TIME FOR A CLEAN SLATE
In the first of a five-week series on how to rejuvenate the body and mind during and after Ramadan, health and fitness personality Wael Al Sayegh shines a light on tabula rasa – or how to start with a clean slate
Ramadan Kareem everyone! We made it! Hooray! Forgive my early Ramadan enthusiasm as many of you may be preparing to face your morning coffee withdrawal symptoms when you begin your month-long fast, but I cannot help but get excited about my favourite time of year. Yes, you read it correctly, Ramadan is my favourite time of year, and not because I was born during it many moons ago, but because I believe it’s filled to the brim with blessings and gifts that are open to all of us, regardless of whether you fast for the month or not. It’s a magical time where the stars are aligned to help us serve our selves.
I am what I am. This is not your regular ‘Stay/get fit in Ramadan’ article. I am not going to tell you what to eat or when, or how to exercise or how not to, or when to exercise or not to. I am here to share with you how you can use this month to realign yourself with your health and fitness flow, if you want to.
The aim is not to make you get fit in Ramadan or stay fit in Ramadan, but to encourage you to make a start towards the process of reclaiming your own health and fitness flow in whatever it is you do. We just happen to be using Ramadan as the perfect time to plant the seeds of this. Regardless of whether you are an elite professional athlete or a recently retired couch potato, I hope to be able to support you.
Ramadan is a beginning, dear reader. At this time of year the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) started to receive divine revelations from Allah.
For us to begin our journey back to our fitness flow we must first focus our attention on tabula rasa. Tabula rasa is Latin for “a clean slate”. The Ramadan fast is a physical, spiritual and metaphysical tabula rasa.
According to weight loss specialist Nathan Hewitt, fasting can be a safe way to lose
In metaphysical terms, FASTING makes our bodies inhospitable to what Carl Jung called our Shadow Selves. These are REDUNDANT ENERGIES inside that are fed at the expense of our personal growth
weight. It allows the body to burn fat cells more effectively than normal, by encouraging it to use stored fat as its main source of energy. Fasting gives the digestive system a well-deserved rest, with the effect of energising the metabolism to burn calories more efficiently. The fast can regulate digestion and promote healthy bowel function, which improves metabolic function. Fasting improves how you experience hunger. Why is this important? Obese people don’t receive the correct signals to tell them they are full, so they keep on eating. The fast can facilitate this signal. Other benefits include improvements in eating patterns, brain function and the immune system. Fasting can help clear the skin and prevent acne, promotes longevity and contributes to self-enlightenment. Talk about getting more bang for your buck!
In metaphysical terms, the fast makes our bodies inhospitable to what psychoanalyst Carl Jung called our Shadow Selves. These are redundant energies inside that are fed at the expense of our personal growth. (This month is the perfect time to curl up with a book – on this topic, try Geoff Thompson’s
Hunting the Shadow.) These shadows thrive on negative thinking, attitude and behaviour. When we reject negative thoughts during
Ramadan we starve the shadows of their daily feed, and these squatters and energy zappers get up and leave. The fast helps make our bodies hostile to them. Powerful shadows, those which have been with us since childhood or those with a long history, may not leave that easily. For tenacious shadows we may need more.
Ramadan is about reconnecting inwards, turning away from temporary material things and turning inside ourselves towards the eternal. It’s when people of the Islamic faith reconfigure their personal relationship with their Creator and the teachings of the life of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), by reading the Quran, contemplation, and special night prayers.
We remember what hunger feels like, and those who have to endure it every day around the world. We give charity, and reconnect with family and friends we may have grown apart from in the business of “getting things done”. It’s a time to realign with our higher selves.
The journey to reclaiming our natural health and fitness flow starts with the most important element of all. This is where it all starts and ends. This is (in my humble opinion) your true Jihad when it comes to health and fitness. Whenever I’m asked about what I recommend for people to eat I always refer them to Scott Sonnon’s 28 Days Primal Eat Clean Nutritional Challenge (primaleatinggift.com) which is available for free to download and print. In it, Sonnon outlines what healthy eating is. Here are some extracts to keep in mind:
■ Healthy eating isn’t perfection, but doing your best with what you have.
■ Healthy eating isn’t calorie expertise. It’s paying attention to your body’s natural hunger cues.
■ Healthy eating isn’t a new identity. It’s living authentically as a happy, healthy person.
■ Healthy eating isn’t restriction. It’s about integrating values into your life so that you can make smart, healthy choices without feeling deprived.
The programme goes into detail of how to progressively, over the course of 28 days (perfect for Ramadan), get back a healthy eating habit in four key stages. Only when each stage is complete do you move on to the next.
In week one you increase vegetables and protein. In week two, you increase fats and remove grains from your intake. In week three you reduce starches, dairy and fruits. And in week four you remove dairy, fruits and starches altogether. Around 85 per cent of Scott’s fitness results (he is a World Martial Arts Games five-times gold medallist, voted among the six most influential martial artists of the 21st century by Black Belt Magazine, and named as one of the top 25 fitness trainers in the world by Men’s Fitness
Magazine, among many other accolades) didn’t come merely from equipment, exercise or exertion. They came from eating meat, vegetables, nuts, seeds, a little fruit, no sugar or gluten, and no dairy. That is really saying something, dear reader.
We live in a time where for most of the year we are obsessed with growth (of money and material items), expansion (of businesses or influences), results, scaling up and deadlines. We convince ourselves that to be happy, we need these things. The truth is many of us end up just chasing the appearance of happiness. Like a mirage in a desert it may appear real, but that is the result of our internal unbalanced delusions and state of health.
Sadly, the fitness industry has followed the mainstream path of this age-old condition. Everything is very much outwardly focused. We care about gain, records and medals. Others aim for increases in power, speed, strength. I have nothing against all these things, but not when they come at the expense of health.
I want to leave the mat, gym, dojo and be able to play with my kids, not come home and collapse in pain. My fitness is supposed to help me become better at what I do, not worse. What’s the point of medals and records when you cannot enjoy full body mobility because your shoulders or biceps are too tight or overdeveloped?
I have a great admiration for Brazilian Ju-Jitsu athletes. But when I see the pain some of these athletes are in, it makes me think twice. If this attitude doesn’t change, then our bodies will constantly be trying to save themselves from ourselves.
The loss of range of movement this leads to increasingly limits us, and we become more brittle. Eventually the inevitable happens – an injury either reduces our ability to practise the sport or activity we love, or worse still, the injury we sustain takes us away from it altogether.
To rectify this condition, we must turn inwards. Just as Ramadan encourages us to turn inwards to reconnect with our humanity, we can turn inward with our health and fitness and reconnect and renew our allegiance to the king of the fitness realm: our mobility. Until next Friday.
☞ Wael Al Sayegh is a certified Tacfit and Clubbell Athletics instructor and CEO and owner of Family Martial Arts Leadership Academy in Dubai.
STEP 3 With right foot flat, extend left leg, dropping the hip with gravity. Exhale deeply. Reverse direction. Repeat five times. It’s important to warm up before any workout and do a cool down exercise after.
STEP 1 Begin in quad press position, spine parallel to the ground. Keep pressing into the earth with your hands.
STEP 2 Sit backwards with left arm pushing into the earth with palm heel. Keep right arm shoulder blade down and pull elbow tight into ribs.