Fasting – A Feast for Body, Mind, and Soul
Give your body and mind a chance to break out of a pattern and give it a new direction. Fasting - a gift to an over-burdened body and an over-indulged mind.
Fasting is indeed a denial of the physical needs of the body and the emotional cravings of the mind. The tendency of the human mind is to draw patterns and get stuck to patterns. While following a pattern is a sign of self-discipline, it has its downside too. When it involves food and eating, it often makes us forget that we ought to be eating to live and not the other way around. The body needs only so much for sustenance and the stomach can hold only so much, but the senses continue to crave, and we continue to feed those cravings. So, fasting is a gift to an over-burdened body and an over-indulged mind. It gives a chance to the body and mind to break out of a pattern and give it a new direction.
Navratri Fasting the Ayurvedic Way
Ayurveda favors regular and short term fasting, depending on individual constitutions and cleansing requirements.
The ancient science of Ayurveda has spoken elaborately of the merits of fasting. According to this ancient discipline, fasting is an effective way to kindle the digestive fire and burn away accumulated toxins from the body and mind. It also eliminates gas, lightens the body, improves mental clarity, provides a clean tongue and fresh breath, and preserves overall health. However, it also does not recommend infrequent and long term fasting, that could deplete bodily tissues and create imbalance to the constitution. It favors regular and short term fasting, which could be on the same day each week or setting aside a few days each month, all depending on individual constitutions and cleansing requirements.
Benefits of Fasting the Ayurvedic Way
There is an increasing support for fasting by the scientific community. There is an over consumption of salt in our diets today than the normal requirements of the body. This can be seen in the increased incidence of water retention in the body, a major factor for hypertension and cardiovascular problems. Fasting helps the body “desalt”.
Fasting, done properly, has another major advantage. It is a kind of ritual that can purify the body and mind and develop the pure qualities of detachment and equanimity. Whether it is done as a part of a religious sacrament or a part of a penance or as a mark of worship, fasting can only give benefits. Fasting helps create an attunement with the Absolute by establishing a harmonious relationship between the body and the soul. It nourishes the physical and spiritual demands so necessary for overall health.
Norms to Observe Fasting
However, fasting also has to be undertaken with an enormous sense of responsibility. There are, of course, norms as to who should and should not be observing fast. The very young, the old and infirm, pregnant and nursing mothers should be extremely cautious when it comes to choosing to fast. Besides these norms, it is also important how fasting should be observed so that we are able to take away the most from the practice.
Tips for First-time Fasters
A cardinal rule, to absorb all the ‘prana’ (life-force energy) from the foods, is to drink fluids very slowly.
Just as there is a yogic way of eating, there is a yogic way of fasting. For many, fasting is a new and, hence, a very challenging exercise. It is best that the new initiates start with a single-day fasting just to test the waters. If they are used to three meals a day, they could start with one meal of grains and vegetables during lunch and then just restrict themselves to water and juices during the rest of the day. It’s also important that those who want to fast choose the kind of fast – it could be a water fast, a fruit juice fast, or a vegetable juice fast. But to avoid dehydration, one should consume at least 7 to 8 glasses of fluids every day. A cardinal rule, to absorb all the “prana” (life-force energy) from the foods, is to drink fluids very slowly.
Fasting will be most beneficial if the food consumed is of the smallest quantity that the body just about needs and not a grain more. In fact, a few grains lesser, is highly recommended. Foods must be light and easily digestible. Fruits and nuts are ideal for the system during long fasting periods. Juices that are fresh and sugar free along with plenty of water is extremely important to prevent dehydration and constipation. It is advisable to consume simple carbs and easily digestible proteins like vegetable proteins, which are easy to break down by a slow-functioning metabolism. This will keep the mind light and easy and enable better quality of prayer. After 21 days of fasting, which Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi called “21 days of uninterrupted prayer”, he said, “There is no prayer without fasting”.
Yoga Asanas and Meditation Help During Fasts
For many, fasting brings about a psychological tiredness and reluctance to engage in any form of exercise. This is not a desirable attitude. Mild exercise is crucial during fasting. Gentle, flowing, meditative and ballet-like movements of yoga are ideal during fasting. Yoga has the proclivity to enhance the physical process of detoxing whilst also working on the mental and spiritual levels. Apart from rectifying physical, physiological and psychological disorders, yogic stretches, bends, twists and gentle inversions cleanses and rejuvenates the body, purges toxins and negativity caused by an irregular life style, and connects us back to our Self. The ability of yoga to activate the parasympathetic system through the asanas, accompanied by deep breathing and deep relaxation, helps to shift the stressed out autonomic nervous system into a state of calm, restorative, and healing mode.
During auspicious occasions of Navratri, let’s observe fasting from a space of awareness, joy and giving and incorporate light exercise, yoga, and meditation everyday and enjoy its merits.