Maximizing the physical benefits of taraweeh

Praying at night during the Holy month of Ramadan is said to bring great reward, and the act of praying in congregation is said to be even greater. The formal Arabic term for the evening prayer during Ramadan is called Taraweeh. The Quran reminds again and again that our world is rife with signs of God’s power and benevolence for those who pay attention, for those who pause to consider. I write this not as an Islamic scholar, but from the perspective of a student and teacher of natural health practices. This Ramadan, I developed a deeper understanding of the physical benefits of Taraweeh and this knowledge, in turn, helped me to remain fully present during the prayer.
The first night I stood up for taraweeh, I felt ill. . My head was aching rhythmically after a poor night’s sleep and a sixteen hour stretch of abstaining from food and drink; paradoxically, breaking the fast only seemed to worsen my discomfort.. While throughout the entire first day of Ramadan, my intention had been to stand in congregational prayer into the late hours of the night, I now felt ready to throw in the towel before I even began. But begin I did, rakkaa (the Arabic term for a cycle of prayer) after rakkaa, standing, bending, prostrating, reciting quietly the declarations of faith and the pleas for God’s mercy and benevolence. A few short rakkaas earlier, my nausea and pulsating headache could not be ignored, but here I was already feeling better, lighter, healthier. And at that realization my physical being—my limbs, my breathing—merged with my divine quest for higher consciousness, and I was at once fully present in my body and fully aware of God around me.

For years I have guided people, as a natural health professional, to higher levels of physical wellness. In fact, the fasting rituals of Ramadan served as the strongest pull to consider and eventually convert to Islam well over a decade ago. On a physical level, while we are fasting, we relieve our often overworked liver of its duties of metabolizing food for digestion, allowing it to metabolize excess fat instead and to use these fat stores for fuel. When fasting, our livers also work on releasing toxins, which manifest themselves in the form of the headaches, nausea, unpleasant breath, and skin irritations that plague many Muslims during Ramadan.

And these are the symptoms we bring with us to taraweeh during Ramadan. Most Muslims can’t deny that on some nights, they join in this voluntary congregational prayer at the end of a tiring day of fasting with reluctance rather than enthusiasm, but, as it turns out, this evening prayer is just the right prescription for a weary, nauseous worshipper. Here comes the science: we all have what’s called the lymphatic system, sometimes referred to as the sewerage system of the body, whose primary job is to move toxins through and out of the body. The lymphatic system collects and moves toxins to organs that have the capacity to eliminate them—for example, it transports toxins to our skin which sweats them out, our lungs which breathe them out or our liver which neutralizes them. But the lymphatic system is unique. It does not have a pump, like our heart, to make it operate. The lymph, the liquid that runs through the system delivering toxins to various organs, only moves when our muscles move and our heart beats.
Now here is where the exquisite wisdom of the nighttime prayer comes in. Rather than lolling about on the couch after a heavy meal to open the fast, the taraweeh forces a worshiper to stand, bend and prostate, thereby rhythmically moving the liquid that runs through the lymphatic system and carries with it our bodies’ toxins to the organs which will process them. During the first taraweeh of Ramadan, I realized if worshipers raise their awareness and tweak the movements they make during prayer, they can assist their lymphatic system in expelling toxins and will finish Ramadan with greater physical, emotional and spiritual health.

There are three main postures in Islamic Prayer; quama (standing),ruku (bending at the waist), and sajdah (prostrating). Below are some tips for maximizing each posture.

• Quama: Stand tall. The prayer is a physical exercise. Plant your feet in the ground parallel to each other because alignment will make it easier to engage your muscles properly. With your hips directly over your heels, imagine your spine growing tall into the Heavens as you take your stance for prayer. Before your tuck your chin to gaze at the floor, visualize a string pulling your head upwards. Drop your shoulder blades down so your shoulders are not scrunched up by your ears. Tighten the muscles in your legs without locking your knees. Your muscles will help drain the lymph in your legs. Give your digestive system a little massage by tightening the muscles of your lower abdomen and pressing your belly button towards your spine.

• Ruku: Bend at the hip joints. Maximize the stretch in your hamstrings by keeping your back parallel to the ground (imagine setting a glass of water on it). Stretch your neck and visualize reaching your head to the front of the room. Your muscles will be working in this pose and when you stand back up you will have a flush of the lymphatic system.

• Sajdah: In this humble act before God, remember your breath. You are in the perfect place to send oxygen into your brain. . Breathe deep, long breaths, until first your belly fills up with air, then your lungs and then your throat. Then exhale slowly and completely and relax, for Allah is indeed above all.
Wendy Manchester Ibrahim is a behavioral scientist and doctor of natural health. Through teaching, lecturing, writing, and coaching she assists individuals, particularly women, in reaching an empowered state of health and wellbeing. She is currently researching the natural prescriptions Islam offers to its followers.

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