(A version of this article was carried on Art Dubai’s Ramadan blog series)

Last year, one of my most-thoughtful readers commented on a piece I had written about the spiritual benefits of incorporating fasting into my life throughout the year, rather than solely during the holy month of Ramadan.

For the past two years, I’ve tried to fast at least one time a week on Mondays or Thursdays. This approach, which is rooted in Prophetic teachings, has helped me try to achieve equilibrium in my life. I fast exclusively for God as a symbol of my gratitude and appreciation. It is a practice that, when combined with regular prayer, giving charity and remembrance of God, nourishes my soul throughout the year.

Regular fasting also enables me to get ready for Ramadan, a rigorous month-long spiritual exercise that involves refraining from food and drink, spending more time in prayer and reflection, giving thanks, dispensing charity and being more aware of our actions, words, thoughts and deeds.

As my reader, Karen, eloquently pointed out, fasting during Ramadan has the potential to be a lot like taking part in a long-distance run that would be difficult to complete in good time if you haven’t put enough hours in training to adequately prepare for it.

“By fasting throughout the year, you are like a marathoner who is keeping up your base miles before the big event,” Karen wrote. “You are literally preventing spiritual flabbiness! No wonder it is so hard for people to fast just for that month. They have to be in training really, to do it justice.”

Karen’s insight inspired me throughout the past year more than she may be aware.

I often thought of her analogy in recent months, especially during tough, long days in the office when I considered breaking my fast as I craved a cup of coffee to get through the remainder of a hectic 10-plus hour shift. I often thought to myself, I have to be ready for the marathon and I can’t give in to what in the end were usually unnecessary cravings. I allowed patience, self-restraint and self-discipline to triumph, and by sunset I was always fulfilled and grateful to God that I had fasted.

During Ramadan, we’re meant to consume a lot less and exert a lot more energy toward spiritual development. Refraining from food and drink is the easy part for me as most of us are able to adjust to the fasting schedule quite well within a matter of days. The other responsibilities take more work, among them: spending about an hour, on average, longer in prayer each day; reading the Quran from cover to cover; dispensing annual zakat, which involves giving 2.5 percent of our assets to those less fortunate.

As we embark on one of the most-trying months of fasting in decades since the summer days are longer and hotter, I’d like to thank Karen for the wise words that played a part in priming me for this momentous month. She reminded me of the importance of striving to listen to and engage in the stories and lives of the people we meet, whether that be in person or online. It is from these sources that we truly can draw some of the most-compelling inspiration.

Wishing everyone participating a blessed and spiritually engaging month.

When you’re full of food and drink, Satan sits

where your spirit should, an ugly metal statue

in place of the Kaaba

When you fast,

good habits gather like friends who want to help.

-Jalaluddin Rumi