By Hajira Didat
The word yoga to most people conjures up images of pain and contortion by skinny people who eat vegetables, chant mantras and meditate while trying to become airborne.
However, as a practicing Muslim yoga teacher, I have found it to be quite the contrary. Through yoga I have found my center, the equilibrium that helps me focus when I need to relax or when I’m tense or stressed. Engaging in yoga allows me to be youthfully energized, and enlightened, beneficial for my overall spiritual well-being. Yoga practice also allows me to maintain a healthy weight and lean, strong body.
The method of uniting with the divine was codified and structured over thousands of years by experimenting on all the faculties and mechanics of the mind and the body. The ultimate aim was to seek the universal soul hidden behind the veil of our being. The various practices that were discovered and carried out to fulfil this purpose are known as yoga or union.
Yoga is the science that deals mainly with the mechanics of the body, the mind and their behaviour patterns and spiritual capacities. It is a gift to humanity and must be understood and practiced by every human in his own capacity in order to live life with the awareness of his mental, physical and spiritual capacities.” ¹
Awareness of the Breath
In yoga class, the most common comment I receive at the end of a first-time student’s session is, “I can’t believe how bad my breathing is!” “Breath awareness” is a fundamental component of yoga practice. The key to all life is the very intake of breath. This practice reconnects us with crucial parts of our inner- being. As a beginner, I found myself having to focus intensely on my breathing, but once I mastered the skill it didn’t take me long to realize that the very action of controlling ones breathing could benefit the way in which all life situations are handled. Deeper and longer inhalations of air, allows a person to become calmer. Shorter inhalations denote stress, tension or some discomfort of sorts.
Thus, breathing techniques have brought serenity and calm to my life. It has also enhanced my spiritual experience when performing Salah (five daily prayers) by encouraging a depth and focus I have never had before.
The Benefit of Different Yoga Postures
I began to feel an appreciation for my body, mind and existence like never before when practicing yoga. The unique postures required of me drew me into myself. The twists and bends made me aware of my internal anatomy and gave me greater understanding of each of my body organs, thus allowing for a detoxification process to begin. These bodily movements combined with the essential breathing techniques that I mastered, unleashed my core strength and gratefulness for the body I have been granted by the Almighty.
The connection that I now had established with my body gave me insight into looking after it. Our bodies are vehicles with which we have been blessed with by the Almighty to experience this life. It harbors our soul and is depictive of our connection to our creator when we pray and use it to worship him, becoming aware of all the senses He has granted us with to honor him.
Allah states in the Holy Quran: “Eat of the good things which We have provided for you.” (Al-Baqarah: 173)
He, the Almighty also says, “Eat of what is lawful and wholesome on the earth. (Al-Baqarah: 168)
Bearing this in mind, it is noteworthy to mention that eating correctly is a vital part of yoga. What we consume impacts our minds and souls as much as it does our bodies. Food is a source of energy for the spiritual body as well as the physical one. The ease with which energy flows in the body is crucial to the success of the yogic postures and breathing sequences. To maintain a healthy and free flow of energy we need to eat foods that are a rich source of energy such as raw, fresh fruit and vegetables, clean water and foods free of toxic chemicals or genetically modified organisms. A diet full of chemicals and deficient of water, nutrients and energy can lead to dehydration on a cellular level, toxic build-up and blocked energies which resulting in pain, illnesses, diseases, allergies, weight issues, a weak immune system and fatigue both mentally and physically.
A daily practice of yoga or exercise that includes stretching, lengthening the spine, bending, twisting and breathing exercises can assist the body in eliminating toxic build-up and unblock the flow of energy. Increasing our water intake can also assist in the detoxification process and maintaining an awareness of the foods we consume can help establish a happy balance. Combining the physical practices of yoga with our daily spiritual practices of prayer, silent contemplation and commemoration can bring forth all kinds of new energetic experiences and spiritual fulfilment.
The heart is at the core of all decisions, emotions and energies extended out into the world. Science has only recently proven the diverse functions of the heart and the existence of its own electromagnetic field. This energy allows for the heart to communicate with the brain. This very energy also extends out into the world beyond our bodies and impacts everything and everyone around us ².
Good clean health frees the flow of energy in the body allowing the energies to align. The energies aligned strengthen the heart and its electromagnetic field. The heart is the centre of our body and our being; it is the beginning and the end of the physical body; it is the energy of the heart that feeds the soul. The heart is the source of our connection to our Creator. Do we need any other reason to treat our bodies with love and respect, to honor and nurture it with all the good things that our Creator has provided for us?
Ramadan is the perfect month to cleanse and detoxify ourselves on a spiritual as well as physical level- In my personal opinion, if we make small changes, slowly and on a daily basis we will benefit undoubtedly. Taking care of our bodies is a means of giving thanks to our Creator.
SIMPLE BREATHING AND MEDITATION TECHNIQUES
Find time in your day when all is peaceful and quiet for these practices.
Stretch the spine. Expand the chest, arms out-stretched. Take a few twists and forward-bends touching your toes, then sit down. Sit upright on the floor cross-legged or in a chair, spine straight, head, shoulders and neck relaxed.
1. Breath awareness
- Place one palm on the chest and one on the abdomen if preferred at the beginning. Listen to the breath.
- Feel the “in” breath, cool and crisp.
- Feel the “out” breath warm and moist.
- Allow the breath to become smooth.
- Maintain this breath and awareness for a few minutes, becoming totally and completely aware of the breath and the body.
- Allow the inhalation to become equal to the exhalation.
Observation of the breath is the first step to taking control of the breath; it will also bring calmness to the breath and the body.
2. Simple relaxation
- Listen to the breath.
- Allow the breath to form its own rhythm, on the inhalation making the sound ‘Al’ and the exhalation the sound ‘ah’.
- Make no attempt to change the natural breath.
- Just listen.
- Allow the breath to become subtle.
- Now count the breath to 10 and then backwards to keep the mind focused.
- Each complete inhalation and exhalation counts as 1. After a while stop counting and just listen to the slow rhythmic sound of the breath. If the mind happens to wander draw it back and maybe count again to bring back the focus.
- Come out of this state slowly and peacefully taking a few deep breaths, stretching and then opening the eyes and moving on.
¹ (http://www.sufiyoga.com/yoga_the_curiosity_of_the_yogis.html?scrollto=h1) accessed 18th July 2013
² (http://www.heartmath.org/free-services/articles-of-the-heart/energetic-heart-is-unfolding.html) accessed 18th July 2013