Lent and the season of sacrifice are upon us, so it seems fitting to continue our exploration of Love with a discussion of a dietary topic I have been experimenting with for the past year – fasting – from food in particular. Though there are many types of food fasting, for the purposes of this article let’s call it going without food for 16 hours or more. I had stopped fasting for a while as my research into Ayurveda led me to think it wasn’t appropriate for me.1 But my visit to the Philippines, and seeing the hunger the less fortunate there face, compelled me to return to fasting on a regular basis.
I first became interested in the concept from reading Mark’s Daily Apple, home of the “Primal” way of living (a variant of Paleo). There they discuss the health benefits of fasting, which are many. Read this article for an exhaustive look at these – in short, increased longevity, possible reduced incidence/spread of cancer, improved neurological health and mental clarity, and many others.
It makes intuitive sense that fasting offers physical health benefits. It corresponds to the ebb and flow our natural world. Leaving soil to lay fallow restores its nutrient composition. Running lithium-ion batteries to zero-charge once in a while improves their lifespan. Allowing our digestive tract to empty completely allows the juices continually flowing there to “clean the filter”, so to speak, purifying us from the inside.
The spiritual impact of fasting gets less attention but is every bit as important. By definition, fasting is an act of Love. As we discussed over the last few weeks, Love is the force that expands knowledge in the Universe. Fasting does this in several ways.
First, fasting teaches us what it feels like to be hungry. This is a rare sensation in our “developed” world of comfort and plenty, but a common one in much of the world. How are we to empathize with the millions suffering from hunger if we do not experience it ourselves? And while this act admittedly does little to directly ease that suffering, this empathy is a gateway to action.
Fasting teaches us about ourselves – our capabilities and our limitations. How do we behave when we feel hungry? Do we become anxious, irritable? Can we learn to, as Yoga teaches, remain calm in the face of discomfort?
Finally, fasting isn’t only a passive act of learning. It also frees our minds and bodies from the obligation of food preparation and consumption, allowing us to devote our energies to acting in the world – whether that takes the form of engaging in a hobby, connecting with others, cleaning house, or having a real vacation. Both we and the world are left with greater knowledge through any of these activities.
My method of fasting is easy. In fact, people doing the “warrior diet” do it every day. I choose Saturday as my fast day, as my one and only works that day and it is also my rest day for yoga. On Friday I eat a normal dinner, finishing around 8pm. Saturday afternoon I have a probiotic boost of organic natto from Hiro-san at the Ginza Farmers Market.2 I break the fast around 6pm with some fruit. Then I eat a normal dinner. In all I skip two meals – totally manageable and good for a weekly ritual. Here’s a representation of my latest fast:
This model is a good one for beginners looking to give fasting a try. Pick a day where you won’t be doing any strenuous physical activity. Eat normal-sized meals on either side of the fast, and break the fast with fruit, which is easily digested and also cleanses the digestive tract before it takes on heavier foods. The natto boost is optional but I feel is a good way to activate the gut flora – give it a try, and definitely use Hiro’s natto if you live in Tokyo.
And now I’d like to hear from you. Do you food fast? Engage in any other forms of fasting? What’s your fasting record (mine’s a lowly 36 hours)? Post about your experience in the comments section. Productive week ahead!
Tags: Blue Belt Weekly, diet, fasting, Love
1 I am a pure Vata, which means I shed weight easily and have trouble gaining it back. Find out your dosha here – http://www.naturesformulary.com/contents/dosha-test
2 One could say this breaks the fast, and strictly speaking it does – but I consider natto a medicinal item more than a food, and nattokinase, the super-enzyme in natto, works best on an empty stomach (source)
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