Assalamu alaykum!
I had been looking forward to this month’s Boost Your Iman series because I was very curious about the topic: Mindfulness Stretch Exercise Class. ‘What would it be about?’ I wondered.

When the D-day finally arrived and I found myself; after a very hectic morning; listening to the Presenter Sister Aisha Kaddour, I kept thinking how wonderful it was to have the opportunity to attend!

One thing I can tell you- without being seen to have hastily jumped to the very end of the lecture even before starting off- is that Sister Aisha was able to make some of us fall asleep effortlessly
but it was definitely not due to boredom! We shall talk about how she did that at the end, so keep on reading!

Sister Aisha began by telling us how she developed the Mindfulness Stretch Program to help women gain peace in their lives by cultivating mindfulness.

We were let into how while praying at Masjid An-Nabawi in Madina Al-Munawwarah two years
ago, she was overcome with a feeling of tranquillity and homecoming. She shared with us how she found clarity in the last four verses of Soorah Al-Fajr.

(It will be said to the pious): “O (you) the one in (complete) rest and satisfaction!
“Come back to your Lord, Well-pleased (yourself) and well-pleasing unto Him!

“Enter you, then, among My honoured slaves,
“And enter you My Paradise!”

-Soorah Al-Fajr (89): 27-30.

In these verses, Allah describes the conversation that will take place between HIM (SWT) and HIS righteous servants on the Day of Resurrection.

The slaves being referred to here are those who have attained a tranquil or peaceful soul (Al Nafs Al-Mutmainnah) in this Dunya. On that Day, they will receive the good news that Allah is well pleased with them and HE will call them to enter HIS Jannah. This is the reward of the righteous and the ultimate goal of every believer.

As we all know, to earn this reward in the Akhira, we need to work hard for it in this Dunya. How do we achieve this? Sister Aisha delved deeper to give us a clearer picture!

In the Tafseer of the verses, the description of our soul is like something that has risen up or wants to erupt. She gave the very apt analogy of milk that is being heated in a pan. At a certain
temperature, it begins to bubble and will boil over except the heat is controlled. She likened this to the nature of our souls.

She also gave us the example of a child having a tantrum. When we calm him down, we have given succour to him.

Our Nafs (soul) has its desires and hungers and constantly seeks to erupt but by submitting to
Allah’s Will as much as possible, we will find rest and Allah will honour our souls with peace.
The soul that receives this peace is Al-Nafs Al-Mutmainnah.

Submitting to Allah also involves emotional control. This is a bit tough but we should remember that the reward is great. In moments of anger, pain or despair, we should take deep breaths and remember that we are slaves of Allah and surrender to HIM. This humbles our ego.

Sister Aisha mentioned mindfulness breathing which I found particularly useful. As parents, our kids often do things that upset or annoy us. In such situations, the natural tendency is for us to react swiftly. This reaction is often exaggerated and when we look back later, we realise that we could have handled the situation better if we were calm. This is where mindfulness breathing comes in. We should breathe before reacting to prevent us from an exaggerated reaction. This technique if well used can be picked up by our kids. It will help them as well to control their emotions.

According to Sister Aisha, mindfulness breathing also helps to flush out our lymphatic system and helps our brain activity through increased oxygen supply.

It is important for us to be of those with Nafs Al- Mutmainnah (a tranquil/ peaceful soul) in this world. These are those who are content with the Hukm (divine commands) of Allah.

Understanding Allah’s names and attributes makes us aware of Allah and puts our souls at ease because we can put our trust in HIM. The more we practice God-consciousness, the easier it will become for us until it becomes a habit.

Unhealthy thinking mainly stems from fear and future thinking. As a result of this, we get anxious and develop an unhealthy coping mechanism that depletes our nervous system and causes stress. This is particularly dangerous for the Muslimah because in the process of worrying or dwelling on the past and future, we lose focus on the present. Prolonged stress is known to cause anxiety and depression.

Very often, we are in an unconscious state of tension which makes it easy to stop noticing the
world around us. This could adversely affect our Eeman.

We were shown the effects of stress on the brain in a very informative video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WuyPuH9ojCE

We learnt that while stress could sometimes be useful to give us a burst of extra energy, continuous stress can affect the working of the brain. I was surprised to learn that chronic stress could actually change not only the way the brain works but its size! It could affect our concentration and social interaction among other things and eventually cause depression or Alzheimer’s disease. Did you know that the brain releases a hormone when it detects stress or fear?

