Gut feelings

“kimchi” by Elle Músa

Intestinal health is extremely important to overall wellbeing. It’s often the root cause of many health issues and goes so much deeper than just how well food is being digested. The gut is largely responsible for critical bodily functions such as the immune system, absorbency of vitamins and minerals, hormone regulations, ability to eliminate toxins and mental health.

The gut is a very delicate ecosystem, with more flora (healthy bacteria) contained within it than all of the other cells in the body combined. When the ecosystem is healthy and flourishing, the gut has the proper balance of stomach acids and bacteria, which allows the body to break down food for nourishment and cell repair.

Issues such as headaches, mood issues, weight gain, menstrual cramps, fatigue, back pain, frequent colds, oestrogen dominance, and many more, are all that could be caused by having an unhappy gut.

It is not just food that can negatively impact the gut flora. Most people have taken antibiotics from a young age; antibiotic medication wipe out all pathogenic bacteria, as well as the good bacteria. Pesticides and herbicides kill good bacteria. Even being ‘over-hygienic’ with anti-bacterial lotions, soaps and household cleaning products can cause gut imbalances as our bodies need some exposure to dirt and germs to build a more robust immune system. Common signs of an unhealthy gut include mood swings, skin issues, anxiety, autoimmune disease, diabetes, frequent infection and digestive issues.

The entire digestive tract consists of 4 basic layers, one of which – the lamina propria – contains GALT (gut associated lymphoid tissue) which contains 70% of the body’s immune cells. The last section of the small intestine is called the ileum, and it contains aggregations of GALT called Peyer’s patches, which defends the body from any ingested pathogens.

What is a leaky gut?

Leaky Gut Syndrome, also known as intestinal permeability, is a condition whereby gaps in the intestinal wall start to loosen, and consequently harmful elements such as undigested food particles, proteins and bad bacteria leak into the bloodstream, having profound long-term effects overtime. The small intestines have small junctions that have the mighty role of absorbing the majority of nutrients, vitamins and minerals from food. If it is functioning optimally, only certain elements will enter through to the bloodstream, thereby blocking any harmful and toxic elements which are eventually excreted. But with a leaky gut, toxins enter the bloodstream which lead to inflammation and immune reactions.

Things to implement to improve gut health:

  • Supplement with probiotics. Probiotics assists in replenishing the good bacteria.
  • Eat more fibre for better elimination. Good bowel movement means elimination of toxins. Fresh fruits, veggies, chia seeds and legumes are good sources of fibre. Brands I would recommend include Biocare and Organic Olivia.
  •  Drink liquorice root tea. This sweet and delicious herb helps balance cortisol levels, soothes the digestive tract and improves stomach acid production.
  • Eat fermented foods. The good bacteria in fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso, organic yogurt and kimchi help to keep microbiome in good condition.
  • Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day helps to keep materials moving in the digestive system, supporting nutrient absorption and elimination of toxins.
  • Eat slowly and mindfully. The digestive process begins before we even put food in our mouth. The digestive system begins producing the necessary enzymes for the breaking down of food when the brain prepares to eat a meal. Saliva contains enzymes that breaks down starches, and it also contains IgA (an immunoglobulin – an essential component of immune function). Chewing signals the brain to activate the digestion process.
  • Eat bitter foods. In the Indian culture, it is common to chew on fennel seeds after a meal because it is known to help with digestive issues like bloating and intestinal gas. Drinking teas that can contain ginger, fennel seeds or peppermint before a meal stimulates the digestive process, resulting in improved nutrient absorption and regular, smoother elimination.
  • Avoid overeating. It is not in alignment with the Prophetic example to eat unnecessarily ample amounts of food. ‘Material illnesses arise from an increase of matter which comes to a point of excess in the body whereby it harms its natural functions. They are caused by consuming more food before the previous meal has been properly digested; by eating in excess of the amount needed by the body; by consuming food which is of little nutritional value and is slow to digest; and by eating different foods which are complex in their composition. So when a person fills his belly with these foods and it becomes a habit, they cause him various diseases… The Prophet (saw) has made it known that he found sufficient such morsels as would keep his spine upright, with which his strength would not be lowered or weakened; but if one goes beyond that, then let him eat to fill a third of his belly, and leave another third for water and a third for breath. This is most useful for body and heart. For if the belly is filled with food, it does not have enough space for drink, and when drink is added to it, this leaves little space for breath. Thus it is afflicted by distress and fatigue, and it bears this like one carrying a heavy burden – and this state will lead to corruption of the heart; and the limbs become too lazy to perform the obligations, and instead they move swiftly in submission to desires brought about by fullness of the belly.’

 

Sources:

https://www.organicolivia.com/product/digestive-juice/

Gut Matters book by Food Matters

Medicine of the Prophet, Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, p.13

 

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Breast health: because prevention is cure

When I reflect upon advice and guidance on health, nutrition and wellness from the Qur’an and Sunnah – from fasting and the properties of food, to the quantity of food one should consume and the benefits of exercise – everything essentially comes down to the cultivation of good, healthy lifestyle habits to prevent illness and dis-ease.

So when reading about breast cancer and maintaining breast health, I found that much of the advice correlates with what we already practice as Muslims (Alhamdulilah for Islam!). Whilst men can also be affected by breast cancer, it is the most common type of cancer in women, in ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries. 1 out of 8 will be diagnosed with breast cancer subhanAllah, and this number will only increase. Merely 5-10% of breast cancer occurs from genetics, therefore much responsibility falls on how we treat and nurture ourselves.

Ducts and Glandules in the Female Breast On the Anatomy of the Breast – Author: COOPER, Astley (1768–1841) Drawn from Cooper’s own anatomical preparations, which were injected with coloured wax, these colourful lithographs show the mammary glands and lactiferous ducts as sectioned through the nipple. The superb and brilliantly hand-coloured lithographs are outstanding for their artistic qualities, reminiscent of modern abstract art. https://hagstromerlibrary.ki.se/wunderkammer/1575

Breast cancer is known to be associated with excess levels of oestrogen, and the higher the oestrogen exposure, the higher the risk of developing breast cancer. Whilst oestrogen is a vital hormone for healthy nourishment, one can have an excess of oestrogen or poor-quality oestrogen. Breast tissue is rife with oestrogen receptors, and so may be more vulnerable to chemical pollutants, oestrogen-like pollutants and other endocrine disruptors.

Dr Christian Gonzalez, a Naturopath and Functional Medicine practitioner, gave the following advice to protect your breasts:

