OK, not quite like Gandhi. But I did accomplish something I’ve never attempted or thought I could do, a 24-hour fast. I’m not sure why I have been so apprehensive about giving it a try, although I think it relates to some deep, root chakra insecurities I hold around being hungry, poor and alone. Strange, I know, for a person in a reasonable financial position, with an amazing network of family and friends, a healthy body and a set of skills highly valued in this world. This is an area I continue to explore through my meditation and yoga practice, slowly unraveling something that probably began very early in life. Because we are unable to form memories very early in childhood, this unraveling often exhibits itself in purifications such as fevers, crying, physical release or lucid dreaming. With continued intentional practice, through awareness one realizes when you have dropped one of these insecurities or fears. Being OK with not-knowing its source can be difficult for us, in our western-psychology of cause and effect, but for me, feeling a blockage release in my heart, body or mind is enough.
Back to my fast – it was simple enough. At the conclusion of Yoga class a few days ago, our teacher Kirsten (an avid faster herself), recommended we really give this a try. At Agama there is a supportive community of fasters, with quality advice on starting, undergoing and breaking fasts. There are various types of fasting – juices, fruits, detoxes, rice, water, etc. A simple, but informative website I have been using is www.allaboutfasting.com. Frankly, doing the 10-day brown-rice fast made it clear to me that I could easily fast on just water, as some of the days during my brown-rice cleanse I literally ate only a cup or two of rice. I decided to begin my fast on Thursday afternoon and continue through until Friday evening (more on why I chose Friday later). The fast was actually quite uneventful. I ate a healthy, small dinner on Thursday, not eating again until Friday evening when I enjoyed a Thai curry with a friend. Many people have the assumption that while fasting you attempt to use as little energy as possible and just sit around staring at the refrigerator. The truth is your body is quite capable of going a few days without food and continuing at its normal energy levels. I anything, I’ve observed more energy in this fast and during my brown-rice cleanse as the body does not have to spend much time digesting food and dealing with a lot of the toxins and other difficult things we ask it to try to digest on a regular basis! The most difficult point was around 11am when I was past my typical breakfast time. I found my mind wavering to food, but simply sat with the feelings and realized it was just patterned behavior, far from true physical hunger. I went to a 4 hour yoga class and felt absolutely great, eventually eating a meal on Friday evening. In fact, I was quite confident that I could have easily continued the fast until Saturday morning and will attempt the 36 hour version next time around.
Fasting has both physical and spiritual effects. A short list of beneficial effects (from allaboutfasting.com):
- Rest the digestive system
- Allow for cleansing and detoxification of the body
- Create a break in eating patterns, while shining a spotlight on them
- Promote greater mental clarity
- Cleanse and heal "stuck" emotional patterns
- Lead to a feeling of physical lightness, increasing energy level
- Promote an inner stillness, enhancing spiritual connection
Physically, the concept is simple: During a fast, the body takes the opportunity to eliminate a lot of toxins that have built up over the years. The toxins are predominantly stored in fat and mucous cells. When you fast the body will naturally initiate the healing process, first eliminating these foreign entities. It can be quite unpleasant (a.k.a purification process) and people experience symptoms such as headaches, fever, nervousness, diarrhea, etc. On just has to realize these are signs of the body healing itself and continue with the fast! On such a short fast as mine, I didn’t notice any dramatic changes, but on a longer fast these are things to surely look out for.
On the spiritual side there are also a number of benefits. The school here derives most of its teachings from Indian Tantra and therefore incorporates a lot of Indian and Hindu ideology. Although almost all major religions incorporate various forms of fasting – Christianity, Buddhism and Islam all immediately come to mind, Indians seem to have a very close relationship to it and its not unusual for lay people to fast at least one day a week or during specific times of year. In the Indian system, fasting on specific days aligns you with certain universal energies and depending on your path, you can choose the best day to fast.
I chose Friday both for the resonance with universal love energies and also because it is the day of the week that the majority of traditions fast and you can the align with this collective energy.
The experiment will continue!