Ramadan is a month when we take time to wind down, look inward and self-reflect. I enjoy the spirituality of Ramadan and take the opportunity to focus on things that are sometimes forgotten in the rush of our hectic lives. Compassion, giving, forgiveness and self-reflection are reinforced at this time.
Yoga can also be a spiritual activity, because it is a very internal practice, so to me, yoga is complementary to the process of fasting. The practice of yoga, meditation and prayer becomes even more meaningful throughout the month. I think it’s a great combination.
As a mother of three, I have had to modify my fasting in recent years. My youngest son, Yousef, is 3 months old and I’m still nursing, so I won’t be able to do a full fast. I will observe it as much as possible, but I have to stay hydrated for both of us and will keep my food intake to a minimum throughout the day. I’ve done intermittent fasting when it’s not Ramadan – I stop eating in the afternoon to give my body a 12- to 16-hour rest period. It makes me feel healthy and light.
As far as exercise goes, I’ve become a little bit more active now that Yousef is 3 months old. But for the first six weeks, I didn’t do anything too strenuous other than walking.
How much exercise you do over Ramadan depends on how fit you were before it started. If you are used to high-intensity exercise, once your body has adjusted to fasting, I don’t see why you can’t continue with it. But if you know you need food to fuel your workout, then make sure your workout comes later in the evening, post-iftar, and after your food has digested.
Something gentle, such as yin or hatha yoga or a Pilates class, is good before you break your fast. Yin yoga is more of a restorative form of yoga in which you hold poses for longer, stretching through them, and doing a lot of connective-tissue release. It’s not easy, but it’s a more gentle practice than a strenuous power-flow class, and is great for self-awareness.
Hydration is also key, so ensure that when you can drink, after sunset, you are drinking consistently, not just all in one go.
Break your fast with something light to avoid shocking your body. I like to have a couple of dates and soup. Salad can be hard on the body at iftar because it’s raw. When you’ve been fasting all day, veggies that are slightly cooked are more easily digested. We have quite a few vegetable stews that we make for iftar.
Once you’ve digested your food, do something active. Go for a walk after prayers, then have a controlled meal later in the evening, followed by a light suhoor, with food that will provide sustained energy throughout the day. Try to consume enough good fats to keep you satiated, such as avocado, olive oil, nuts or seeds and salmon. Not overeating and controlling the refined-sugar intake and grains make a massive difference in energy levels and weight control.
Ramadan is a month when we can connect with ourselves, re-centre our lives and embrace a healthier lifestyle. We can use yoga as a tool to refocus and set our intentions for a more spiritual and healthy month.
* As told to Jessica Hill
Palestinian-American Nadia Sehweil, 37, owns and runs the yoga, Pilates, dance and wellness hub Bodytree Studio in Abu Dhabi with her mother, Sharifa Sehweil.