  1. Get your breasts checked monthly (ideally by a qualified health care professional) or get a thermography (a radiation free test that can show disease before it is seen on traditional imaging).
  2. ‘Limit’ alcohol intake – it causes 7 different cancers (breast, pancreatic, kidney, liver, thyroid, bladder, leukaemia). SubhanAllah, clearly one example as to why the consumption of alcohol is forbidden for Muslims – God is certainly the Most Wise.
  3. Eat a whole food, plant-based diet.
  4. With the help of a naturopath or functional doctor, rectify any hormonal imbalances.
  5. Drink organic green tea all day, every day. Green tea turns off the different mechanisms that cancerous tumours use to grow; it helps stop capillaries from growing around tumours to feed them.
  6.  Keep your phone away from your breasts.
  7. Get toxin and heavy metal lab testing run yearly – again, seek a qualified naturopath or health practitioner for guidance.
  8. You must have daily bowel movements – this is SO important for the prevention of toxic build-up and dis-eases in the body.
  9. Avoid oral contraceptives.  In 2005, the World Health Organisation’s cancer research group reclassified the Pill from “possible carcinogenic to humans” to “carcinogenic to humans.” Learn to track your menstrual cycle naturally, connect with your womb and body, even if you are not sexually active. There are many safer, natural and cleaner alternatives of birth control, such as apps like my flo, or a thermometer like Daysy (although it is much pricier, it will be worth it the long run inshaAllah). In addition, Jülide Turker considers it obligatory as Muslims to track our cycles, ‘so that we know when to make ghusl and differentiate between a regular bleed and one that is irregular to decide whether or not we are ready to wash up and pray’.
  10. Stay away from plastic as it is a potent hormone disruptor. Plastic is xenoestrogen, i.e. a compound that acts as oestrogen and can completely throw off hormones. When xenoestrogens enter the body, they increase the total amount of oestrogen, resulting in oestrogen dominance. Symptoms of oestrogen dominance include autoimmune dis-eases, PMS, infertility, irregular periods, depression, anxiety, cancers, allergies, decreased libido, osteoporosis, weight gain, headaches and hair loss. Furthermore, xenoestrogens are not biodegradable, and so they are stored in our fat cells.
  11. Exercise daily – both aerobic (like brisk walking, swimming) and anaerobic (like weight training, body weight training and HIIT).
  12. Eat cruciferous vegetables.
  13. Fast at least 13 hours. We should try our best to follow the sunnah and fast every Monday and Thursday inshaAllah. Even on the days Aunt Flow comes to visit, we can try ‘fasting’ from Fajr to Maghrib, drinking only water and herbal teas to benefit from the detox.
  14. Cultivate a normal sleep rhythm and always sleep in pitch black darkness.
  15. Remove all toxic personal care products and replace with organic, clean products. At first, it might seem as if clean, natural and organic personal care products are a lot more expensive than the regular products that one might be used to, but it truly is not that different. Last year, I calculated how much I spent on organic sanitary pads, and compared it how much I used to spend on Always pads, and I found that I only spent £6 more in the whole year!
  16. Consume mushrooms regularly – it is associated with decreased risk of breast, stomach and colorectal cancers. Studies have shown that women who ate at least 10 grams of fresh mushrooms each day (which equates to one mushroom per day) had a 64% decreased risk of breast cancer. One study showed that the risk of breast cancer was decreased in pre- and postmenopausal women when they ate fresh or dried mushrooms and drank green tea daily. White, Portobello, shiitake, reishi and oyster mushrooms all have anti-cancer properties. Some are anti-inflammatory, some stimulate the immune system, prevent DNA damage, slow cancer cell growth, cause programmed cancer cell death, and inhibit angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels, which is what we do not want around tumour/cancer cell growth).

In the book, Balance Your Hormones, Balance your Life, Dr Claudia Welch dedicates an entire chapter to breast health with a focus on Ayuervedic teachings. Ayuerveda calls the accumulation of toxicity in the body, and therefore dis-eases and cancers, ama, which translates to ‘toxic sludge’. Ama arises from external toxic chemicals (such as BPA found in plastic), poor-quality food, poorly digested food and lack of movement. Ama circulates the bloodstream, lodges in the breast tissue and causing stagnation. This further demonstrates why a high-fibre diet, rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and minimal amounts of organic meat/poultry, and cutting out of processed foods, sugar and white flour, is vital to good digestion, healthy bowel movements and consequently, less excess oestrogen.

To alleviate stagnation and ama in the breasts, Dr Claudia Welch recommends deep, diaphragmatic breathing, massaging your own breasts daily (perhaps during abhyanga – a warm oil, self body massage) to stimulate healthy flow of energy around the chest, avoid wearing underwired bras (there are plenty of good-quality, padded, wireless bras to purchase in most high street stores) and to stop spraying armpits with antiperspirants.

Most, if not all, antiperspirants contain aluminium and parabens which is absorbed by the skin and mimics oestrogen. A lot of popular makeup brands also contains parabens, which are not only carcinogenic but also mimic oestrogen. I have made an intention to change all personal care and beauty products to natural, organic and paraben-free products, and for make-up, this list has been incredibly helpful.

Ultimately, our body is an amanah – a trust from Allah. Taking care of this gift, as well as the physical health of our loved ones, friends and ummah – wherever and however possible, should be an utmost priority. We should not misuse it, nor take it for granted. If Allah chooses to test us with an illness or dis-ease, we hope and pray for expiation through it, pray for ease, seek forgiveness from Allah, make any necessary changes to our lifestyle, seek proper medical attention (holistic where possible!) and trust that He is the Best of Planners.

Sources:

The lymphatic system

You may have heard about dry brushing and how it stimulates the detoxification of the lymphatic system – but what exactly is the lymphatic system and what is its role in immunity?

