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Purify Body & Soul for Ramadan

You can spend this Ramadan like any other: starving all day followed by pigging out until the wee hours of morning, or you can use the opportunity to cleanse your body and soul with some nutritional tips from Sherine El Shimy and yoga with Shamakaur.

We're closing in on the end of the month and that time of the year is just around the corner. And between people's heightened tempers, the constant exhaustion, and sleep/caffeine/nicotine deprivation, you can't help but feel the farthest thing from spiritual during this so-called holy month. Surely, this isn't what the Big Guy had intended when Ramadan initially came about.

Invariably, it must have occurred to each of us at least once that we're not really doing Ramadan properly. The spiritual aspect, which was the whole point to begin with, seems to have been lost on us as a nation. And in our search to regain the spiritual aspect of Ramadan, we stumbled upon the most unlikely of ways to find it; with yoga and some nutritional brain training.

Nutritionist Sherine El Shimi, MD, MSc, and yoga instructor Sandra Atteya, AKA Shamakaur, held two sessions for a Pre-Ramadan Cleanse. And indeed, rather than focus on Ramadan as a tasking time, the informative sessions instead taught us that Ramadan, in and of itself, can be an intensely beneficial time to cleanse the body (and the spirit) of all the toxicity we accumulate all year round.

El Shimi, who studied medicine at the University of Alexandria before continuing her education at the University of Roehampton, encourages people to shift their habits to allow them to reflect on the actual fasting experience. Fasting shouldn't be the tasking experience it is, and is in fact beneficial, if done correctly, according to her.

Rather, it's the cultural distortion imposed on Ramadan that makes this month so difficult to bear. El Shimi suggests however that by introducing a few changes and eliminating certain foods from your diet before Ramadan, you can harness this time to give your entire system a boost.

If done properly, intermittent fasting (i.e. fasting for at least 16 hours a day) can help fight chronic illness, physical stress and all sorts of other ailments. Additionally, "Ramadan is the perfect time to lose fat and build muscle," she continued.

El Shimi has designated a specific diet plan that will not only help people achieve just that, but also optimizes the system to make the Ramadan period easier, and beneficial. She advises people to start the Iftar meal with protein, then have 3 more meals, with 100 grams of protein each.

El Shimi also revealed that certain food combinations, which most of us have been eating our whole lives, are better avoided, not just during this diet plan, but in general. For example, most of us have been eating our proteins with carbs our whole lives, but because the two groups are digested completely differently, you can often upset your stomach by combining the two. Rather, vegetables are a good pairing for either, and one should ideally leave a couple of hours in between ingesting proteins and carbs.

Fruits should also be avoided with or after meals, and El Shimi instead advised that fruits are eaten before meals, or at least a couple of hours after. Milk is also to be avoided with other foods, and should ideally be had alone, as it insulates the stomach and will leave you full and heavy for a while.

El Shimi also advised on what to eliminate to make the fasting period easier. Coffee should be reduced and eventually eliminated before Ramadan, people who use lots of salt should reduce their intake, and pasta should be avoided in the week before Ramadan because it increases sugar dependency, making those long fasting days needlessly unbearable.

Most importantly, El Shimi stressed that the Iftar meal should be a lighter one. "Imagine your body is a supermarket, and it's been closed for months for renovation, and when it opens all of a sudden 700 people march in at once. That's similar to what happens when you haven't eaten all day and then break your fast on a huge feast of molokheya or macarona bel béchamel," she said.

Meanwhile, Shamakaur, who is a Kundalini yoga instructor, told us that yoga works in energy management, and as such can be highly beneficial for controlling our emotions and responses during that month, as well as setting aims and keeping to them.

With a series of chants, breathing exercises to counter feelings of hunger and thirsts, and yoga poses to teach resilience, yoga can help turn the month into a true spiritual journey of self-discovery and willpower. Though yoga is not what one would naturally associate for the holy month, it can be an alternate route to spirituality.

"The more you manage breathing, the more you exhale your tensions out," Shamakaur said. "It helps you with detaching and becoming more aware of the habits that are hard to break."

And indeed, rather than giving in to the binging traditions and the plates stacked full of konafa and atayef, why not break with tradition and try to focus on what you actually want to get out of this month.