Highly Advised In Ayurveda For Health And Longevity, Fasting Is The Under-rated Superhero Of Diet Plans.
Fasting is a common practice in many cultures and spiritual traditions. People who fast, usually do it once a week or month or on significant days throughout the year. There are also different ways and extents of fasting. Some people skip one or both the meals of the day. Others may go several days without food altogether.
But, what’s the big deal about fasting?
One might surely wonder if it helps in anyway or is it just pointless self-torture with some random ideological explanation.
Well, it turns out that the latest research as well as the age-old ayurveda agree that there are incredible health effects of fasting which can not only keep you healthier and happier now but also help you live longer.
Fasting is indeed under-rated, based on all the evidence. Let’s look at how it can boost our health when done right and the recommendations about fasting in ayurveda.
Why Fast In The First Place?
Health Effects Of Fasting As Per Latest Research
Japanese cell biologist, Yoshinori Ohsumi was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in physiology/medicine for his research on the mechanisms of cell autophagy which is a favourable mechanism by which our cells deal with metabolic debris in an efficient and protective way. This research also establishes that fasting triggers autophagy which slows down aging and promotes cell renewal.
The research also points to a large body of work to support that fasting improves blood sugar control, aids weight loss, reduces inflammation and has a neuroprotective effect that improves brain function. Fasting has also been found to inhibit cancer cells. Fasting therefore is proven to improve overall health & longevity. It lets your digestive system rest and eventually rejuvenate.
What Does Ayurveda Say About Fasting?
The practice of fasting is described in detail in ayurveda for all of its varied benefits. It is recommended to healthy people to maintain their wellbeing and to sick people for treating their diseases. According to ayurveda,
“लंघनं परम् औषधं”
‘Laghana’ is the supreme medicine
The word ‘langhana’ in Sanskrit means to reduce or to lighten. Langhana is a depletion therapy that brings about a decrease in bodily virtues. Fasting is one of the ten procedures in Langhana. Ayurveda recommends Langhana to treat physical and mental disorders.
As per Ayurveda, bad dietary choices & habits, lack of physical activity, pathogenic infections, emotional turmoil and excessive negative thinking depletes the ‘Agni’ in your body, which means that the metabolic activity is compromised. It leads to the formation and deposition of ‘Ama’ – the toxic metabolic residue in the body due to incomplete digestion and assimilation of food. Ama is considered to block the channels of your body and cause disease.
Fasting causes the breakdown of ama and cleanses the body of the metabolic waste, as per ayurveda. So, it is recommended as a therapy to eradicate illnesses related to the accumulation of ama. It is noteworthy that zero fasting (taking no food by any means) is not prescribed in ayurveda and might lead to an impaired Agni. Therefore there are certain guidelines to keep in mind to make sure that your fast is effective and beneficial for you.
Spiritual Aspect And Benefit Of Fasting
In spiritual practice, abstinence of all kinds (including food, in fasting) is considered to be a way to practice non-compulsiveness. In the vedic scriptures, fasting also has a parent concept which is more encompassing, called ‘upvasa’.
Upavasa is a Sanskrit term. ‘Upa’ means near and ‘Vasa’ means to stay. Upavasa means to stay near the higher consciousness by withdrawing away from sense organs. Practicing Upavasa gives you an opportunity to rise above anger, greed, grief, fascination or gratification. Fasting is considered to be an aspect of Upavasa which you utilize to win over your compulsiveness of hunger.
Ayurvedic Fasting Guidelines
While it is very tough to keep yourself away from food, a correct way of fasting can actually make you physically and mentally healthier! As per ayurveda, there are some specific guidelines for fasting which should be followed when fasting.
- Zero-fasting (taking no food by any means) is not prescribed in ayurveda since it would overstrain the force of Agni.
- You should integrate spices like ginger and black pepper in your fast in some way. They have medicinal properties and the ability to neutralize toxins, making your fast more effective.
- If your physical strength reduces, you should stop fasting.
- You should consume light and easy-to-digest food once your fast ends.
- You should avoid eating heavy meals immediately before and after the fast.
- You can fast preferably during Shishira Ritu (Winter). This practice can help you to treat the diseases due to an imbalanced Vata dosha.
- You should consider the time of the day, season, age, body strength, predominant dosha, and the severity of disease (if any) while choosing to fast.
If you are now wondering, ‘which fasting is best for me?’, it is worth noting that your predominant doshas have a considerable bearing on the kind of fasting you should follow. So, let’s now look at the fasting do’s and don’ts based on your predominant dosha.
Fast As Per Your Predominant Dosha
As per ayurveda, your body will endure and benefit from fasting differently, based on your dominant dosha. Here are the important aspects to remember for practicing a fast based on your predominant dosha.
Fasting For Vata Dosha
You should avoid prolonged fasting, if the Vata dosha is predominant in you. Fasts longer than a day and water fasting should be avoided. Since fasting increases lightness, it may impair the dominant vata dosha and cause weakness in your body. Moreover, it may develop fear and anxiety in you. Let your body and experience guide you. So a 12-24 hour fast is a great place to start and explore.
You may have grape juice or ginger tea during the fast.
Fasting For Pitta Dosha
Individuals with dominant pitta dosha tend to have a strong agni. Fasts longer than 2-3 days may lead to the aggravation of pitta dosha. In turn, this may increase the fire element in your body. You may start experiencing hate and anger due to a longer fasting period. Therefore you should avoid water-only fasts and prolonged fasts.