The good news however is that the effects of stress on the brain can be remedied through
exercise and meditation. Mindfulness plays an important role here. As Muslims, we need to be
mindful of:

  • Allah’s Qadr
  • Allah’s Ability
  • HIS Magnificent Names
  • HIS Help
  • HIS Love for us.

This reassures our souls and allows us to surrender to HIM totally without fear or sadness knowing that everything is good for the believer. This mindfulness helps us to be God-conscious and have a moment by moment awareness of how we use our time.

Practicing mindfulness of Allah is a state of Muraqabah. This means taking care of one’s heart such that we avoid filling our hearts with materialistic things. We should remember that Allah knows what is in our hearts and always be mindful of HIM.

Muraqabah is a complete state of self-awareness in one’s relationship with Allah. It leads us to paying more attention to our thoughts, feelings, inner state of being and eventually our actions.
Allah says:
“…And know that Allah knows what is in your minds, so fear Him. And know that
Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Forbearing.”
-Soorah Al- Baqarah (2):235

It is normal to sometimes feel sad, upset and so on. However, it becomes an issue for concern when we constantly find ourselves in this state and begin to disconnect from the world around us.

The second path towards success for our Akhira according to Sister Aisha is to have Qalb Saleem
(a sound heart).

Ibn Qayyim (RahimahuLLah) said

“There is a space inside the heart that nothing can fill it or satisfy it except Allah.”

A sound mind and a sound body go hand in hand. If we constantly check ourselves and are aware of what really matters, we will be in tune with our Nafs. When the heart’s faculties remain within their limits and each does its job in a manner that is pleasing to Allah, we have Qalb Saleem. Saleem here means safe, sound and healthy.

We should note that whatever is safe is sound and healthy. Whatever is not safe is the opposite and is also diseased.

To attain Qalb Saleem, we need to let go of negative thoughts. We should also practice slow
focused breathing. This helps the body’s muscles to automatically relax.

Allah says about the soul in the Quran:

“He has succeeded who purifies it,
And he has failed who instills it [with corruption].”
-Soorah Ash-Shams (91):9-10

Allah informs us in the Quran that we will face trials but we will overcome them with Sabr
(patience) and Taqwa (being conscious of Allah).

And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and
lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient,

Who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him
we will return.”

Those are the ones upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy. And it is those
who are the [rightly] guided.

-Soorah Al- Baqarah (2): 155-157

When passing through a trial, we need to ask ourselves “Is my response to this test pleasing to Allah?” This is being conscious of Allah. A person with a peaceful soul and sound heart is a
successful person. The reward for this is paradise!

We watched another video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2zRA5zCA6M&t=5s on
Automatic thoughts and their harmful effects and categories like assuming/mind reading, overgeneralizing and catastrophizing and how we can stop them from endangering our personal lives.

We were given worksheets to practice the 3Rs-

  • Record an upsetting event
  • Rationalize
  • Replace

We should replace bad thoughts with good ones. As Muslims, when we have doubts and negative thoughts, we should dispel them with dhikr.

When we avoid focusing on negative things, we are relaxed. This helps our brain to function better, our immune system becomes stronger and our ability to worship Allah with taqwa increases.

At the end of the lecture, Sister Aisha led us through some stretching and breathing exercises. This for me was the icing on the cake because I got to stretch and peacefully relax my stiff muscles. I could feel the tension slowly leaving my body as we moved from one exercise to the other.

At the end, Sister Aisha got us all to stretch out on our backs and breathe deeply with our eyes
closed while we reflected and listened to du’a. The room was so peaceful Masha Allah! I felt
myself drift off into a calm sleep but could do nothing to stop it!

When it was all over, I felt calmer, more relaxed and at peace with myself despite the hectic
morning I had gone through. I am sure the feeling was the same with the other sisters present. All praise is due to Allah(SWT)! May Allah bless Sister Aisha and all who had a part in making such a wonderful lecture possible.

In my humble opinion, I think that as individuals, we go through a lot of stress in our journey of
life. We could easily get drowned in our struggles to make it from one day to the next. However,
it is important to find time to look after ourselves- body and soul. Our ultimate success lies in attaining Jannah. We should strive towards this and ensure that all we do in life is in one way or the other aimed at achieving this.

Our bodies and souls belong to Allah but HE has entrusted them on us as an Amanah (Trust). We need to look after them so we can earn HIS pleasure because in this lies the ultimate success!