Fasting is an essential part of healing and is used as a first-line medical treatment in all traditional health systems. The reason for this is very simple: it is a natural thing to do. Animals do it. Plants do it. Time is taken to change the routine in order to prevent or cure an overload of the system. Not feeling well results immediately in the loss of appetite and a natural tendency not to eat. In human societies all across the world and through the ages we find traditions that reflect the human relationship with fasting. Religions, the organized instruction manuals for spiritual development, all include the advice to fast on a regular basis. Fasting is natural. Fasting is essential.
Fasting has an effect on the entire system, physical and mental. For one, the more food we consume the more food we need. Our systems run on routine and if there is masses of food around, the system needs constant confirmation that the abundance that surrounds us is still there and available for us. So the more we eat the more hungry we become! Our mental focus on food leads us to believe that we are in constant need of it. We become dependent upon food, upon the abundance of food. However, everything that enters the body must be dealt with, must be broken down and excreted. The more we eat, the more work we demand from our system. The more the system is busy digesting, the less energy is left to do anything else.
Stopping the dependency cycle - in general, the idea that we need something all the time in order to survive - is done through fasting. Stop eating in order to experience the feeling that you don’t actually need food in order to live. Stop eating in order to experience the feeling of energy and clarity, becoming available through the energy saving you have just made.
Fasting gives us the opportunity to break with quite a few routine cycles in life. Breaking a routine has a health advantage. It stops the build-up of waste products. Waste products are the end result of the burning of energy, which is needed for every cellular activity in our body. Burning less energy allows space, time and energy for the cells to take care of some other jobs. Fasting also stops the fixed focus of attention in our daily routines. As we no longer have to take care of food and eating, we can turn our attention to something else. Space and time for you to do something else, and the energy to do it.
There are two principles connected to fasting: we want to put as much energy into the system as possible and we want to stimulate the system as much as we can. Warmth is energy, so we need to add as much warmth as we can to the system. Stimulating the system, we can do by using stuff that slightly irritates and stimulates the system, that wakes the system up and moves it.
Warm water with fresh lemon or lime juice.
Stimulating herbal tea like ginger, cinnamon, fennel, nettle, ginseng.
Commercially made products are also available. You can find them advertised as 'blood cleansing' or 'liver cleansing' or 'gut cleansing'.
Once the tea has cooled down one can add a spoonful of honey if the sharp tastes of the stimulating herbs are a problem.
At room temperature one can drink water, with or without lemon juice. Furthermore, one can drink grapefruit juice, but only sparingly.
It is also the intention not to waste energy. This means that during the fast we are going to engage as little as possible in the outside world because we want a different focus in life. Do not plan any physical or mental activities. Be mindful of your own needs and your own feelings and allow these to occur and attend to them. Add to this extra warmth by using a hot water bottle on places where discomfort is felt or just, in general terms, to help the process of clearing up. Mostly the neck and shoulders, lower back and abdomen are useful places to put the extra heat on.
Movement helps to let the energy flow better. When you are feeling good, and only for as long as you are feeling good, you can go for a walk, cycle or swim (watch out not to cool down!). All physical activities have to be done in a calm manner and should never be forced. Adapt to how the system feels at that moment in time.
Breathing is a much more efficient way to energise the system. Deep full yogic breathing is an ideal exercise to achieve this. During the fasting period it is wise to spend a lot of time practising this breathing technique. Even simply being mindful of breathing slowly and deeply in all circumstances will help to reset the pace of your life to a lower speed.
Ideally we would like the fasting period to extend until from inside the message is felt that the system is ready to accept food again for digestion. When there isn't the time or opportunity to wait for this then I would advise that the minimum fasting period would be three days. It would then be best to follow this with a two week period of a very different eating routine. Have no more than two meals a day, small ones and vegetarian. Best to have warm meals and warm drinks. Only simple drinks in between the meals, nothing else.
To break the fast it is useful to go slowly and to build up the energy needed for digestion. Start with the lightest possible foods, which need the least digestive energy, and that is soup.
Food, ordered from light to heavy (from easy to difficult to digest):
Water: everything in solution in water, like soups
Plants: vegetarian, but no so called "replacement" vegetarian foods
Poultry: this includes eggs
Mammals: meat, milk products
Remember one can ‘lighten’ food by cooking it, which makes it easier to digest. Fruit is cold and not easy to digest, especially not during the winter, but it is more easily digestible when cooked. In general terms our food should consist of seasonal and regional foods.
The time for fasting should be a time for contemplation. We should experience living in the moment and accepting whatever we sense as part of who we are. Not trying ‘to make things better’ but simply being. Our only reaction to how the body is functioning under these changed circumstances should be deciding whether to lie down and rest, or to move gently. We should only concern ourselves with whether putting a hot water bottle on the body makes us feel more comfortable or not. The intention is not to change the circumstances, but to slightly alter the experience of the circumstances. So we have changed our focus.
The long-lasting effects of fasting lie right there, a change of focus. If you take a different view of life, as you are doing during the fasting, then the mind and the body will function differently. Becoming aware of the aspects of life that create high tension within your system gives you the opportunity to make different choices about how you want to respond to those circumstances. Reducing the impact of situations and relations that continuously build tension and reducing the speed and pressure of life will result in a more efficiently functioning system.
Fasting helps to cure diseases and, even more importantly, helps to prevent diseases.