To this day, I cannot quite explain what compelled me to go on a run a couple hours before the ftour during only my second week of ever practicing Ramadan. I was (and still am) a sporadic runner to say the least, putting on my shoes and heading out usually only when feeling anxious, stressed or angry. Those are my running triggers. Yet there I was, my body on low power mode with no water or food burning up energy inside, and I decided that it sounded like a lovely idea to go for a brisk jog out in the last hours of bright sun.
The amazing thing is that not only did I make it, but I enjoyed it. I suddenly felt this rawness in the power of my muscles, hydration through pure respiration, and a sense of steady, rhythmic calm with one foot rolling onto the pavement after the other. It helped immensely that I am lucky enough to take my runs right along the Mediterranean coast, so I could gulp in fresh breaths of sea-water air, feeling like that and the gorgeous crashing waves in front of me were my natural fuel.
Now in general, I would advise that physical activity during Ramadan is something to be taken slow. I don’t know what burst of wild spirit made me go running, but on a normal day during this month, peeling myself off of the couch cushions when I am working from home is a feat within itself. However, I do find that if I do not really move all day, my body starts to get this itch from underneath the skin- maybe we can call it dancer’s itch- and I just know I will not feel settled until I have stretched, moved or danced in some way or another.
This year, I have been turning to yoga on almost a daily basis. Just before ftour, I give myself 30 minutes to 1 hour to do some high intensity flowing, interspersed with long and luxurious breathing breaks to avoid getting completely dizzy and toppling over sideways in triangle pose.
Since I started doing yoga from a young age, I have always tried to harness the breath in whatever activity I am doing- whether stretching, working out or dancing- but the importance of breath and what it does for the body is even an even deeper sensation when I am fasting. I felt it when I was running, I feel it when I do yoga and when I choreograph or dance just before maghreb (sunset). Breath in itself is like food for our bodies. With each inhale I feel nourished and on the exhale I feel released. When I am completely focused on my breath, as is done in many meditations, I can listen deeper to what is going on inside. I acknowledge the rumblings of my stomach and the dryness in my throat, observing them with care. However, I also observe the areas that still are charged with energy despite my hunger. Muscles still contain strength, the blood still pumps through the veins, the lungs and chest still expand and contract in steady continuation. The power of the breath filling up my body is an all-consuming sensation and carries me gently and with strength through that physical activity and on through the remaining hours of sunlight.
Recently, I have taken to trying to read a poem every day. I have an anthology of Mary Oliver and a small pocket book of Rumi and I switch between these two, depending on what mood strikes me. It seems that every time I open the book of Rumi poetry to a random page, the words I needed to hear in that moment find me. The other day when I was reflecting on these ideas about yoga, dance and breath, I happened to turn to the poem below and laughed to myself at how well this book seems to know what is going on in my head. I decided to choreograph a short and simple phrase- another poem in motion- to complement the words and flex my choreographing muscle that can feel a bit flimsy during this month.
To make this choreography, I met my body exactly where it was. A bit tired, no explosive energy, but ready to move in a calm and inward state. Steadily breathing, feeling softly inspired.
Below, you can read the poem, then watch the dance:
To place You in my heart
may turn You into thought.
I will not do that!
To hold You with my eyes
may turn You into thorn.
I will not do that!
I will set You on my breath
so You will become my life.
Music: Still by Volcano Choir