Fasting is an integral part of the Indian lifestyle and religious ethos. We have all heard about the great ascetics who did yogic fasting and performed great feats of going without food and water for extended periods of time. While Hindus observe various days of the week or of the month as fast, some types of fasting are also associated with festivals. Jains also have some very rigorous rules about fasting. Faiths such as Christianity, Islam and Baha’ism also have observances relating to fasting and abstinence.
Reasons behind fasting
Fasting, when undertaken for religious reasons, is usually associated with doing penance ( प्रायश्चित ) or suffering privation (hardship) as a tribute to the higher being. The process of eschewing all food for certain duration or giving up specific foods can help to develop will power and get in touch with one’s spiritual self. It could also make a person feel closer to the universal power; what we call God.
However, fasting is also known to have very many other benefits for health and physical wellbeing:
- Periods of rest and recovery are important for any system – the fact that we awaken refreshed after a restful night’s sleep is evidence of this. Similarly fasting gives the digestive system a rest and hence increases its efficiency.
- Our modern lifestyles usually mean that most of us are eating more than we actually need to. We have ceased to listen to our bodies and our instincts that tell us when to eat and how much to eat. Fasting could help normalize and balance our intake.
- Fasting helps to cleanse the digestive system and detoxify it by giving it time to heal and remove harmful materials.
- We would not ordinarily associate fasting with increase in energy and in fact when you first start to fast, you may feel less energetic. However, fasting improves energy levels in the longer duration. Over time the body adjusts to the fasting and gives you an energy boost. This is because a significant amount of the body’s energy is expended on actually digesting food. When there is little or no food to digest, that energy can be utilized for other purposes.
- Fasting makes one appreciate food more. Your eating becomes more mindful and you become more aware and grateful for what you eat.
- There is the obvious benefit of better weight management with the help of fasting.
- Fasting is also thought to help slow down the process of aging by helping to speed up the metabolism of the body.
- It can help improve one’s looks by clarifying and detoxifying the skin.
- Fasting could have beneficial Impact on the body’s immune system
Though different yogis and experts could have different views about yogic fasting, it is recommended that those who practice yoga should keep fast on one day of the week; preferably on Mondays or Thursdays. Fasting is also recommended on one day of the month, i.e. on the full moon day. The concept of fasting is not limited to abstinence from food. It also has to do with improving one’s mental attitude; of working towards being more positive and enhancing one’s spiritual outlook.
The recommended mode of fasting for the yogi is to avoid eating solid food during the day and to take only a light vegetarian meal at about 5 o’clock. If there is a feeling of weakness, items such as nuts or fruit or some milk can be taken in small quantities. Herbal tea (without sugar) and water can be consumed through the day. If a person has health issues such as diabetes for instance, this recommendation can be amended and fasting can be done by skipping a meal rather than fasting the whole day.