When we take a brisk walk, run a few miles or even take a few laps around the pool, we immediately feel what movement does for us. We feel a change in our breathing. Our heart starts beating faster. And we can feel the blood pumping through our system. Afterwards those endorphins kick in and we feel less stressed, more energized, and happy. We feel ready to tackle the world.
While these are worthwhile factors to begin a regular exercise routine, often the spiritual benefits are ignored. Muslim women especially face pressure to balance their work, family, and spiritual needs. Even women who are not employed still have their plates full with very little time for themselves.
More often than not people are hanging by a thread trying to pack as much as they can into 24 hours. But what if there was a secret ingredient that could help us in all aspects of our life, most importantly our worship and having the mental clarity and energy to increase our spirituality?
These women know the secret…
Fitness trainer Uns on her @Unskfit Instagram page says, “For me exercise is more for my mental health. By improving your mental health you start to realize things and deeply reflect on them. I often find myself asking who created this? How did this thing come to exist? and it all leads back to one answer found in the Quran. Allah. So, yes it definitely helps us spiritually because it wakes you up and helps you reflect on the reality of life.”
Here are four reasons why exercise can you help you spiritually:
1 – Less fatigue means doing more
Exercise increases our energy levels and leaves us feeling less exhausted. It also helps us to sleep better which as we know is the key to a happy and healthy lifestyle.
Before starting my own exercise routine, I went to bed exhausted and woke up still tired. Getting up for Fajr was a struggle and I would rush through my wudu and salaah so I could return back to my bed quickly. It was a never ending cycle of exhaustion which inevitably did not help me to be more productive. Now I wake up for Fajr, feeling refreshed and ready to tackle my day.
Because exercise promotes better sleep, I don’t wake up still feeling tired. I also now have the energy to add more to my morning routine. So I have incorporated reading my Qur’an every single morning after my Fajr prayers. This helps to anchor the rest of my day and helps me find the direction and strength I need to tackle, chores, work, and the kids.
Completing the Qur’an every few weeks, makes me feel that I have a stronger relationship with the book of Allah. Something I failed at before. This would undoubtedly not have happened had I not included exercise into my day.
2 – The domino effect of discipline
There’s always room for improvement when it comes to fitness. It’s not always about the toned arms and legs, or the flat tummy, but more about getting stronger and challenging ourselves to do more. Limitations often come from ourselves when we think we can’t do something because it’s too hard.
Exercise helps us to train our minds to do more and push the boundaries. Once we start pushing the boundaries in our fitness routine we notice the domino effect in other aspects of our lives.
Zehra Allibhai, a fitness trainer, who has the popular Instagram account @Zallibhai says, “ You might look at something and say that’s really hard, I can’t do it. But, because you have done hard things in one aspect of your life, it’s really easy to shift that focus and do hard things in other aspects of your life.”
If you have always wanted to memorize the Qur’an or expand on your worship of Allah, but feel you are not disciplined enough you might reconsider this once you start exercising. Our religion demands discipline in all aspects of our life. Fitness moves you from thinking to doing. Once you start pushing your physical limits, it becomes easier to push your mental ones too.
3 – Clarity and stronger sense of purpose
Zainab, a mom of four said an anxiety attack was the biggest motivator to change something in her life. She had to halt her fitness program when lockdown hit the world. “Lockdown brought its own emotional and psychological challenges, as everyone tried to remain positive. I found my mind clouded, days passed by with me being caught up in the fog. I felt like I was getting things done just so they could get done, without a sense of pride including making my salaah.
“One would think being home I could at least perform my salaah as soon as the time set in but that didn’t happen. There were days where I wanted to sit and pray my salaah since I felt I couldn’t lift myself off the ground,” She experienced her anxiety attack on Eidul Adha.
Choose to move or…?
The anxiety attack was brought on by feeling that her life was out of control and she needed something to haul her back. She gave herself two choices, get back to the gym or allow the craziness of 2020 to swallow her whole. In the grander scheme of things she did not have much choice.
“Ten days later I went back to the gym, under stricter regulations and this time there was no stopping me. Getting the blood pumping and my limbs moving immediately cleared my foggy brain. My energy levels were boosted and nothing felt like a chore anymore.” Zainab explains.
“It’s been just over two months of being physically active and the results I’ve seen in my day to day life have improved. Better time management has me now performing my salaah with so much more clarity and in its designated time.”
Zainab finds herself approaching Salaah in a calm manner and does not rush through the postures.
Even on her most strenuous days of training sore muscles and all, she still manages to stand and make her Salaah. This small change has allowed her to find her purpose in life. She is now an accountability partner to other women struggling to find time to exercise. She believes when your body feels better, your mind and soul will follow.
“Exercise taps into the mental and physical sakeenah of the body. If there’s one thing I know that I’ve experienced since being more active, is that shift of feeling sakeenah in the body. That translates and manifests in the mind for me.”
4 – Mindfulness
We live in the age of distraction. We are constantly pulled in all directions on a day to day basis. From the time we open our eyes till we close them at night we are running through a never ending to do list in our head. And while we are busy with said tasks we are already thinking about what we need to do next.
We are not really listening to our family because we are thinking about tomorrow’s meeting, washing the car, etc. The benefits of mindfulness have been widely written about in recent years. The ability to be fully present in the moment, rather than zoning out or letting your mind wander, appears to have a positive influence on everything in our lives.
Neurological studies have found that physical training can boost the function of the anterior cingulate cortex, which is linked to improve self regulation of our attention span. This was one the most important observations for Zainab. “My personal supplications to Allah were more thoughtful and reflective and not just a regurgitation of the everyday stuff.”
In the most sacred moment between Allah and his servant, she found herself focusing with absolute clarity.
The move on puts the spirit on
As believers we can recognize and be grateful for the wonder of the human body. We can show this gratitude by giving our body the optimum attention it needs. The Prophet (SAW) has said that our body has a right over us. A conscious and mindful believer will recognize that a healthy body gained through exercise, can help in fulfilling all our religious obligations with increased vigor, a renewed commitment, and a tenacious spirit.
So, get moving.