Those who have traveled to Iraq for Arbaeen will attest to the many spiritual benefits of this life-changing experience. The moment you step foot on the land, you feel a spiritual shift as you embark on this journey. It’s a feeling that is second to none.
After participating in Arbaeen in 2022, I took the time to reflect on this experience. It wasn’t until our return that I realized the journey not only provided a spiritual awakening but offered a physical cleanse that almost went entirely unnoticed.
There may be hundreds of benefits, if not thousands, to visiting Iraq for Arbaeen, from what this movement stands for and how it helps strengthen our faith to the changes that occur on a spiritual level. However, many don’t consider the physical benefits you unknowingly experience along the way. I’d like to share a few benefits the journey for Arbaeen has on our bodies.
This post is about the physical benefits of the Arbaeen walk that no one talks about.
Physical Benefits of the Arbaeen Walk:
Increased Exposure to Vitamin D
More than 50% of the North American population is Vitamin D deficient. Most North Americans, regardless of age, do not get enough natural sunlight, which results in the need for supplementation.
Healthcare professionals recommend getting approximately 10 to 30 minutes of sunlight at least several times per week during midday to maintain healthy blood levels. Those with darker skin may need a little more sunlight than this.
When visiting Iraq, arguably one of the hottest places in the world, especially in the summer, you will get intense sunlight exposure, no doubt. Although extreme heat can have adverse effects, it offers many benefits, including increased energy and a positive and focused mindset.
You will have difficulty finding the 12 oz coffee cups most North Americans use while drinking tea and coffee. The tea and coffee experience is different in Iraq than in North America. Most cups are the size of espresso, and you’re unlikely to find your favorite ‘cup of tea.’
Also, given the heat and importance of drinking water for hydration, you naturally steer away from caffeine, which can further dehydrate you. In addition, the hustle and bustle surrounding this journey leave you with little time to take that coffee break, especially when traveling with family.
With all this, you are more likely to take a break from caffeine altogether. This isn’t a bad thing at all! Caffeine raises blood pressure levels, affects sleep, increases anxiety, causes energy crashes, and affects mood. A break from time to time is great for the body.
If you’ve ever tried taking a caffeine break, you know that it comes with withdrawal symptoms like headaches, brain fog, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. However, the journey in Iraq during Arbaeen will have you so busy that you’ll forget you haven’t had that morning cup of coffee. You will still be full of energy, if not more than usual. This unintended detox may even help you give up coffee upon your return.
Increased Water Intake
Adults should drink at least 8 cups of water or roughly 1/2 a gallon daily. However, many of us don’t do that. Between our busy schedules and forgetting to drink water altogether, only about 22% of Americans consume enough water daily.
If you’re one of the 78% who doesn’t drink enough water in a day, you will quickly change that habit in Iraq. In the summer months, you can expect temperatures that range from 90F to 119F, which is extremely hot. To stay even slightly hydrated, you must keep drinking water, especially as a foreigner.
You will drink more than 1/2 a gallon of water per day simply out of necessity, which turns into a habit over two weeks. You will opt for water over pop, coffee, tea, or juices because that’s what your body craves most.
You also begin to appreciate water at a new level—every sip matters. The irony is that water was withheld from our beloved on Ashura, and you can truly experience how important it is for your well-being on this journey. It’s a humbling experience entirely on its own.
Upon your return, you will already have the habit of reaching for water, and then you can continue the practice, reaping the benefits of proper hydration.
Reduced Food Intake
Arbaeen is one of the busiest times of the year in Iraq. In 2022, it was estimated approximately 22 million people joined the movement. This also means a lot is going on, schedules are packed, and you are focused on your pilgrimage.
Naturally, this results in less time to eat full meals and less desire to overeat. Overeating has a natural side effect of being lazy, tired, and lethargic. And when visiting Iraq, that’s the last thing you want. Two weeks is a decent amount of time to get into the habit of eating less and eliminate any ‘dangerous’ food cravings you may have, allowing you to come back home with a refreshed look at food.
Because you are eating Iraqi food, you are also avoiding some of the harmful substances found in food products in the US, such as food dyes. Your body cleanses from toxic ingredients that we often see in candies, cereals, condiments, etc. Many studies highlight the behavioral effects of food dyes on children, and there is a noticeable difference when you eliminate these from your diet.
This detox allows you to change your diet after settling back home from your journey.
The entire journey to Iraq for Arbaeen or otherwise works almost every muscle in your body. Whether you are athletic or hardly ever make it to the gym, you will feel the aches and pains of this journey.
Most of the ziarats require the need to walk short and long distances. You might carry a backpack, a child, or a flag, working out your legs, arms, and back, at the very least. Your entire body works together to help you through this journey.
Once you return home, you will be in the habit of walking and can continue that exercise.
Limited Phone Usage
The hardest thing to do is put your phone down and leave it down. Walking the lands of Karbala is so breathtaking you will find yourself relying on your phone less and focusing on everything around you. You will finally be present.
Instead of taking pictures and videos, you will be fully present in the moment. You will begin losing the habit of checking your phone or messaging and recording everything you see. You may even lose that interest as you connect with the Ahlul Bayt.
Losing this habit allows you to set boundaries with your phone usage as you settle back into your home since you are already out of habit. You might even find this helpful to reduce phone usage for your children.
Improved Mental Health
This entire movement combines your mind, body, and soul. Each step you take on these lands brings you closer to faith and the truth and helps you discover yourself.
Taking the step to travel for Arbaeen offers many cognitive benefits. It allows you to step outside your comfort zone and experience large crowds, foreign lands, and new people. This journey makes you feel more reflective and introspective. You may even find yourself reevaluating your goals and priorities in life.
You relieve stress, anxiety, hopelessness, and despair as you mourn, pray, and embrace the beloved. You shift toward a place of hopefulness, peace, and contentment, helping you bring balance back to your life.
While this list is not exhaustive, it captures a different perspective of the Arbaeen journey. This does not take away from the intention and purpose of this movement, but it highlights some benefits of this journey that may go unnoticed. This is the all-encompassing beauty of this journey.
You will undoubtedly return from Arbaeen as a new person, allowing you to set priorities and make changes in your life, both spiritually and physically.
To all who have experienced this journey, I would love to hear about the physical benefits you noticed. And to those longing to visit Iraq for Arbaeen, may you receive your calling.
Biostation, The. “92% of U.S. Population Have Vitamin Deficiency. Are You One of Them?” The Biostation, 14 Sept. 2021, thebiostation.com/bioblog/do-you-have-vitamin-deficiency.
Forge, Tiffany la. “10 Health Benefits of Living Caffeine-Free.” Healthline, 29 Mar. 2020, www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/quitting-caffeine-benefits.CMP Basic Settings
“Most Adults Admit They Don’t Drink Nearly Enough Water Every Day.” New York Post, 3 Sept. 2020, nypost.com/2020/09/03/most-adults-dont-drink-enough-water-every-day-do-you.
Raman, Ryan M. “How to Safely Get Vitamin D From Sunlight.” Healthline, 28 Apr. 2018, www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-d-from-sun.
This post was about the physical benefits of the Arbaeen walk.
What other benefits did you notice after returning from the Arbaeen pilgrimage?