2011-08-12 Lymph-Front-Back-Vodder-Scan

The lymphatic system consists of:

  • lymph: clear, watery fluid from blood/capillaries, that carries away particles such as bacteria and cell debris from damaged tissues, to be filtered out and destroyed by lymph nodes. Lymph also contains lymphocytes which circulate the lymphatic system and different regions of the body.
  • lymph vessels: similar to blood vessels and capillaries, lymph vessels form a network around almost all tissues and run alongside arteries and veins, carrying the lymph in a one-way direction, towards the thorax. The walls of lymph vessels have a muscle layer which assists in contractions and movement of lymph (unlike blood, which is pumped around the body by the heart). They become larger as they join together, forming the thoracic duct (drains lymph from both legs, pelvic and abdominal cavities, left half of thorax, head and neck and left arm) and right lymphatic duct (drains lymph from right half of  thorax, head, neck and right arm).
lymphatic-system-750x480
https://www.driftwellnessstudio.com/blog/2018/10/16/manual-lymphatic-drainage-in-athens-ga

 

  • lymph nodes: bean-shaped organs that sit, often in groups, along lymph vessels. They vary in size and are situated strategically throughout the body. Lymph nodes contain B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes  (immune cells) and functions to filter lymph which can contain bacteria, phagocytes (type of cell that engulf foreign substances) which contain ingested microbes, cells from malignant tumours and damaged tissue cells. Macrophages and antibodies (both are immune cells) destroy foreign substances in the lymph nodes. Once the lymph nodes filter out the toxic substances, the lymph fluid is returned to veins and re-enters the bloodstream.
Fig 2 - Structure of a lymph node.
https://teachmeanatomy.info/the-basics/ultrastructure/lymphatic-system/
  • lymph organs: spleen and thymus

The spleen is the largest lymphatic organ, located in the abdominal cavity, between the stomach and the diaphragm.

Related image
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/swollen-lymph-nodes/multimedia/lymphatic-system/img-20007995

The spleen contains red pulp (circulating blood) and white pulp (contains lymphocytes and macrophages, i.e. immunity cells). The spleen functions to remove old or damaged cells from the bloodstream, stores blood, contains immune cells which activate if an infection is present and synthesises blood cells in fetuses.

The thymus gland is located at the upper, front part of sternum, between the lungs and grows until puberty, after which it begins to atrophy. Lymphocytes (white blood cells involved in immunity; they are produced in bone marrow, hence bone marrow is considered to be lymphatic tissue) originate from the bone marrow and develop in the thymus for activation and maturation (T-lymphocytes). T-lymphocytes then enter the bloodstream and lymphoid tissues.

  • lymphoid tissue: tonsils and Peyer’s patches – both of which are also referred to as mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT). They contain B- and T-lymphocytes (immunity cells) and are imperative in detecting toxic substances early.

The tonsils are critical in attacking and destroying inhaled and swallowed antigens (toxic substances).  Peyer’s patches are located in the small intestines and destroy any swallowed antigens.

Interestingly, the appendix also contains lymphoid tissue!

  • bone marrow (discussed above).
https://www.lgdalliance.org/the-lymphatic-system/

Why is lymphatic drainage important?

So the lymphatic system is a crucial mechanism in maintaining immunity, supporting the cardiovascular system and tissues, and maintaining blood pressure and homeostasis. However, as lymph vessels do not have a heart to pump lymph throughout the body, it circulation can slow down or stagnate, hence the importance of taking responsbility in supporting lymphatic drainage.

Lymph health is crucial as a lymphatic system that isn’t supported – in fact, a body that isn’t supported with a healthy lifestyle overall, can cause various illnesses, namely due to spread of infection via lymph vessels to the body or lymphatic obstruction.

Exposure to pathogens, stress and indolence negatively affect the effectiveness of lymphatic drainage. To clarify, the body’s tissues are bathed in interstitial fluid (fluid that provides nutrients and oxygen to tissues) which leak constantly from the bloodstream, through the capillaries (i.e. lymph). If the excess fluid in tissues is not removed, tissues would become waterlogged and swell and blood volume would fall. This is the fluid movement that needs to be supported – to support immune function and the removal of toxins:

  • Dry skin brushing: gentle sweeping motions on dry skin using a brush with natural bristles support the detoxification and movement of lymph flow. Just that simple stroking on the skin can have such profound results, subhanAllah. The image below illustrates which direction to brush the skin. Read here for other benefits of dry skin brushing.

