Fasting for health benefits is being known to everyone since ages. Basically, the word ”fasting” means an abstinence from eating any food. However, fasting is carried out in various distinct manners. Some of the people relate to it as a means of detoxifying the body, some believing it to be an easier means of remaining fit and slim, while some believe in the strong connotation between fasting and spirituality. Also it is believed to strengthen our prayers.
The repute of fasting as the main therapeutic tool in the treatment of multitudinal diseases including heart dieseases, high blood pressure, cancer, obesity, pancreatitis, arthritis, ulcers, epilepsy, etc, is gaining high importance rapidly, making it more popular. The reason is that a fast allows natural healing to occur as our body has an innate ability to normalise itself if given a “FASTING chance”. But there is a proper way to fast of course! When we speak of the fasting, we generally think of yogis, saints and their fasting lifestyle.
Yogis have their own set beliefs and eating principles to lead a filtered and discrete life. They consider fasting as a spiritual nutrition through which they attain wisdom and enlightenment for the nourishing of the body, mind and soul. Before and after performing any yoga and meditation, yogis as well as yoga teachers keep a good check on what to and what not to eat. According to the yoga teachings which are mentioned in Ayurveda, every food that enters our body possess specific properties (gunas) which has a great impact on our physical as well as psychological state (prakriti).
The three gunas of the food are:
- Tamas (denoting heaviness, laziness and lethargy) such foods include the meat food products, fish, milk, alcohol, poultry, stale (unfresh, old) food. People consuming such foods are prone to dullness, unawareness and sleepiness. Right timings really matter while consuming such diet.
- Rajas (denoting anger, activity, and restlessness) such foods include onion, garlic, over-spicy or over-sugary foods, coffee and tea. Yogis refrain from having such food items commonly.
- Sattva (denoting lightness, calmness and purity) such food groups include raw vegetables and fruits, whole grains and legumes. Sattvik food when taken along with any of the above two (rajasic or tamasic diet), balances their properties as well as overall displays a good effect on our health.
Whenever we go notional towards anything in excess, we generally tend to harm ourselves unintentionally. Similar is the case with the fasting. Undoubtedly it is a healthy approach to give our body organs a rest from the burden of digestion process but by and large, people do it for the sake of obliging the almighty. This is something extremely groundless. Even in the Buddhist scriptures there is nowhere mentioning of the fast keeping and even lord Buddha’s words unraveled the fact of fasting: ”One cannot listen to dharma on empty stomach. No one can worship being hungry. A mind of a faster is never at ease. So he can’t find appeasement”. One has to make the soul happy first so as to seek contentment and happiness. Like parents, our God (Father) would never wish to see his children starving. Fasting has a much scientific standpoint rather than the mythological belief. Practically, fasting is adopted by yogis so as to overcome all the temptations of the materialistic world, filtering their minds pure as they do not crave for anything other than inner contentment and peace. It’s not actually the fact that yogis are on the fasting mode all the time. They rather opt for the right foods to eat. Food has a healing effect on our body as well as mind. This is the reason why dark chocolates are best known to elevate our mood. Vegetable proteins (amino acids) result in the production of neuro-transmitters which promote the feeling of happiness and wellbeing, hence, very helpful in curing mental ailments. Milk contains serotonin, best for inducing sleep. Alcohol induces anxiety, unconsciousness and agitation. Raw fruits and vegetables are light and antioxidant rich. Hence, best for cleansing the internal functional systems. Food choices are abundant but yogis prefer consuming sattvik diet which is not detrimental in any manner and rather, it balances the doshas (humors) of the body. So Fasting can be adapted as a holistic approach for good health and mind rather than starving oneself and ending up in the exhaustion of stored body fats which ultimately results in ketosis, which causes malnutrition and robing the organs of their vital energy as a result. Right fasting practice strengthens the will power by which a person can escape becoming a slave to the five senses which pulls him in all directions.
Let’s have a read on some commonly observed fasts:
Complete fast (no food no water) is a very harmful form of fasting as absolutely no energy is given to the body. As a result, the enzymes in the stomach start corroding the stomach lining.
Single meal fast where people usually fast the entire day and then take a large meal in the evening for breaking the fast puts extra pressure on the digestive system. Evening is best suited to break the fast with milk and fruits or some light cereals.
Fasting for weight loss should be completely avoided. Abstaining from food for several days will only result in uncontrolled eating at the end of the fast, resulting in extra calories.
If you are keen on fasting, always mind your mind. Check whether you are gaining the potential to overcome the food and other cravings or you are restlessly consuming more than usual calories in the name of fasting.
Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre
Dr. Shruti Bhardwaj,