Fasting like Gandhi

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 imageworld.  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.

Day  Planet Purification Effect
Sunday Sun Solarizing
Monday Moon Receptivity
Tuesday Mars Violent Karma
Wednesday Mercury General Purification
Thursday Jupiter ?
Friday Venus Love Energy
Saturday Saturn Heavy Karma

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!

Life in Rishikesh

Hi friends. I know I haven’t written or called or e-mailed in a while. That’s on purpose. This has been a calculated effort to dive deep into the land and practice of the Yogis, experimenting with life and self and soul without the energetic influence of my relationships and habits from home. I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to have stepped aside, to be purposely introspective and examining of everything I have called reality until this step of my journey. 

IMG_4506I’m nearing the end of my month long course and I will soon have the element of time returned to me where I can share many of the practices, postures, cleansings and spiritual insights that I have gathered. I have learned more about my body, mind and soul in one month than I have in any other single month in my life.

My life has been monastic in quality – with the exception of a single motor bike excursion I haven’t left the the quaint area of Swarg Ashram in Rishikesh. A brief insight into my daily life here:

7:00 Wake-up to the mixture of a cool morning breeze rattling the windows and children playing outside next door. I do my morning “Kriyas” which include scraping the tongue, cleansing the nasal passages and gums with rock salt and washing out the eyes with cold water.

7:15: My favorite part of the day. The walk from my guesthouse to the Yoga Ashram. Indians generally do not get started this early, so early morning is an extremely peaceful time when the morning light mixes with the first signs of motion on the street. My first hello is to the same cow that occupies the same space each and every morning, waiting for my orange peel. I provide the aforementioned and move on towards the yoga ashram, passing the bums pretending to be saddhus and nodding hello to the chai walla as I enter the ashram for morning meditation. A small group of 4-6 usually sit for the optional meditation and I find it an opportunity to set my intention for the day. The teacher usually reads a poem or small section of a book and off we go, asking who am I? for an hour.

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8:15: Meditation ends and I use my break to get a 10 cent cup of chai, eat a couple of oranges and mingle with the animals and fellow yoginis on their way to class. My favorite cow is usually around and walks up to me to say hello and get his orange peel. I generally sit between the cow and the dog in the photo below. The bums are usually trying to talk me into buying them a cup of chai in broken English and the monkeys are beginning to descend looking for unsuspecting people not carefully guarding their fruit. Turn your attention away for a second and poof!, a monkey will be happily snacking away on your food and grinning at you from a nearby rooftop or tree.

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8:30: Yoga! Practice usually lasts 2.5 hours, the first 30 minutes dedicated to answering questions and learning the technical details of a new asana (posture). We discuss which chakra(s) we are activating, where to focus our attention and various alternatives for the asana if it is too difficult. We learn the transformational and healing effects of the asana that come with extended practice. For example, improved abilities to give and receive love when focused on the heart chakra. We move into our full practice, which generally takes a total of two hours.

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11:30:  Moon Dance Cafe for for conversation and breakfast. A group of Nepalese guys run the place and they provide amazing food and service. Depending on how hungry I am, its either a bowl of muesli/fruit/curd/honey or a couple of eggs on toast, washed down with a lemon ginger honey tea. Usually I will mingle with various people from, class or town, discussing the Yoga practice or something else.

13:00-15:00: My only real down time of the day. Generally used for doing laundry, cleaning, shopping, checking e-mail or anything else to beat the heat.  The temperature in Rishikesh has been steadily increasing since my arrival – now in the mid 90’s during the high part of the day. The first week here I was wearing a jacket in the morning and evening, now that jacket is firmly packed away for the season.

15:15: Stop by the German Bakery to see Lila and his son, another Nepalese family who make killer Yak Cheese/Avocado/Tomato sandwiches and juices. I will usually find my friends Marcelo, Karina and Dave here discussing something New Agey – Gurus, Clairvoyance, Chakras, energy, on and on. I join in the fun and sip on either a pomegranate or mango juice and if alone, jot a few thoughts down in a notebook.