Map of dry brushing to increase circulation and remove toxins, by Vicky  Vlachonis on goop

  • Movement: whether that’s a brisk walk in the park for 20 minutes, yoga or strength training, any movement will bolster lymphatic flow.
  • Abhyanga: a self-loving, beautiful Ayurvedic self-massage using warm oil infused with herbs or essential oils, before bathing. There are countless benefits to partaking in daily abhyanga, including stress relief, calming the nervous system, aiding lymph flow, hormonal balancing, increasing longevity, benefiting sleep patterns and improving skin health. Those with dry skin should use sesame oil, sensitive, acne-prone skin will benefit from coconut oil and people with oily, moist skin can use sweet almond oil or mustard oil. I put the oil in a glass jar, in a pan water and warm it on the stove. Massage the oil in long, steady strokes towards the heart, pay attention to the stomach area by massaging in circular motions (up from the right side, across, then down, following the same direction of the colon). I like to keep the oil on overnight for maximum absorption.

There are many ways to support lymph health, but these few are my absolute favourite.

Other sources:

I am my own muse

I love this quote by Frida Kahlo: “I am my own muse. I am the subject I know best. The subject I want to better.”

I don’t know a great deal about Frida Kahlo. I know she is an iconic artist and I watched the biopic of her life with Salma Hayek. Regardless, these words – “I am my own muse” – are my mantra for life. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be anyone else except me. I have pre-teen memories of copying others, purely because I wanted to be just like them. For example, in primary school, a friend asked if I liked strawberries, and I said “no, not really”. I asked her, and she said “yes I love them”. I looked at her for a few seconds and then changed my mind, “actually, I love strawberries too”, to which she laughed and I was left feeling a bit embarrassed. We had a supply teacher once. It was someone’s birthday and they brought in lollipops to share with the class. I carefully watched the supply teacher to see which one she picked, so I could pick the same one. When I couldn’t see which one she picked, I was disappointed and dissatisfied with my cola lollipop.

I just didn’t want to form opinions of my own for myself. I couldn’t. I didn’t feel I was able to. Of course I know now that that’s not true – but even as a child I felt unworthy of making decisions for myself, asking myself what I wanted, how I felt about something. I believe a part of me was afraid that my opinion would be ‘wrong’ – but wrong in what way and by who’s standards? My parents? My sister? My peers?

These are just two examples from childhood, but I can recall so many more. As I entered my teens and early adulthood, this mirroring the opinions of others continued… I copied people’s clothing, taste in music, tried to get into the interests of others even if I wasn’t entirely fond of it. I thought this was the way I am going to liked and accepted by people around me, by being like them, because being me apparently wasn’t good enough. I was somewhat aware of my behaviour but I brushed it off by telling myself that I am simply taking inspiration from the amazing people around me. However inn hindsight, it was much more insidious and very telling of my low self-esteem.

Every now and then, I see myself doing it now, at 27 years of age and it is terrifying! Terrifying might sound a tad dramatic but when you doubt your own opinions and perspectives, people negatively influence you or patronise you, leaving you unable to stand up for yourself. Once upon a time a friend and I would memorise short surahs together. I was taking tajweed classes at the time which completely changed the game in Qur’an recitation for me, in the most brilliant and positive way. My friend has the most beautiful voice and so her qira’at was incredibly harmonious, and she generously led many prayers. I advised that she needs to work a little on her tajweed and told her about my lovely tutor, in case she was interested in taking classes. Her response: “I don’t think Allah is not going to accept my prayers because my pronunciation isn’t perfect – He is the most Merciful.” I didn’t say another word. A few years later, that interaction randomly came to mind and I was stunned. How did I let someone think that I would say something like that, that I would say Allah will not accept your prayers because your tajweed isn’t perfect? How did I not defend myself? Why did I accept that? It is awkward to think my advice for ihsan was misconstrued like that, because as Muslims we are all constantly striving for excellence in everything we do for the sake of Allah, but for someone to think I would speak on the acceptance of one’s good deeds was extremely hurtful.

