There is a misconception that mindfulness is about deep breathing and focusing on the breath alone, such that one remains detached and distracted from their inner thoughts and the external world around them. This is false, and, in fact, disregards the very core of mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is about relaxing the mind from over-stimulation; it’s about connecting to the here and now, to be present within. Although it is widely considered to be a form of meditation – which is, of course, an effective approach in practicing mindfulness – it can, however, be applied to any and every mundane task in our day-to-day lives. It’s not about distracting ourselves away from our over-thinking minds, but rather to let our thoughts be and to listen to them non-judgmentally. And it’s through letting our thoughts come and go, to flow freely, that enables us to centre our focus on our breath to then calm the mind. So why, and how, do I intend on applying this during Ramadan?
Well, not to state the obvious, but fasting is a challenge. Abstaining from food and water is not easy, especially for those living in parts of the world where the sun sets after 9pm. Carrying on with our day-to-day responsibilities while maintaining productivity can get extremely difficult – not to mention the real risk of some serious ‘hanger’ issues. I’m sure I’m not alone in experiencing hunger-induced anger, and although we try our best to exercise spiritual tranquility throughout this holy month, we can (and I certainly do) often fall victim to some intense hanger during Ramadan. This is where mindfulness comes in; it can serve as a great tool to help curb these challenges. Breathing deeply through pangs of hunger and cravings can help reduce the severity of the experience. That is, the intensity with which we feel hunger and crave certain foods or drinks can be significantly reduced if we breathe, listen to our bodies with acceptance, and allow these feelings to just be. By no means do I intend to imply that this will be an easy process, nor am I making any claims that 5 brief minutes of deep breathing will magically eradicate the feeling of hunger or thirst. With practice, however, it will fill our hearts with patience to endure these moments with greater strength.
Once we start approaching iftar, our instinct is often to indulge in deep-fried foods to satisfy our taste buds. But what if we were to eat mindfully too? This may seem a little nonsensical, so just bear with me here. Activating our senses so as to listen, hear, and to feel our experiences deeply is central to mindful practice. If we then pay attention to the food we choose to put on our plates, and how we feel having finished our meals, it gives us the opportunity to take a step back and question: how are we choosing to treat our bodies? What types of foods are we nourishing our bodies with? In reflecting not only on the experience of abstinence of food & drink, but the act of eating and drinking in itself, it can help us shift towards a healthier diet during the month – which can provide our bodies with more durable resources for the fasting periods. It is important to note here, however, that if you crave a certain food, snack, or drink for iftar or suhoor – don’t judge yourself. Treat yourself with understanding; there is nothing wrong with dedicating a prolonged period of time for self-observation before committing to a gradual shift towards healthier nutrition. Doing so otherwise and adopting a rigid approach can make this shift more difficult, and an unpleasant experience – which will also be tremendously difficult to commit to.
Other than the possibilities of greater abstinence endurance, why even focus so much time and energy on mindfulness, or the act of deep breathing in particular? We can turn to the Quran for some answers:
“And [mention, O Muhammad], when your Lord said to the angels, “I will create a human being out of clay from an altered black mud. And when I have proportioned him and breathed into him of My [created] soul, then fall down to him in prostration.””
–Quran 15:29-30 (Sahih International)
In accordance with the Quran, the first human being was brought to life when Allah breathed into him. So to breathe deeply, to centre our focus back to the breath in all that we do is an ode to our creation by Allah. Not only does this form of mindfulness practice relax and soothe the soul, it can also then pave way for deeper spiritual connection with our Creator.
Aside from breathing practices and focusing on the fasting experience, I thought I’d share some daily practices I’ve planned for this month to maintain a more positive frame of mind for deeper spiritual connection:
- Read Quran
- Meditate for 10 minutes
Note: I usually use an app called Calm and use their daily meditations in the mornings. Meditating in the morning helps maintain a clear mind to carry forward into the rest of the day, so it can help anchor a great sense of spirituality at the onset of the fast.
Morning routine (after the post-Fajr sleep):
- Gratitude list (x5 things)
Note: practicing gratitude has been proven to increase levels of happiness. By listing out all that you’re thankful to Allah for can set you up for a positive day and to feel more spiritually connected.
- Gratitude list (x5 things)
- Reflections of the day – positive experiences, and what could have been improved (and how).
- Gentle yoga
This is not a perfect guide to the happiest, healthiest and most spiritual way to fast, nor am I a perfect and consistent mindfulness practitioner. I do fall off the wagon more often than I’d like to, and I do fall into unhealthy patterns of negativity and spiritual neglect. But the beauty of mindfulness is that we can allow ourselves to fall, and to forgive ourselves for doing so. This makes it easier to pick ourselves back up each time we fall, and following attempts to maintain a mindful routine becomes easier and easier. No matter how patient or kind we have the capacity to be towards others, we tend to forget that we, too, are creations of God; therefore, we too are deserving of our own love and kindness. So to be accepting of the self is one of the most important gratitude and mindful practices one can commit to. In so doing, it can allow us to deepen our spiritual cleanse in this holy month. May you have a blessed Ramadan.
By Hanain B
Hanain is doing a PhD in Applied Linguistics at Newcastle University, focusing on interactional identity construction in Muslim women. When she is not nerding out on her research, she likes writing poetry and dabbling in photography as a hobby. She also runs a small-scale project with a couple of friends called Project Happiness, distributing food & care packs to the homeless. You can follow her on Twitter @hanainbrohi