For the past seven years, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to partake in one of the five pillars of Islam: Ramadan.
I started fasting when I was 12 years old, as do many other Muslim kids around the world.
Boy, was I stoked!
Not only did this mean I was practically grown-up, it also meant that I actually got to reap the benefits, both spiritual and physical, of the holiest month of the year.
During the month of Ramadan — the ninth month of the Islamic calendar — from sunrise to sunset, Muslims are required to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and engaging in any sort of sexual activity.
The thing about Ramadan is that it’s not all about abstaining from activities we consider essential to healthy living. It’s about purifying the body and soul by focusing on others rather than just yourself. It’s about becoming closer to your creator and doing so as if nothing in your daily life has changed.
The whole point of Ramadan is to forget about the worldly objects that consume our everyday existence. It’s about focusing on having less. It’s about empathizing with those who are less fortunate. It’s about sharing the experience of those who really live every day not knowing whether they’ll have food to eat or water to drink.
While this spiritual stuff is nice and all, you might be wondering how fasting benefited my physical health alongside my spiritual health.
What are the pros and cons of fasting? What happens to about 23 percent of the world’s population one month out of the year?
- A shrunken appetite. Fasting dramatically shrinks your stomach size. So, when it comes time to break your fast, it’s pretty difficult to binge. This helps you eat smaller portions and still feel satisfied. Personally, this is the greatest health benefit I reap from Ramadan. Fasting really jump-starts my metabolism and sets me up for a healthy fall — until Thanksgiving rolls around. Mmmm… rolls.
- Nicotine control. Smoking is not permitted while fasting. Instead of stopping cold-turkey or with the help of patches, this is a great opportunity for those who are trying to quit naturally to gradually ween off of cigarettes. While I am not a smoker, I know people who have successfully quit smoking after Ramadan. All you need is a little faith!
- Increased stomach acidity. When you keep your stomach empty for so long, it’s easy for acid to build up and for acid reflux problems to develop. In order to avoid this, I make sure to have some yogurt before sunrise. The yogurt not only keeps me from being thirsty all day, but it also helps the acid levels in my stomach remain normal.
- Decreased desire to work out. When you have to fast every day for 12 hours, it’s hard to get hydrated enough to hit the gym. While fasting all day is an exhausting practice, there are those who chug their coconut water and work out until sunrise – props to them! The amount of potassium in coconut water makes it one of the best drinks to have when trying to get hydrated.
For me, Ramadan is a rejuvenating experience where both my spiritual and physical health is restored. It’s like it recharges my body to take on another year filled with so many choices.
Every time I go into sajda — the bow Muslims do when they pray — I pray that I’ll get to experience yet another Ramadan. I pray that I’ll get to experience this time full of community get-togethers, where I can give back and feel one with God while feeling physically cleansed as well.