’s advice. “[Walking offers] a chance to reconnect with yourself, especially after breaking your fast, since you’re likely to be low energy before that.”
It isn’t uncommon in the Arab world for gyms to rework their hours to accommodate exercise after the sun sets. But if going for a late-night gym session is out of the question, Mahrajan says there’s no harm in exercise before breaking your fast, as long as you don’t overexert yourself.
“Fasting for a whole month will result in a drop in energy levels over time, so you have to take it easy on your body,” Mahrajan says. “Intensive exercise while fasting will be too draining.”
Kanfoud concurs and reiterates that walking is ideal. “There’s a synchronisation that happens between the steps you take, your breath and the brain,” she explains. “The more you walk, the more you’ll take note of that, and in-the-moment you become. It can teach you to live more in the present and you’ll find yourself spending less time overthinking.”
So, this Ramadan, instead of overestimating the effort it would take to be a better version of yourself, your time will be much better spent practicing some form of mindfulness for a few minutes, even while you have your groggy first Suhoor.