28 Mar Yoga and fasting
These days Yoga students needn’t venture much farther than their Yoga studio or wellness hub to discover the practice’s light shines in many directions. But across all the differing traditions housed under the yoga tree, the concept of detachment remains instrumental. Fasting, of any kind, can be a great way to explore letting go.
We all have our desires but yoga asks us to attenuate them. For some people, that means overcoming the lethargy that keeps us from the mat, while others are challenged to simply sit still.
“Fasting is the first principle of medicine; fast and see the strength of the spirit reveal itself.” Rumi
In my own experience I have discovered that fasting gives you a path to understanding. And in your yoga practice, you can start to discover things you wouldn’t discover otherwise.
On a physical level, going without solid food clears the intestines and allows students to explore yoga postures that aren’t as accessible when the gut is full. In fact, some of the best yoga practices in your life can happen while being completely empty. You may be able to actually feel your internal organs, twist deeper and get into the meditative quality of the practice while on a fast.
On a more subtle level, fasting can markedly increase flexibility and help energy flow better.
Meditations can also go deeper while fasting. It is interesting to feel one’s mind settle more quickly when going in, like a switch turning on, whereas it can take at least thirty minutes of an hour-long silent meditation at times to get into the flow when one is more connected to the grounding experiences when taking food.
For many of us, digestion is a 24/7 process. Just as our minds appreciate a holiday, so too do our internal organs. Fasting lets the body’s digestive functions rest and reinvigorate, and the body is able to send more of its blood supply to weak areas of the body to catch up on left-over work.
The benefits of fasting are much broader, paving the way toward deeper states of awareness. All the world’s major religions feature some form of fasting. Christians have Lent, Muslims have Ramadan. In the Tantra Yoga lineage, one of the niyamas is directly related to food consumption. Mitahara translates in various ways as ‘healthy diet” or “moderate diet” and includes fasting in all its forms.
How to start Fasting
In some cultures and traditions, fasting is a regular practice, but for many modern westerners, fasting of any form is rare. Fasting must be approached cautiously. So, until you have some experience in fasting, it’s best to start small.
Try giving up one meal a week if you want to start softly. Then gradually work towards one day a month.
One fast day a week is an excellent regular practice for health. On this day take only liquid. Fresh and cold pressed is best. If you are having a very quiet day, you may take only water.
Once you are used to this, you may try three day fasts or go as long as 12 days three – four times a year with great benefit. I do this, together with shorter 3 day fasts at multiple points during the year.
After the fast
The period after fasting is called the re-feeding period. Most importantly, take as many days to break a fast as you have fasted. During a fast the stomach and intestines become smaller, so you can’t go right back to eating the same foods as before. A good approach is: begin the fast on juice (make sure the last few meals before fasting are light). Take a colonic when you fast, because the body’s normal reflexes of elimination are not in effect. Come off the fast by first taking yogurt / ripe banana, but not together. You can also eat boiled rice, and plain steamed vegetables.
Fasting is a truly wonderful thing to do. Everything becomes more alive. It transforms your thinking, and you have lots more energy. When you fast you become lighter, and a great deal of fat gets lost.
Fasting is also great for gut bacteria, especially if you do it on x 2 consecutive days. Fasting produces growth hormone, and helps the brain. Fasting also encourages different types of bacteria on the skin.
Come to my Yoga Brunch this Saturday, where I’ll be doing a Talk on Intermittent Fasting for Health and Longevity
Bhuti, 50 Hill Rise Richmond London TW10 6UB
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For your top tips on creating optimal health in the mind and body, read Chris James new book –‘Mind Body Cleanse’ by Chris James (Penguin Vermilion, £14.99). Available from Amazon.