In early 2006, while I was attending the 2-month yoga philosophy course at the Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh, India, one of the teachers gave us a talk on fasting – its techniques, benefits etc. Even though fasting is a common practice in the Indian culture, I had never considered fasting prior to this talk. Skipping even one meal used to feel like a torture for me. This teacher, however, gave quite a convincing argument in favor of fasting. At the Sivananda Ashram, the residents are encouraged to observe a day’s fat on Ekadashi day (11th day of the moon cycle). On that day the ashram kitchen offers a very light breakfast followed by a light lunch. No dinner is served that day. On my first Ekadashi day there,Â I felt so hungry in the afternoon that I had to go out and eat dinner at a restaurant. But, after listening to the talk I decided to give it a try once I got back to the US.
After returning from the course, I decided to try a mini-fast once a week. Based on the recommendation of the teacher, I decided to make gradual progress toward my fasting routine. In the first couple of weeks, I skipped just breakfast while still eating my regular lunch and dinner. For the next two weeks, I skipped breakfast, had onlyÂ a fruit for lunch but had full dinner. Subsequently, I adopted my mini-fast routine that I am following currently onÂ every Friday. I skip breakfast and lunch. At about 9 AM and again in the early afternoon, I have a cup of ‘herbal’ hot tea made with lime, ginger powder and a tea spoon of honey. At about 2 PM, I eat some fruit, usually a banana or an apple. At about 4:30 PM, I have a cup of tea. For dinner, I have a glass of fruit smoothie (several fruits blended together with some yogurt and nuts). Later, about an hour before going to bed, I drink a glass of hot milk. Essentially, I eat no grains, vegetables, salt or cooked food in any form on the fasting day.
In the early stages, this routine seemed very challenging at times but now I am quite comfortable with it. I still have a desire to go for a complete "water fast" for 24 hours but haven’t developed the courage to attempt it.
Benefits of Fasting
When the body is deprived of food, it must find its own reserve of resources in order to generate energy. The liver uses the stored fat in the body to convert it into energy needed by the body.
The practice of fasting is credited with a large number of benefits – detoxifying the system being the primary reason why most people observe a fast. When you fast, the digestive system gets a rest and the energy which is normally used for digestion is now available for cleansing and rejuvenation by stimulating metabolism and improving the immune system. The body now finds the time and energy to cleanse itself of all the toxins that stay deposited in the body. In many cultures, fasting is practiced as a religious or spiritual practice for the purpose of cleansing and purifying the mind in addition to cleansing the body.
Many people who fast on a regular basis recommend a "water fast" for at least 3 to 7 days. If you have never fasted before, it is advisable to take it easy for the first few times. You may like to start with a day’s juice fast (watermelon is considered excellent for a juice fast) and after some practice, increase to a 3-day juice fast. Once you feel comfortable, you may want to try a full water fast for three or more days. Of course, if you have any dietary restrictions or your health condition requires you to eat frequently, then you should consult with your doctor before attempting a fast.
Breaking the fast gradually is just as important as getting into a fast. There is a tendency to indulge in heavy eating after a fast which completely defeats the purpose of a fast. In fact, it is likely to cause more harm to the body than the benefits of fasting. A general guideline is to take the same amount of time as the duration of the fast before getting back to normal diet. For example, if you do a 3-day fast, take 3 days of gradual increase in the diet before reverting to normal diet.
If you have never tried fasting, I would suggest strongly that you should attempt it a couple of times to see how you feel. I am sure that when you start seeing its benefits, you will automatically be motivated to practice fasting on a more frequent basis.
I would love to hear from you about your own experience with fasting. Please provide your feedback below in the comments section.