Ayurveda includes fasting amount its preventative and curative therapies. Fasting from food or “Kshut” in Sanskrit helps to pacify aggravated Doshas (biological principles governing movement, transformation and cohesion), increase and balance Agni (digestive enzymes), purify the body of toxins, wastes, dead cells etc. Fasting can be used for maintenance (for example day-long fasts once a week or so) or for cure (stronger longer lasting fasts). Ayurvedic fasts are adapted to individual constitution and your current health situation. There are no hard and fast rules. It is typical that an Ayurvedic fast is not a complete or pure fast but permits small amounts of easy to digest, usually liquid foods.
Who needs to fast?
According to the Asthangha Hridayam, fasting (a ‘reducing’ therapy) is useful in these situations:
- Āmadoṣa (toxins in the gut, blood, tissues)
- Digestive disorders
- Moistness (excess), i.e. too much mucus secretions
- Fever (in general)
- Muscle stiffness
- Leprosy and other skin conditions
- Herpes and other viral or infectious conditions (in general)
- Spleen disorders
- Head disorders
- Throat disorders
- Eye disorders
My reasoning (backed up by evolutionaty biology) is that fasting from food must have been a freuquent asspect of our evolutionary past. It was only fairly recently that the human population begun to skyrocket. This is in part (mainly I think) due to the success of totalitarian agriculture. For example read “Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit”. Basically, we have addapted to exist in a world or non-continuous food availabilty. Fasting would have been imposed on us. We cannot expect our bodies to run optimally if we never fast from food.
Of course, we all fast overnight and between meals. But it seems that fasting for longer (16 hours or more) at a stretch produces numberous benefits to the body and mind.
According to ayurveda, fasting alone can cure you and can be safely used if you fit either of these pre-requisits:
1. You are only mildly obese, of poor strength, suffering from one or more of the above conditions (but of mild strength), or
2. You have medium strength, an excess of the doshas, and you are suffering from the above diseases (but of medium strength) and you are capable of withstanding some strain.
The results of correct fasting are given as:
- Keenness of the sense organs
- Expulsion/elimination of aggravated doshas, toxins and wastes
- A pleasant feeling of lightness of the body
- Good taste perception
- Hunger and thirst appear together and in a reasonble degree
- Pure belchings and clear throat
- Reduction of disease symptoms
- Increased enthusiasm and welbeing in general
Warning signs that you have gone too far or for too long with fasting and other ‘reducing’ therapies:
- Profound emaciation
- Severe thirst
- Anorexia (lack of hunger)
- Loss of moistness, digestive power, sleep, immunity, hunger and power of voice
- Pain in the bladder, heart, calves, thighs, upper shoulders and flanks
- Belching (frequent)
- Cutting pain in joints and bones
- Non-elimination of faeces, urine etc.
As I said before, there are many kinds of fasts. I prefer what is simple and feels good. For this reason I will be experimenting myself with 24 hour fasting, drinking warm water and taking very small amounts of very thin carrot soup if I get lightheaded of woosy. I will limit this to about 500 calories over the day. A normal intake for a man is about 2000-2500 calories per day.
I will try fasting for 1 day a week for several weeks and monitor my weight. Though I have taught this method for several years, I have never tried it out on myself. Now is the time! If all goes well over the next few weeks, I will stop fasting for 1 month, have a blood test, then start fasting again but this time for 3 months. I will take another blood test at the end and compare the two.
To make the fasting “Ayurvedic” we should at least keep a diary of our experiences, and observe the above guidelines. In addition to this, we can choose specific liquids (juices, herb teas) in accordance with the kind of problem we have. From an Ayurvedic point of view, if I had signs of excess Vata + toxins, I could use slightly sour liquids for fasting (such as hot water and lemon or very watered down lassi). If I had excess Pitta + toxins, I would use slightly sweet and bitter things, such as weak dandelion root tea. If I had excess Kapha + toxins I would use some spicy and or bitter drinks, such as ginger root tea. For a 1-day fast it is less important what you take – providing you drink warm water according to thirst and add a little very light food in liquid form if you cannot manage on just water.
Some people advise using supplements during fast days. I am less keen on the idea as most supplements are very condensed and hard to assimilate.
This goes without saying, but if you intend to experiment with frequent short fasts, you ought to check your doctor thinks it is OK.
If you have read any good modern scientific books on fasting I would love to know.
Worth the read. This guy in the USA has documented his experiments with IF fasting: http://www.precisionnutrition.com/intermittent-fasting
A good Horizon documentary about fasting and health: