Relax, Sister: How to Take the Rejuvenating Breaks You Need
by Writing Muslimah
Time flies between juggling all of our different roles, and women often feel like they are not ‘allowed’ to relax, because it seems like we need to achieve everything first. The list is never-ending; there is always something that needs doing.
For example, you have your job, the kids need something, the chores need to be done and you want to focus on your spirituality, just to name a few. Given the endless to-do lists, it’s often difficult to know where or how to slot relaxation in.
In this article, I hope to show you how you can make the time to truly unwind and relax without feeling like you’d rather get something else done!
Is relaxation a waste of time?
Imagine this scenario: you have a deadline to meet, perhaps for work or school/university. You cannot possibly take a break or unwind for a while. You think working all night will be productive – you’ve seen other people doing it so surely it must be productive, right? Wrong!
It is clear from the life of Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that there needs to be boundaries between time for work and for ‘play’. In other words, he ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) worked productively for a set time and then rested productively when needed. There are countless examples from the seerah showing us how Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) used to carry out his duties and then spend his time with his wives and with the sahabah (companions). The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is certainly the most productive of creation; his life ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is an example of how to use our time productively and, in turn, relax productively. Relaxing productively is about changing our definition and perception of what relaxation is. Even sleeping with the intention of re-energising yourself for worship and fulfilling your duties is rewardable. This completely refutes the notion that relaxation is a waste of time! In fact, I would say it is a necessary thing to schedule, so women do not burn out with all the different roles they have to fulfill.
“I’m not sure I know how to relax!”
The fact of the matter is, some women are so caught up in the ‘ashamed to relax’ cycle that they may have forgotten how to relax!
The reality is we do need to go back and find proper ways to relax, in an age where relaxation often involves the very same tools we use for work, i.e. computer screens, smartphone screens and tablet screens.
Many of us work at a desk all day then spend the entire evening watching YouTube videos as a form of taking a break. We work on that assignment all day and then read all night on our iPad. Sound familiar? Is it any wonder we don’t feel relaxed or don’t even remember how to relax?
Relaxation can be split into two categories: spiritual and non-spiritual. In sha Allah, with these tips, you can learn to take rejuvenating breaks that will increase your over-all productivity.
Whilst we are aware that the five daily prayers are obligatory, what if we looked forward to these times as the ultimate form of relaxation? From a purely worldly perspective, it is clear that salah offers us the chance to disconnect from the world in order to focus on what is truly important: Allah subḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He). Yasmin Mogahed sums it up well by saying that right at the moment when we are becoming too engrossed in dunya, prayer time hits again. That is Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He) way of pulling us back to Him, subhanAllah!
When we share our day with our best friend or spouse, we unload our burdens to feel lighter and more relaxed. Imagine how you would feel when you are sharing your day for a minimum of five times a day with your Creator: our Ultimate Best Friend. Allah subḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He) says in the Qur’an:
“Your ally is none but Allah and [therefore] His Messenger and those who have believed – those who establish prayer and give zakah, and they bow (in worship).” [Quran: Chapter 5, Verse 55].
So, use salah as a time to unload all your worries and stresses unto the Only One who can truly change your situation.
Of course, our khushu’ fluctuates in salah, and it is different from person to person. So this form of ‘relaxation’ is not necessarily a quick fix, but something to be worked on over time. The point is, give your heart to Allah subḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He) and really focus on the words you are reciting, especially ‘Allahu Akbar’: God is Greater than anything distracting or troubling you.
Have you ever been with other women and marveled at how quickly they’re moving their prayer beads? It can sometimes leave you feeling like you’re not doing enough. However, the key is quality not quantity. Take time to reflect on the words you’re saying. True dhikr should speak to your heart and if possible leave you in tears from the sheer glorification of Allah subḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He); it is after all only a hardened heart that cannot cry at the remembrance of Allah subḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He). Allah subḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He) says in the Qur’an:
“Woe to those whose hearts are hardened against the remembrance of Allah. Those are in manifest error.” [Quran: Chapter 39, Verse 22]
There is also a beautiful hadith, which shows an example of quality dhikr over quantity:
“The Mother of the Believers, Juwairiyah bint Al-Harith reported: “the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) came out from my apartment in the morning as I was busy in performing the dawn prayer. He came back in the forenoon and found me sitting there. The Prophet ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Are you still in the same position as I left you?” I replied in the affirmative. Thereupon the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “I recited four phrases three times after I had left you. If these are to be weighed against all you have recited since morning, these will be heavier. They are:
Subhan-Allahi Wa bihamdihi, ‘adada khalqihi, wa rida-a nafsihi, wa zinatah ‘arshihi, wa midada kalimatihi [Allah is free from imperfection and I begin with His praise, as many times as the number of His creatures, in accordance with His Good Pleasure, equal to the weight of His Throne and equal to the ink that may be used in recording the words (for His Praise)]” [Sahih Muslim]
During and after true dhikr, you will notice your heart rate slowing down, your worries disappearing (even if momentarily) and a feeling of calmness will overwhelm you. Even if it’s for a minute or less, a few simple heartfelt ‘subhanAllah’s’ can calm you down immensely, when you ponder on its meaning.
In times of stress, distress or sadness, Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan recommends randomly opening the Qur’an and reading the two pages in front of you. I highly recommend this for women as a form of relaxation. Indeed, Allah subḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He) tells us in the Qur’an:
“Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured.” [Quran: Chapter 13, Verse 28].
Read mindfully and slowly. Let the words move your heart. If you do not understand or cannot read Arabic, then read a translation. Give this a try and note how you feel before and after.
Spend quality time offline
Those of you who use Google Chrome to browse the internet will know that when you are offline, Google displays the image of a dinosaur. This speaks volumes about our society’s opinion of the importance of the internet. However, why is it that we are so stressed? Why is it that we have forgotten the art of communication? Is the internet helping or harming us in the long term?
Islam is a religion of moderation. Allah subḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He) tells us in the Qur’an that:
“He likes not those who commit excess.” [Quran: Chapter 7, Verse 31]
Ask yourself how much time you spend mindlessly scrolling and clicking through websites, only to look at the clock and realise hours have passed by.
So, sisters, my suggestion is to have set times in the day when you will remain offline. This includes your phone: put it on silent during your offline times. If this really is not possible, then have different ringtones for family to ensure that you will only pick up the phone if necessary. Keeping your phone on silent and only checking it intermittently throughout the day can do wonders for your stress levels.
When you spend more time offline, you will find that over time you feel calmer, experience better sleep (to help even more with this you can use a traditional alarm clock rather than your phone – the further away from your bedroom it is, the better!) and are much more productive during the day.
Get out of the house and appreciate the creation of Allah subḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He) and the beauty of the world. Allah subḥānahu wa ta’āla (glorified and exalted be He) encourages us in the Qur’an to travel and marvel at His creation, as they are signs for the believers. I find that lying in the garden and just watching the clouds is so therapeutic, and 10 minutes of this will make you feel calm and relaxed.
In order to make it truly relaxing, put your phone on silent if you are alone, or if you are going out in a group, only bring one phone between you all for emergencies. Make a rule that the rest of the time only face-to-face conversation is allowed – no taking pictures or browsing the net!
Schedule ‘me time’
This may be difficult to slot in for mothers, but ‘me time’ does not have to be long in order to be beneficial.
The best way to ensure you’re getting your ‘me time’ is to pre-arrange it. Plan ahead for what you know relaxes you and set aside time to do exactly that. Make all of the necessary arrangements to make your me time possible. For example, leave the children with your parents or ask your husband to take the them out for a while. Your ‘me time’ can be something as small as a cup of tea in the garden to a full-blown spa day (either at home or at the spa itself), reading, writing down your thoughts, listening to lectures or podcasts, or performing light exercise. Try and minimise use of technology for your ‘me time’.
Allah tells us in the Qur’an:
“The believers are but brothers.” [Quran: Chapter 49, Verse 10].
Sisterhood in Islam is a very powerful tool that we should use to help us unwind and relax. Plan picnics, gatherings, or walks in the parks with the kids. Talking to other sisters is a great way to relax and offload our stresses too.
Sometimes we find that we are in fact making ourselves stressed rather than the situation being stressful itself. Rather than doing, we are thinking about the long list of ‘to-dos’ and that is worrying us.
Take heart and inspiration from the Mothers of the believers who, despite their trials being greater than anything we will ever face in life, found time to be light-hearted, as they often played games with Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) [Sunan Ibn Majah].
Don’t feel guilty
The key to all of the above tips is to not feel guilty for taking time to relax. It defeats the very purpose of relaxation! Relax with a present mind knowing that when you come back, you will be more productive in fulfilling your various roles, In sha Allah. By feeling guilty, you are neither relaxing nor achieving anything from your to-dos.
To truly unwind and feel rejuvenated, relax mindfully. Whatever activity you choose, do it mindfully and guilt-free. Try to incorporate some form of relaxation on a daily basis, even if only for a few minutes, taking time away from all technology. Lastly, view your obligatory acts as a gift from Allah and you will see how ultimately spirituality is the key to true relaxation.
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