Today marks the 20th day of Ramadan for Muslims all over the world. During this month, among other things, we refrain from food and drink from sunup to sundown. Of course, seeing as how it’s winter in Australia, it isn’t a very long day at all.
Like others in the world, I am also practicing Ramadan.
I have been practicing this since I was eight years old, but it wasn’t until I started living alone that I really understood the meaning of it. When you are surrounded by family, every night is a big feast and you end up eating more than you actually need because you’re not really being conscious. In recent years, this for me has become a month of introspective consideration, of early mornings, waking up before the sun for a solitary meal and revelling in the quiet of that time of day.
This year, Ramadan changed for me yet again.
It is the first year that I have really needed to manage my energy so that I could continue practicing, work, and still serve others in my yoga teaching. I must admit that the first two weeks were a bit of a trial as I was working six day weeks, running a conference where my shortest day was 10 hours long, and teaching on top of that.
A lot had to change just to remain standing those first two weeks.
Where I would previously go back to sleep after a cup of tea, a date and some water in the morning, this year I have had to carefully consider my meals so they may serve me through the day. I am lucky as I am not finicky about labelling my food as ‘breakfast food,’ ‘dinner food’ and so on and so forth as it gives me freedom to eat as I feel is needed. There have been mornings when I have had a bowl of pasta for breakfast, knowing that I would have a strong practice and a long day.
Where the bed beckoned before, this year I have opted for staying up after my meal (that’s from 4:30am for us here and let’s be honest, who can sleep after a bowl of pasta?). The mornings have been filled with silent meditations, writing in my journal and quiet contemplation in long baths. There have been many days when I have just indulged myself in long, slow home practices as the day slowly grew light.
My bed time has been modified too as I try to be in bed by 8:30pm or at the latest 9:30pm. If I wasn’t much into hanging out at pubs and bars before Ramadan, this month, the chances of that have been reduced to zero.
In Ramadan, life is modified.
And on the mat, my practice had to be modified too.
It was a great thing having Les Leventhal here during the second week of Ramadan. If you’ve practiced his classes, you’ll know that they are advanced classes on steroids. The heat is on, and you’re doing at least eight poses on one leg before you switch to the other. In equal parts, he will remind you to breathe and encourage you to go for it. Now, I’m not as strong as a lot of people are on a good day, and even less so this month but practicing a class like that teaches you things. You can go hard, end up in a heap halfway through the class or walk out because you get lightheaded, or you could modify your practice and make it through the duration. When your body says ‘no more,’ you always have the option of sitting in meditation enjoying the positive vibes around you.
There was also a lesson in managing the ego here – that voice which says, ‘yes, go for it, you can do that one more vinyasa! You don’t need child’s pose.’ Did I indulge? Of course I did and then I went to teach and I didn’t have the energy to demonstrate even the simplest pose, let alone support my students. The class left me so drained I couldn’t even hold a conversation after, which doesn’t help as people might have questions.
And then you learn to receive and be soft. I have amazingly supportive friends, so my life this month has not been lacking in terms of hugs, mini-massages, and even a 10 minute Reiki boost. People have been very understanding when I have not been able to show up for parties after a long day at work, and when I haven’t made it to brunch during the daylight.
In order to keep going, things had to be modified.
10 days to go and although I am tired, I am doing it because I want to. After all, who is to stop me if I decide not to fast? It is a lesson that we don’t need as much as we have to survive. The lessons of Ramadan work hand in hand with the lessons from yoga. It teaches you of patience and surrender, waiting for a time when you can just have a drink and knowing that the sun won’t set until it is time. It is a time to take note of when you’re tired and hungry, and how that affects you emotionally. You learn how your body works or how you react when you don’t have the energy to do as much as you are used to doing. You are living on less sleep and less food than usual and it is interesting to see how that affects you. And you start thinking about the people who live like this every day, and not just from when the sun comes up to when the sun comes down. In a world where it is all about having more, doing more and being more, it is a time for less.