If there was one thing I could tell my younger self, I would tell her that it is completely, utterly, 100% okay to formulate and carry your own thoughts, opinions, likes and dislikes on anything and everything, even if they are unpopular or different to the norm. It is also okay to not have an opinion at all, too. It is acceptable to agree or disagree with something/someone – even if you are unable to articulate the reasoning behind those feelings. It is okay to be you because you are amazing and you have valid and wonderful thoughts. Sure, you can look to others for inspiration, but you are creative and intelligent enough, and YOU have the ability and the creativity to inspire others too.

I want my daughter (if God wills) and the younger generation to know that they do not need to behave, dress, look or think like every other person on instagram, tumblr or youtube. They can can step back and ask: do I really believe this? Do I really like/dislike this? Do I agree/disagree? Be your own muse – you deserve it and you are worthy of it. Learn about yourself, get to know yourself and be.

 

Unani medicine: a brief introduction

For the past few months I have been attending classes with Hakim Shahid Bukhari, a naturopath, herbalist and iridoligist based in Manchester, to study the theory of Unani tibb.

Ibn-Sina-980-1037-persian-philosopher-and-physician

What is Unani medicine?

Unani tibb is one of the three major traditional medicines (others being TCM and Ayurveda). This medicine was developed under the Muslim empire but has roots in Greek and other older medical systems. Major contributors were polymaths and physicians, Ibn Sina and Abū Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariyyā al-Rāzī. The word unani translates as ‘Greek’ in Arabic as it is based on the teachings of Greek physicians Galen and Hippocrates, and tibb means ‘medicine’ in Arabic. The work of Ibn Sina became the basis of modern medicine and was taught in Europe until the 17th Century.

Today, Unani tibb is widely practiced, particularly in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The growing Muslim population in India saw the science and knowledge of Unani tibb expand throughout the region; some concepts are similar to that of Ayurveda. Both Unani and Ayurveda were discouraged by the British colonialists during its rule in India, and interestingly, it’s practice became part of the movement for independence.

Some contributions of Unani medicine to modern medicine include:

  • The treatment for extraction of a worm.
  • Knowledge on the circulatory system and the heart’s role in blood circulation.
  • Use of plants and herbs.
  • Clinical trials/evidence-based medicine (first used by Ibn Sina).

Unani medicine understands that the human body comprises components; there is a balance within these components and and imbalances can also occur. The components include: humours (bodily liquids), elements (temperature and feeling; hot, cold, wet, dry), temperaments (air, fire, earth, water), organs (specific and vital functions of the body), forces (internal and external energies), actions (what the energies do that contribute to degrees to health) and spirits (ruh, life force, chi – flows through the body).

Conventional medicine does not explain WHY certain illnesses/imbalances occur – allopathic medicine tends to consider people’s illnesses caused by something external (i.e. microbe) and seeks to treat people’s symptoms, typically by suppressing them. Treatments tend to be invasive, with a great deal of negative side effects and further suppresses the life force/ruh. Treatments include drugs, chemicals, x-rays, radiation and chemotherapy.

Unani medicine, on the other hand, seeks to identify root causes of ailments (physical, emotional and spiritual). Ailments are understood as an imbalance; the imbalance creates an environment that allows diseases to thrive. It treat people as whole individuals using non-invasive means with little to no side effects which stimulates life force/ruh. Methods of treatment typically include nutrition, herbal remedies, essences, homeopathy, physical therapies and oils, to name a few.

A vital concept in Unani medicine is the soul/ruh and its role in the human body. The ruh is related to movement, respiration, circulation and oxygenation, governed by mind, thoughts, emotions and actions. It is further influenced by creativity, energies, desires and adaptability.

In the human body, the soul (or spirits) are also found in organs; each organ has it’s own spirit responsible for the specialised function of the organ, all of which keep the body alive.

 

Edited and approved by Hakim Shahid Bukhari. See here for his full bio.

Hakim Shahid is taking appointments in London. If you’d like to book an appointment, please feel free to message me or visit his website for his contact information.