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16:00: Time for afternoon Yoga. Similar to the morning except we simply practice. We begin with Surya Namaskara (Sun Salutations), making 12 devotional salutations to the Sun. In the final six, we chant the various Sanskrit words for the Sun. Surya Namaskara allows me to scan my body and mind, let go of the various attachments and thoughts I’ve built up throughout the day and drop into practice. We then continue with our typical practice, usually doing different asanas in the afternoon, sometimes focused more specifically on a single chakra such as the heart or third-eye. Afternoon Savasana (final relaxation) is always very powerful for me and when I walk out of the ashram I generally need a few minutes to fully return to my body.

18:30: My favorite (I know I already said this!) part of the day: Taking the back roads from back to Moon Dance Cafe for dinner along a windy stone walled path lined with massive trees. The sun has just set, the birds are singing their evening love songs, the dogs and monkeys and cows are making their final preparations for night. I like to call this the Jewel of the Day, those waning moments between sunset and darkness that are charged with energy. As I reenter my body I try to walk meditatively, sometimes holding my hands at my navel as we do in the Zen tradition as a reminder for mindfulness. Once at Moon Dance I will say hello to my friends and usually take my food to go so I can return on time for evening lecture.

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19:00 – 21:00: Yoga Lecture time – various topics from the morals and ethics of Yoga, things like nonviolence (ahimsa), nonattachment, vegetarianism, karma yoga etc. We learn things like conscious dreaming (Nidra Yoga), music meditation and of course discourses on the many branches of Yoga. We discuss topics such as healing through Yoga, Brahmacharya (sexual continence) and tantra. Most of the lectures have been fantastic – I will discuss this more later when I review the entire first month. There is so much information that comes at you that you have to mine it – I found myself primarily focusing on the physical practice, pulling various items from the lectures that I could apply or incubate into my daily life. After lecture, I would sometimes have a juice with friends or simply return to my room for some reading or a movie to unwind, crawling into bed simultaneously exhausted and invigorated, looking forward to repeating it again tomorrow.

There you have it – nowhere near the action-packed adventure of 2009, but equally powerful on the subtler planes of existence. This time its much more about penetrating deep rather than seeing it all. Turning the lens inwards.

Namaste.

Blogging Drought

For some reason, I just can’t finish a blog entry. I have several started and almost finished, including Nepal and the Annapurna circuit, Kathmandu, Tibet (over 6 weeks ago!), and now, India. I’m not sure what it is exactly – I think the knowledge that I will be home in less than a week pressures me to be out doing something rather than sitting with my face in the laptop. My other excuse is that that I’ve found it very difficult to find comfortable, quiet places to write in Nepal and India. A positive to this delay is that completing these entries once IMG_4281home will allow this portion of my trip to live a little longer as I revisit them. OK, enough with the lame excuses, the truth is I haven’t had  clarity to write my more meaningful entries, those involving the self. I have been exploring some very subtle aspects recently around my past and my ego. The simple concept of “To be or Not to be” has been occupying a lot of space – can I exist in this world without the desire to become anything? What does that look like? My ego desires are rooted in this concept of becoming, even when they are directed towards loftier ends. How does one separate ambition from energy or vitality? Questions, questions, questions. A more recent focus has been around my first two chakras, root and sacral, as time and time again, body and energy workers have confirmed that they are disconnected and not functioning as they should. Yesterday I experimented with a Korean method called Su Jok, where the therapist found my sacral chakra blocked. No surprise! In addition to my own psychological and spiritual work around these, how can I exist materially in this world (career, actions, hobbies) to improve the Kundalini flow in my chakras? Kundalini is Hindi for "sacred transformative energy that awakens consciousness".  Examples from self proclaimed Internet Gurus (my most recent Google search) on grounding and opening the root chakra include things like touching the soil every day, having red flowers in the home (red is the color associated with the chakra and mother earth), anything that involves the use of muscles, raw love-making, walking barefoot and eating food that comes from the ground. Let the experimenting begin.

Really, this was just an excuse to connect with everyone, letting people know that I am well, enjoying my final days and am really looking forward to continuing this conversation at home. My next update will likely be from Boulder – Namaste!