By now, Ramadan is mid-swing. The holy month, which began on May 26th, is a period of prayer, fasting, charity-giving and self-accountability for Muslims in the United States, which falls on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.  It's the month in which the first verses of the Quran, Islam's holy book, were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad more than 1,400 years ago, making it one of the most sacred times of the year. 

Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with the Muslim declaration of faith, daily prayer, charity and performing the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. From sunup to sundown, the world's estimated 1.3 billion Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to sunset. This fasting is intended to bring the faithful closer to God and to remind them of the suffering of those less fortunate.

Growing up, I learned about Muslim practices in my world religion classes, and had been accustomed to fasting from my own Christian faith, but had never done anything as extreme as Ramadan. "Even water?" is a question I found myself asking repeatedly when I really started diving into what Ramadan was about. But as I got older and gained close friends of the Muslim faith, not only did my understanding of their 30 day commitment grow immensely, but I found that non-Muslims often practiced fasting during Ramadan as well.

Much like Lent, I began witnessing more peers who were practicing Ramadan for several different reasons. For some, it was the self-denial and discipline. For others, it was to show an act of solidarity with a significant portion of our American family.

As bizarre and counter-interest as fasting sounds, there are some real life lessons and health hacks you can gain from fasting — and Ramadan highlights the best of them. 

1. Self-Discipline

Self-discipline is one of those traits you don't realize you don't have until someone points it out to you. I mean, if you're paying bills, feeding yourself and managing not to wreck your life, you'd feel some type of way if someone said you lacked self-discipline and, in a way, you'd be right. There is a level of self-discipline needed to lead a responsible life. But the beauty of Ramadan is that it takes the basic principles of self-discipline you've mastered on your life journey and test them to the extreme. 

Imagine no food, no water — no nothing — for 10 straight hours. Intentional self-denial in the midst of a well-stocked fridge — even when you're out with friends, even when someone's eating in front of you. When you learn to will yourself to deny the tangible and practical things, you'll also be able to do so in other parts of your life. 

Imagine following through with your word, committing to a plan and seeing things through, all because you made the decision to do so. Ramadan and fasting reminds you that it's in your power and that you can. 

2. Understanding  The Islam Experience

Depending on who you ask, you can get very polarizing views on Islam. On one hand, it may be a warm family that provides community and guidance, and on the other, it can be seen as a threat to peace. The more you listen the further from the truth you get. The only real answer is to research it yourself to get a clear perspective of what a significant population of the world experiences every year. That's 22 percent of them — 1.6 billion — that are fasting from sunup to sundown. Every day. For an entire month.

I'm Christian and I have my own faith system that I adhere to, but that still doesn't keep me from wanting to understand Islamic culture. The way Trump associates Muslims as a group to the small percentage that is responsible for what we're seeing in London this year, and in Orlando last year, is not an accurate depiction. Those incidents don't reflect the sentiments of the bakery store owner in my neighborhood or the ESPN analysis whose podcast I listen to. The scope of Islam is not limited to the ones who interpret the faith as world domination.

When you make the decision to participate in Ramadan, it's not about converting or changing what you believe in, per say as much as it is about showing that you recognize and appreciate the commitment they make every year. When we see the world in others’ eyes from time to time, it helps us understand. And perhaps experiencing Ramadan as a non-Muslim can be just as rewarding.

3. Gratitude

It's not until you're walking in someone else's shoes that you'll truly understand what they're going through. I hear all the time how appreciative people are to live in the U.S. after mission trips, South American excursions and teaching in impoverished areas of the world, but not until they visit those parts of the world. You think you have it bad until clean water is not guaranteed. Poor has a new meaning when you leave a country that's suffering from famine. Fasting brings a little perspective to this. 

Ramadan is supposed to be hard. It's not something that you eventually become accustomed to or will ever be fun. It's why it's only 30 days. When you're hungry for the majority of the day, it allows you to feel what these third world countries are going through to some degree, and it helps build empathy. It helps remind you of the suffering of those less fortunate.

As noble as one has to be to voluntarily not eat food throughout the day, a certain respect is still required when it is not your faith. That is why there is an etiquette guide for non-Muslims during Ramadan which covers the do's and don't's so that you're still respectful to the practice. 

The greatest part about individuality is that every person we encounter offers something unique. That's why it's imperative that we learn from each other instead of alienating each other. Ramadan is a cool way to do this. Even if it's on a smaller scale and you're giving up something other than food, it still takes some effort. Having an open heart to ways of life different than yours is the beginning of oneness.