Image: https://bit.ly/2RKRmoB

Mirrors

When looking into the mirror, the first thing many of us do is focus on our flaws and point out what needs fixing. It is incredibly difficult for me to look at my reflection and be pleased with what I see because I am always comparing myself to society’s standard of beauty, and I am far from it. I have dark circles around my eyes (if I’m totally honest it is why I don’t post many photos of my face), a few spots and scars and some hyperpigmentation. I tend to only feel valuable and worthy if I look a certain way – and I know I am not the only woman who thinks like this. I’ve been taught that being attractive and desirable, especially to the male gaze, is what gives me importance in the world.

But when I began to contemplate on the following hadith, I knew I had a great deal of unlearning to do.

When the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) looked in the mirror, he said, “Praise be to Allah. Oh Allah, as you have beautified me, beautify my character.”

The first lesson from this dua is that the Messenger of Allah (saw) taught us that Allah created us with perfection, flawlessly and beautiful, regardless of how beauty is defined on Instagram or by societies. It sounds simple enough, but it almost feels rebellious to truly embrace this statement. We are bombarded with messages that tell us constantly we are not good enough as we currently exist. So for me, one way of truly embracing this lesson, is not putting makeup on. It sounds petty. But considering the way I perceive my reflection in the mirror, it is easier said than done. I know I get treated differently from my non-makeup face to my glammed up face (in a nutshell, people are kinder to me). But it is powerful to know that God l-i-t-e-r-a-l-l-y created me and no mistake was made.

The second lesson I gained from this dua is that I don’t put enough emphasis on my internal state. It is a given that with God’s permission, I am externally beautiful, but what about internally? My soul, my thoughts, my personality, my perception of others, of myself? For as long as I can remember I have put my energy into APPEARING beautiful, and little to no effort was made in trying to be a better, kinder, more honest and patient person. It took losing complete self-esteem and all sense of self-worth at the age of 24 to realise this!

I have met some beautiful souls, whom by nature have loving, kind-hearted, warm and compassionate temperaments (mashaAllah!) . The Prophet (saw) certainly had this temperament, and yet he still made this eye-opening and heart-opening dua. Hence, this shows having a gentle, soft heart/character takes effort. We may fail, we may lose patience, say hurtful things we don’t mean, roll our eyes, gossip, assume the worst in other people – but for the sake of Allah, we must seek forgiveness, forgive ourselves and try again, and again, and again. And whilst we pick ourselves up, we can also say this dua every time we look into the mirror.

I am so sure that there are many more hidden treasures to discover in this dua. But for now, I will ponder on what it really means to beautify my character and the necessary steps I must take to make that a reality.

Holistic hijabi hair care

Not all hair care tips work for everyone. This is aimed towards those with straight, South Asian locks who adorn the hijab. It is easy to neglect hair care when it is covered for large chunks of the day, and one of the biggest problems I’ve personally faced is hair thinning and a dwindling hairline! So over the past few months, I’ve adopted holistic hair care habits which have worked wonders:

  • brush dry hair with a wooden hair brush
  • use a natural conditioner – I’m still on the hunt for the perfect, inexpensive conditioner but faith in nature leaves my ends feeling healthy and silky
  • massage scalp weekly with a tablespoon of warm sesame oil and 3 drops of rosemary essential oil – leave the oils to penetrate scalp for a few hours or overnight
  • before putting on the hijab, do not brush hair back into a ponytail – it pulls the hair back, leading to thinness of hair at the forehead. instead, do a middle parting, then comb the front sides of your hair downwards and tie into a ponytail. the hair tie should be wrapped tightly to hold hair in place, but it shouldn’t put any strain on the hair
  • get ends trimmed every few months or so
  • sleep with hair in a loose plait
  • massaging scalp is great for blood circulation
  • hair loss and dry scalp is caused by blood deficiency, so eat blood boosting foods: beetroots, leafy greens, organic red meat, ginger, turmeric and garlic
  • hair mask with one part castor oil and two parts coconut or avocado oil – castor oil boosts blood circulation to the follicles and contains omega-9 essential fatty acids that are responsible for healthy hair. For other castor oil benefits, see here.
  • keep hair down/untied when not wearing the hijab. if it gets in your way, pin it back with a hair clip
  • de-stress. healthy hair and skin can only truly be achieved and maintained when you are mindful and attentive to your emotional, spiritual and mental well-being, even if your diet is super clean.

