While there is a Yoga way of eating, there is also a Yoga way of not eating. This refers to Fasting. This is done by yogis as a form of physical cleansing or purification. Since we make our digestive system work several times a day, it’s also a good idea to give it some rest. This will allow our digestive system to recover from the abuse: from eating too much, eating unhealthy foods or eating at the wrong time. It also allows us to get rid of toxins in our body.
Good health, as we know is more than a disease-free body. Good health, is a stress-free frame of mind and vibrant energy. When we cleanse, toxic waste is removed and disease is removed. The process also causes feelings of toxicity and a range of negative emotions, as if the emotions are stored with the waste. When you cleanse, a total sense of well-bring can be created for your system.
Fasting is an ancient tradition practiced by most cultures for thousands of years, used for spiritual purposes, for physical purification before performing a ritual act or rite of passage, and self-discipline or asceticism. Among some Native American tribes, fasting is the primary means to stimulate ecstatic experiences on a vision quest.
It is observed in nature, that many animals instinctively take to fasting whenever they fall sick. They cure themselves by natural means using fasting, sunlight, fresh air and rest. They are programmed by nature to do the right thing when they are sick. Fasting, of course, is not a cure for “all problems”. But it sets a stage for the body to heal itself, without our intervention.
Fasting is the most effective way to give a break to the digestive system. Fasting frees up energy, so that healing can begin in the body. It allows the system to repair itself and bring back the ability to digest any food. It can cure or prevent any disease that may manifest in the future.
Fasting involves not eating anything, except taking water, for a period of time – ranging from half a day to even 40 days or more. Most practitioners do a 24-hour water fast, once every week to maintain their health. Intermittent fasting has become popular among men. Instead of water, fruit juices and other detox diets can also be used, but is not as effective.
There is a misunderstanding that intermittent fasting can make one weak. That is not true. On the contrary, the health and vitality improves. You feel more energetic after the fast. When you start fasting, the body triggers your pituitary gland to release the HGH (human growth hormone). This hormonal surge causes your body to use more fat for energy, instead of breaking down muscle. There’s no evidence that fasting for as long as 72 hours reduces your muscle mass. Any reduction of weight is due to reduction of fat in the body.
When our digestive system is working below par, the body can no longer absorb the nutrients fully. Undigested and partially digested food forms a lining on the stomach and intestines which is called ‘Aama’ in Ayurveda. This ‘Aama’ is a toxin and can spread into the body and cause diseases. Fasting is the most effective way of reversing this process. Fasting can pull out the toxins back into the intestines and can be flushed out though the rectum. Usually, an enema is taken, as a good practice during fasting, to flush this toxin quickly out of the system. Hence, fasting directly works on the root cause of the problem and keeps the body toxin-free.
Usually, the first 2 or 3 days of the longer fasts are the most difficult. You will experience headaches, vomiting, and even an increase in irritability. Breathing problems may also occur. Overcome these by practicing Pranayama.
Fasting should not be an excuse to do some mild exercise. Take a walk every day, but avoid strenuous activities like jogging. Practice Asanas and give time for Meditation. Fasting should not also prevent you from accomplishing your daily tasks. Don’t just lie down doing nothing just because you are fasting.
Only after about 3 days of Fasting will you begin to see its benefits: increased mental energy, enhanced concentration and improvement in some senses.
During the process, we get tuned into our own body. We get an insight into our bad eating habits and learn how to change these patterns. It can promote mental clarity, removes emotional blocks, gives an inner stillness and enhances spiritual awareness.
BODY REACTIONS AND EXPERIENCES DURING A LONGER FAST (3-21 days and more).
As a habit, the body is used to consuming food multiple times a day. When there is sudden lack of food intake, we may feel weakness, dizziness, nausea, etc which is quite normal. Sometimes we may feel very energetic, but the very next moment we may feel weak. These fluctuations are common and normal. There may be also a drop in blood pressure and slight headaches. We need not get frightened with these reactions. We should take rest or lie down, when ever these symptoms become intense. Consult a doctor if these reactions are too intense.
We may even feel a sudden bout of hunger. To overcome it, just drink one or two glasses of water. Then lie down and take rest. The hunger should go away in a short time. If the hunger keeps recurring, consult your doctor.
Food craving is another reaction in the mind that is common. We start thinking of various types of food. We may even start imagining and day dreaming about preparing and eating all the sorts of food that one likes.