You may drink pomegranate juice, juices of bitter vegetables or leafy vegetables during the fast. You can also go for fennel tea.
Fasting For Kapha dosha
People with predominant Kapha dosha may observe prolonged fasts a few times a year, in contrast to the other two doshas. Since the metabolism of kapha individuals is slow, fasting can be particularly beneficial. You may consider water fasts and you should fast once a week regularly if you have predominant kapha dosha. Fasting will make you feel lighter and more aware.
Apple or cranberry juice is suitable for you to drink during fasting. You can also fast on hot water.
Is Intermittent Fasting Ayurvedic?
Intermittent fasting has become a popular trend now. There are various forms of intermittent fasting schedules people can follow. The two most popular ones are :
- Restricting the eating window to 6-8 hours and not having anything outside that time window. E.g. have all your meals within the eight hour window of 10 am – 6 pm, daily.
- Another popular approach is 5:2 – Eating regularly 5 days a week and chose any two days when you only consume a single light meal (400-500 calories)
If you avoid eating between meals, your body starts using the energy stored in your fat cells. This is how intermittent fasting helps you to lose weight. It improves your metabolism and lowers the increased blood sugar levels. It helps to treat conditions like asthma, arthritis, etc by reducing inflammation of your body. It clears out damaged cells and therefore lowers the risk of cancer.
Human and animal studies have shown that intermittent fasting increases stress resistance and improves conditions like obesity, cancers & cardiovascular disease too.
Although intermittent fasting is a recently coined term, the approach therein is very well aligned with the ayurvedic principles of fasting, as discussed above. However, there are two things to remember to stay within ayurvedic recommendations when following intermittent fasting.
First, avoid overeating during the eating window. It is better to eat moderately during the eating window and keep the fasting window shorter, than to overeat and then go without food for longer.
Second, your intermittent fasting schedule can be and should be designed according to your predominant dosha. E.g. If your vata dosha is predominant, you should avoid the 5:2 schedule and keep your fasting window somewhere between 12-16 hours, as comfortable – listen to your body. On the other hand, if you are a kapha individual, you may experiment with extending the fasting period for more than 16 hours at a time.
Longer abstinence from food (24 or more hours) can lead to more damage than good and should only be followed on a regular basis under the supervision of a health expert.
Who Should (Not) Fast?
Fasting helps you to stay healthy but you should avoid it during certain conditions. You should not fast if you are suffering from diseases due to the increased vata dosha. If you experience excessive hunger, thirst, anger, or jealousy you should avoid fasting. Ayurveda does not recommend weak or old people, children, and pregnant ladies to fast.
You should also not fast without consulting your health care expert if you are a diabetic. Fasting in diabetics can lead to blood glucose levels dropping dangerously (called hypoglycemia) and lead to critical damage to your health.
Fasting Is The One Diet Advice To Consider Right Away
Many people are overfed but undernourished. Snacking between meals, consuming hazardous pesticides and chemicals through the food and eating processed food, low on nutrition are some of the prominent reasons.
No wonder that your digestive system is overworked, under stress and doesn’t get the rest it needs.
Fasting is beneficial for your physical and mental health. It is also one of the easiest ayurvedic therapies to revitalize your digestive system. Ayurveda recognised the importance of fasting thousands of years ago. So, it is not surprising that it is an integral part of the ayurvedic treatments.
As long as you fast according to your prakriti, age and season, fasting will enhance the defences of your body against oxidative stress. It will slow down aging and make you healthier and happier today. It is proven that fasting activates autophagy (cell breakdown or death) which helps to get rid of cancer cells and pathogens present inside your body.
With such diverse benefits, fasting is definitely the one change you should make to your diet plans right away! Your body and mind will thank you for it!
FAQs on fasting
Yes. When done in accordance with your body’s natural constitution and health condition, fasting can prove to be a healthy practice. While weight loss is surely one of the health effects of fasting, there are many other physical and mental benefits of fasting.
Ayurvedic recommendations are usually not one-size-fits-all. Ayurveda does not recommend going completely without food during a fast. You should plan your food during the fast based on your prominent doshas.
Zero fasting (no food) and water fasting (only water) may be considered by kapha dominant individuals. Otherwise, an apple or some cranberry juice can be taken.
Pitta individuals may have bitter / sweet or astringent tasting fruit, warm and slightly cooked vata friendly vegetables (soups work too ) and khichdi with ghee and pitta friendly herbs/spices.
Vata dominant people can have grape juice or ginger tea during the fast. However, you should avoid fasts longer than 12 hours. You may instead follow a khichdi-only diet for 2-3 days, with some ghee and vata friendly herbs/spices in order to detoxify the body.
Your body will show some signs if you are fasting in a correct manner. You will feel light and calm during and after the fast. Your body will eliminate urine and faeces properly and feel a bit sweaty. Your drowsiness will disappear and you may experience tranquillity of mind.
If you experience cracking pain in joints, dryness of the mouth and excessive thirst, you should immediately stop fasting. Excessive fast impairs the power of hearing and sight. It can also adversely affect your strength and memory.
If you overlook your body constitution, age, time of the day, season, body strength, predominant dosha, the severity of any existing disease or any other health condition, you can potentially experience undesirable side effects of fasting.
Fasting risks must be considered by diabetics, old people, kids and pregnant women. They should not fast without consulting their health care expert.
If you ignore your dosha before choosing the type and length of your fast, you may experience physical symptoms like headache, constipation, nausea and bad breath. You may also feel irritable, angry and full of hatred.