Image from Pinterest – Mudhubala in Mughal-e-Azam, 1960.

Childhood woes

Much of the anxieties and insecurities we experience in our adult lives are rooted in unresolved woes from childhood – and that is where the heart-work begins. With whatever challenges we may be facing right now, we can ask ourselves a few key questions to get to the origin of our woes and inshaAllah, let go.

  • What challenge are you experiencing right now?
  • How does the situation feel?
  • Can you remember a time in your childhood where you experienced the same or a similar feeling?
  • How does that feel for you?

Upon answering these questions, it is incumbent to express the sadness, grief, anger and/or frustration. Scream into a pillow, cry, talk to God, talk to yourself, dance, draw, paint, go for a walk, go for a run, write it out then burn it up. Release. Then, forgive. Seek forgiveness. Apologise – to yourself and to others.

Letting go is a physical process. Naming and expressing grief, sitting with it, allowing it to arise, allowing it to speak to you, hearing and honouring the signals our bodies tell us, are the most fruitful releasing practices.

Embodying self-acceptance

A few weeks ago I was sitting at my desk at home, elbows on the table. Whilst writing up an essay,  I slumped my chin on the palm of my hand. I then felt my pulse so intensely under my chin – now, this is going to sound weird but it was a sensation that I have never felt before. I burst into tears. I held my wrist in gratitude, thankful to the Creator of my pulse. Why?

I have struggled with body image for years. Anxieties and insecurities about my body and it’s worth have been simmering since childhood. I went into therapy two years ago and while it was, and still is, extremely beneficial, it was all mind focused. I never truly tried to accept and appreciate my body for what is actually is, rather the heart-work was based on changing my thinking, my perspective.

Feeling my pulse unintentionally made me cry. I have been spewing mean thoughts at my body for so long, clutching onto resentment for not being how I wanted it to be, how society tells me what a woman’s body should look like. Despite my loathing, my heart, with the permission of Allah, continued to pump blood through my veins, nourishing me and allowing me to breathe.

This was a major calling to embody self-acceptance. It doesn’t just come from working on grief, perspective, unlearning and relearning – these things are important. The addition of movement and meditation brings attention to what the body continues to do and can do, as opposed to what it just is.

Our bodies are always speaking to us, telling us what it needs. I went from being a gym bunny, needing to do weights and squats multiple times a week, to gentle yoga movements and breathwork. But I didn’t realise WHY my body was seeking this physical transformation until I felt my pulse telling me that this is my healing. My medicine is to drop out of my head and fall into my body. To move intuitively.

I invite you to try a few practices to journey back to your body, with intention, until you find what brings you comfort:

  • yoga – sun salutation is dear to me.
  • dance – with or without music. This one was a big one for me. I stopped dancing because I felt I didn’t have the “right” body for it. Now I find myself dancing as me, taking up space, swaying in ways that does not look like dance, reclaiming my body, unapologetically (in the comfort of my own home and completely alone of course!!!)
  •  abhyanga – an ayurvedic healing therapy. Daily warm oil, self body massage;  ‘pay particular attention to parts of your body where you hold stress, whether it is your
    shoulders, lower back or heart-centre. Allow these areas to open with every massage as you breathe into the tension’ – Sahara Rose.
  • walk – especially in nature, is so therapeutic.
  • breathwork – eyes closed, belly breathing. Sitting comfortably on the floor, legs crossed, eyes closed and shoulders relaxed. Put one hand on your stomach, below the belly button and the other below the breasts. Expand your belly as you inhale deeply, slowly, mindfully and pull your belly inwards as you exhale. Repeat at least 7 times.
  • Salah – last but by far not the least. An act of gratitude and worship to the One that gifted me this body. A trust. To be used purposefully, to be honoured, loved and respected.

 

Image from Ayurveda by Sahara Rose Ketabi, p. 99