Earlier this year, MWA hosted a MIM (Mothers Inspire Mothers) session themed “With the body in mind” which involved connecting the physical body to the heart and mind within the understanding and connection to our five daily prayers. The guest facilitator was Ebru Boduk, a former certified yoga instructor, and she discussed mindful stretching through the positions performed in the daily prayers.
The exercise was a well-needed reminder to express gratitude within our prayer by being mindful of our actions during the times we aim to be connected to Allah. Participants found the experience extremely energising and purposeful.
Expanding on the concepts of mindful stretching, prayer, and yoga, Ebru has kindly contributed her reflections on these concepts and her journey so far.
Yoga. We’ve all heard about it and perhaps even done it once or twice.
Its notion and concept—mindful movement, stretching, and tying together the mind, body, and soul—sounds amazing. Pretty unharmful? But what if I revealed a secret shirk?
“What secret shirk…? Isn’t this just a form of exercise?” a Muslim would ask. But an unknown fact to many is that yoga has its roots in Hinduism. The origins of yoga can be traced back and found in Ancient India. The sacred Sanskrit texts used by the Vedic priests in that time had been documented as a spiritual discipline and later developed into a physical practice. This practice became a form of meditation to conquer peace through establishing a connection with the ‘omnipresent’ Brahman. Over time, yoga has been modernized through commercialization and modern yoga is now practiced worldwide by many to connect the mind, body, and soul. But what about the spirit?
After some deep research, not only would a Muslim question the spirit of yoga but a believing Christian, Jew or even Atheist will begin to think… ‘but wait, does this align with my beliefs?’
Nonetheless, the attitude of mindfulness in this Hindu worship is inspiring. It gives us a viewpoint from which to think and consider how their principles can inspire us to practice gratitude in one of our own spiritual practices in Islam – known as salah.
Salah is not established sitting down with our legs crossed (unless in unique situations). It is a combination of movement, breathing, and reflections and each component has a profound purpose on our physical, physiological, and psychological well-being. Our eyes are able recognize the tangible benefit of the physical component. However, the benefits of the physical component on the psychological and physiological aspects are not visible to us and reside in the invisible realm. This invisible realm resides in our body and mind.
But thanks to modern technology and many years of research, there is now evidence (to a certain extent) to prove the numerous health advantages of exercise and the link between it and a person’s overall well-being and mood. We now know that physical movement exercises all our muscles, joints, ligaments, and organs. Through this activity, certain hormones that are crucial to our mental health are stimulated. Hormones such as endorphins and other “good stress” hormones are being released and they purposefully counteract negative stress. And this energy has long-lasting impacts that permeate through the entire day and if done consistently, throughout a person’s lifetime.
And there is even a study to prove this. Two groups of people were used in a research investigation. One group was asked to perform the Muslim salah incorporating all three components: movement, breath, and reflection through reciting the holy Quran. Whereas the other group were asked to just execute the movements of salah without reciting anything. Long-term assessments revealed improved feelings and quality of life for both groups and this just came down to repeating the physical movements continuously five times each day for a few months.
Now we understand why Muslims are urged to pray even if sometimes they don’t feel like praying or don’t appreciate salah enough. We’ll feel better as a result, and this is verified by science. And if these are just worldly rewards, we can’t even fathom the benefits it will bring to us in the hereafter.
So together we convened at MWA, during a session of Mothers Inspire Mothers (MIM), to engage in a mindful movement session that was free of any of the common yoga practices. Instead, attendees stretched, concentrated on their breathing, remained in stillness, and pondered over how these specific positions could improve the quality and consciousness of their own Salah.
We started out by simply standing up on our two feet and gazing down at our mat. This upright stance is excellent for improving posture, increasing stability, and most importantly establishing ourselves on Earth. Let’s not forget that Earth is also a living being. So, we that in mind, we established our feet down firmly, but humbly. Science calls this act “grounding” or “earthing,” and in yoga, this sacred position is known as the “Mountain Pose,” but to Muslims, this is the first step into Qiyam.
We then concentrated on our breathing and took a deep breath in and a took a deep breath out.
Breathe in (Bismillah)…
Breathe out (Alhamdullillah)…
Now we took a moment to reflect on these two passages in the Holy Quran;
اِنَّنِىۡۤ اَنَا اللّٰهُ لَاۤ اِلٰهَ اِلَّاۤ اَنَا فَاعۡبُدۡنِىۡ ۙ وَاَقِمِ الصَّلٰوةَ لِذِكۡرِىۡ
Surah Taha 20:14
‘It is truly I. I am Allah! There is no god ˹worthy of worship˺ except Me. So worship Me ˹alone˺ and establish prayer for My remembrance.
أَلَا بِذِكۡرِ ٱللَّهِ تَطۡمَئِنُّ ٱلۡقُلُوبُ
Surah AR-Rad 13:28
‘Verily with the remembrance of Allah, do hearts find ease’….
And this is where we can recognize the missing element of the entire practice of yoga. That is Allah. Muslims connect everything to Allah and Allah only. We are commanded to establish ourselves in prayer on Earth because we need Him not because He needs us. And by simply bringing our awareness to our breath, we can think of Him. Bearing in mind that the body he lent us is giving back all it receives, down to the oxygen we breathe, because it was never ours to keep.
So, I invite you to make the intention to stand up right now and try this. Stand up and establish yourself firm but humbly, look down and bring your awareness to your breath. Take a moment to reflect. Were you grateful for your legs, which helped you stand? Did you think about your lungs and brain that allowed you to breathe without your awareness? Now could you have done all of this, without Allah’s permission?
by Ebru Boduk,
Muslimah; Former certified yoga instructor
About the author
Ebru Boduk was born into a Muslim family but had to find her way back to Islam after her divorce. She took a year break from her full-time job in Radiography to re-focus and find her purpose in life again. She had done so much yoga and thought “this aligns with me so much” and so she wanted to begin teaching it. But as her studies deepened, she found it to be contradicting to Islam. She finished the course but decided not to identify as a yoga instructor or teach any of it to anybody.
She began to think, “am I a yogi or am I Muslim? I couldn’t be both”.
She took the good and left the bad. She believes in being heart-full of Allah and not just mindful. We have our beautiful Salah that contains everything we need and we need to focus on that!