With Ramadan just a couple of short months away, those of us who plan to go for hajj are most likely already preparing. The process often starts early with choosing a group, a package, and making arrangements for the time that we’ll be away. Once these tasks are taken care of, most of us begin thinking about the finer details: what clothes we’ll wear to tolerate the heat (and how we’ll wash them), what unscented products and shoes we’ll need, and how many hand sanitizers and antibiotics we may want to pack for the duration of the journey. A significant source of preparation anxiety often centers around the dreaded bathrooms (the right harem pants are lifesavers for women!).
What we don’t prepare for as much however is the physical exertion that will be required to complete our hajj in the best possible way. All too often, I’ve seen people come for hajj and get into their worship 110% as soon as they land. Sleep? Who needs it? While the motivation is contagious (along with all the germs in the air) and truly inspiring, most people also often fall ill before we get to the main course: the Manasik of hajj.
The problem here isn’t just the lack of sleep. It’s that our bodies aren’t prepped for such a rigorous routine for two straight weeks. With the lack of preparing our health and jumping right into such a demanding and new flow, it’s no surprise that so many of us crash so quickly. Much like someone would intentionally work on increasing their endurance for a marathon run, we need to prepare ourselves not just spiritually, but also physically and emotionally, for the marathon known as hajj.
Being that our health is an amanah from Allah, the following suggestions would be beneficial to implement year round, but are especially important in preparing for what we hope will be a life changing journey.
- Diet: we get some serious training on controlling ourselves when it comes to food during Ramadan (whether we continue that self control at iftar is something else). If you’re planning to go for hajj, it’s a good idea to use Ramadan as a springboard. Start preparing by clearing your diet of excess sugars and processed foods. Incorporate healthy foods into your diet that will nourish and strengthen your body and build your health. Increase your intake of vegetables and healthy sources of protein and fat. Making healthy changes like these should result in increased energy and endurance. Small changes can go a long way, especially if implemented consistently.
- Hydration: get used to drinking water. Lots of it. People often fear having to go to the bathroom too often due to increasing their water intake. While this can definitely be a nuisance, I’d prefer a few bathroom visits to passing out during most important days of my life. There are many medical emergencies that can (and have) occurred due to dehydration. Living in the west, we aren’t accustomed to getting to a level of dangerous dehydration. We also aren’t used to being the kind of heat that’s normal for Makkah where we are constantly sweating. Yes, this means you should come prepared with a really good/strong scent free deodorant, but it also means that you should be prepared to keep sipping water. Preferably with added electrolytes to maintain proper mineral levels and hydration. I can’t emphasize this part enough.
- Activity: get used to physical exertion. Remember, this is a two week spiritual, physical, and emotional marathon. All these parts of our being go hand in hand, especially during hajj. If you’re unable to keep up with the physical demands, it’ll be more difficult to maximize the spiritual gains that we’re all hoping for. If you’re already exercising, increase your intensity a bit. Run that extra mile and do an extra set of squats while you’re at it. If you aren’t used to exercising, begin a walking routine at least a few months beforehand. Use a program like couch to 5k if that motivates you. Or start small with a 15 minute brisk walk and work your way up to an hour. The sooner you begin this preparation, the better it is. However, at the latest, you should begin as soon as Ramadan ends. Those pakoras and biryani aren’t helping any of us improve our endurance!
- Relaxation: find something that is calming and works for you. I don’t mean lying on a hammock on the beach, as nice as that sounds. Find something practical that you can do to ground yourself when you feel anxious or overwhelmed. Hajj is a series of events that test our mental, emotional, and physical endurance. Finding and practicing a way to calm yourself down beforehand will be invaluable during the (many) moments where you feel overwhelmed or tired. This might include sitting for a few extra minutes after salah for intentional engagement in dhikr or dua. It might be slowing yourself down and practicing some deep breathing to calm the nervous system. Perhaps some slow deliberate stretching. Spend some time before hajj experimenting with various active forms of calming so that when you need it as a tool during hajj, you’re able to utilize it. The key here is to practice and have a grasp of this for at least a few weeks or even months prior to leaving for hajj. The longer you give yourself to prepare your mind and body, the better off you’ll be.
- Medications and supplements: it goes without saying that if you’re on any medications, you should be sure to keep those with you at all times. I’d go as far as advising against putting your medications in your checked bags at any point during the trip. There may be times when there’s a delay in getting your luggage, and the last thing you’d want is to be without your medication. In addition to medications, hajj is also a time to take advantage of immune boosting supplements (with your doctors approval of course!) There are many natural supplements and vitamins on the market that aid in increasing your natural ability to fight infection and illness. Some natural sources of supporting your immune system include honey, vitamin C, zinc, oil of oregano, garlic, and echinacea. Please note that this is not meant to be medical advice, but encouragement to do some research and find ways that you can support your immune system at a time when you’ll cross paths with more people than you have at any other time in your life. Chewing on raw garlic may be the most effective – it’ll naturally keep people a healthy distance from you and you won’t need to worry about catching germs!
What else might you do to prep your mind, body, and soul for this amazing journey?
By: Sr. Menahal Begawala