Fasting is a time for intense cleansing at physical and mental level. The body has a natural mechanism to throw out toxins from the body during the healing process. These toxins are mostly thrown out through digestive system into the intestines. At this time, we get a thick white coating on the tongue. The coating may remain even after scrapping the tongue. This is a sign that the toxins are being eliminated.
An enema is advised by the doctors during this time to speed up the removal of toxins which are accumulated in the large intestine.
The toxins may also get removed through the lungs. At that time we may get foul breath which may last for a day or two.
Feeling of nausea may be caused by acidity in the stomach, which can be removed by drinking a liter of salt water and vomiting it out immediately. This is called ‘Kunjal Kriya’ or ‘Vaman Kriya’ in yoga and is a common practice in both ayurveda and naturopathy to cleanse the stomach.
The important thing is to understand that these are normal reactions.
Sometimes the mind can throw up lot of pent up emotions from the past which is stored in the subconscious mind. Maintain a witness attitude during this time. Practice slow deep breathing to make the mind steady and peaceful.
BREAKING THE FAST
Breaking the fast is as important as the fast itself. You cannot break it drastically because once your body tastes food, it will crave for more. It can also lead to sickness. A good idea to start the break is to do it in the evening, so as to allow the food to go through your system while you sleep at night. Also remember to chew your food thoroughly, since the digestive system has been at rest, to make the process of digestion easier.
When the body goes without food for many days, the digestive fire become week, and we cannot eat or digest large quantities of food.
The first step is to increase the digestive fire by 1-2 days drinking fruit juices or coconut water.
Then, we can go on light vegetable soups, 1-2 more days; on the fourth or fifth day, we can start to have fruits and boiled vegetables.There is a tendency to overeat and overload the stomach. We can eat smaller amounts a number of times, rather than eating too much once or twice. We should eat in moderation and slowly come back to the regular food habits.
BENEFITS OF A WATER FAST
1. A one-day fast is good enough to maintain the health and vigor. But if we have chronic health problems we have to take up long term fasts, anything from 3 days to 21 days or more. Most ailments can be cured by moderate diet and fasting under the guidance of an expert.
2. Long fasts are not advisable during tuberculosis, anemia and during pregnancy. People with such conditions can still be benefited by short term fasts for its vitalizing benefits.
3. Long term water fasts are known to solve chronic health problems like dyspepsia, loss of appetite, diarrhea, colic, gastritis, inflammation of bowels, sinusitis, allergies, skin problems, diabetes, migraine, joint pains, gas problem, constipation, etc. We should consult a qualified doctor or naturopath before attempting long term fasts.
4. Fasts give a much needed rest to the digestive system. It helps to repair and heal all the organs of the body. Toxins are removed and one feels improved energy and vigor.
5. Fasting can improve immunity and gives longevity.
6. It gives a clearer skin and better sleep.
7. It clears the mind and make one feel light and energetic.
8. Fasting is the easiest way to lose weight.
Benefits of fasting, touches all aspects of our life – our body, mind and soul.
In today’s world, many are partaking in a fast in order to lose weight. It seems that most Westerners come about the idea to fast when they reach an awareness that it is time to clean, renew and perhaps kick start the body into a new state of wellness. They come into the idea from the position of wanting to look and feel better, and with time and experience, as well as the combined practices of yoga and meditation accompanying the fast, they can quickly learn about the other benefits.
Some of the best yoga practices in your life can happen while being completely empty. We may be able to actually feel our internal organs, twist deeper and get into the meditative quality of the practice while on a fast. We needn’t feel like we don’t have enough energy for the practice; it’s nice to do something gentle but if the body is used to yoga, it feels good to move into spaces we don’t normally have, especially in twists.
Meditations can also go deeper while fasting. It is interesting to feel one’s mind settle more quickly when going in, like a switch turning on. It can take at least thirty minutes of an hour long silent meditation at times to get into the flow when one is more connected to the grounding experiences when taking food. When the body is empty, experiencing the higher chakras in meditative states is easy, and bringing about the sense of “no mind” that meditators and yogis are able to achieve with as much practice and stillness is also possible.
When the body is allowed to rest internally, with no energy being spent on the digestion of food, a deeper clean can happen which allows for the regeneration of cells. Vitamins and minerals are absorbed better through the internal organs; glands and tissues also benefit from this time of rest; clearer eyes, skin and appearing younger can result.
Fasting is an excellent compliment to yoga practice if we are on the path to optimal health. It is recommended once a year.