The word ‘fasting’ comes with many connotations. Modern, western concepts are usually in the context of weight loss, creating the idea that you’re in a ‘bad’ place which can be solved with a quick fix. This presents the process of fasting as something to get through/get over and you’ll be better off on the other side.
I have to say that I hate this idea. It actually makes me want to crawl into a hole and hide. When something is presented in this way it is very harsh. It becomes a completely undesirable task which is then approached begrudgingly with a negative mindset of deprivation and doom.
Fasting, I have now found, can be the most beneficial thing for us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually; here I will try to explain why, according to my own experience.
Over the past few years I have tried a variety of fasts. I first began with ‘liquid cleansing’ after reading about how this can rest the digestive system for a day. After, I moved on to juice cleanses; first for one day, then three days. At this point I was ready for something more and I planned to go to a detox retreat in Thailand during my four months in Asia. I had been told about the retreat by a friend of mine while living in Bondi and I made a promise to myself that I would get there (I didn’t know at the time how secluded of a place it was – I still made it!). At the retreat, I treated myself to a 5 and a half day detox package which included yoga, infrared saunas, beautiful teas, a library of books, specific herbs, daily coffe/wheatgrass enemas and a whole variety of body therapy treatments. This fast was conducted on a stunning private island surrounded by crystal waters and floating hammocks in the sea… And yet, I didn’t like it. It was no fault of the retreat setup, most people reported feeling amazing and I know that many of their clients are people who return year after year, seemingly hooked on their new found feeling of vitality. I however, found the whole thing far too intense and I think that deep down I was unsure of whether this really was a ‘healthy’ thing to do, and was actually concerned I’d wither away. I began to feel so uneasy and distressed that on the third morning I changed to a three and a half day package instead and was refunded for the other two days.
It has now been over a year since this retreat and I now know why it didn’t work for me. The experience was very outward, when really, it’s an inward adventure.
Inward vs Outward
One thing I see a lot with fasting is the need for people to talk about it and share with the people around them that they are fasting (and probably that it’s horrible and they can’t wait to eat). For me this is actually the number one obstacle for going inward. Fasting is a very personal journey. While you are abstaining from food, you are in a gentle, vulnerable state and to talk about it openly with friends, family, people you don’t even know, can leave you in a place where you are justifying/explaining/reasoning your feelings, expectations and fears. This for me is FAR too outward. Fasting can actually take you to a sacred space, a space that cannot be understood by anyone but you. Choose the people you want to share it with very carefully. It’s not as if you’re hiding a huge secret, it’s just a personal journey that is best travelled alone, or with love and caring support by your side, certainly not judgement or perhaps even harassment.
How To Tune In
The best time to fast is when you are not working or socialising, but when you can take the time to be with yourself. You can delight in nature and reconnect. Meditation during fasting can take you to a totally new level and I find deep restorative yoga to be so calming and blissful. Perhaps delving into your art work or music is what takes you there. It’s anything that brings you back to you; that deep connection with your body and being, your passions and joys. Dharana (one pointed focus) paves the path toward a deep, deep connection to one’s inner being.
Also, I think it’s important to mention not to put pressure on yourself to ‘achieve’ some profound spiritual enlightenment, this is absolutely not what I mean to suggest here. We simply delight in the pleasure of being with ourselves and that is reward enough, from there we just ride the wave and be. Who knows what will happen; but by taking away food, something which has become so habitual in our lives, we create an opportunity, and it is only when we are truly mindful that we are able to observe the perceived, conditioned hunger arise, and then simply step aside, to reveal the deeper emotions which lay beneath.
On a physical level, fasting is an amazing thing to do. Just as we give our car a service and our house a spring clean, it’s important to give our body that rest and rejuvenation; an internal scrub which leads to better functioning in the long run. When your body stops giving all that energy to digestion, it is able to pick up the other jobs that have been on the back burner, since nowadays we tend to eat at least three meals a day, everyday, and often even with snacks in between, grazing from one meal to the next, meaning our digestive system can be running on overdrive permanently!
A time of fasting is a time of healing. In my research, I have come across the term ‘healing crisis’ which I love. People often think that if they’re conducting some form of ‘cleanse’ they should feel great, but to the contrary. A ‘healing crisis’ describes the state where our bodies are working hard to eliminate toxins in order to heal. This certainly isn’t rainbows and butterflies, but instead can mean headaches, skin break outs, aching kidneys, exhaustion, dizziness, nausea, the lot. Your body is working to get rid of the toxins so they have to come out somewhere.
It is very important to aid the body’s elimination systems, helping you to get the most benefit from your fast. Colonics in particular are the best way to excrete toxic build up in the bowels. Enemas are the next best thing, clearing out the lower section of the bowel, and there are also foods and supplements to help your bowels to evacuate as optimally as possible such as, psyllium husk, bentonite clay (which can both be taking during a fast), flax seed, soaked prunes and figs, and many more. Sweating is a great way to assist elimination through the skin, and exfoliation helps to keep your skin fresh by clearing away the toxic dump. Dry body brushing and massage both boost the circulation, activating the lymphatic drainage system, allowing for further detoxification. Drinking plenty of liquid helps to flush the whole body so it can secret further toxins. Try to incorporate gentle movement to a fasting period to increase blood flow and also lots of rest to allow for rejuvenation.
My later experiences of fasting have only gotten better. Last week I ended up going five days without food and then began very slowly to reintroduce some soft, gentle, nourishing foods to my life. I had an all-important colonic during this period and feel like I shed lots of stuck energy. I truly feel more balanced and connected to myself than I have in such a long time, perhaps ever. I feel clear. Due to the intimacy I have created with myself, I feel a lot more open and loving towards others, I have greater desire to understand them and their needs. I feel amazing and the challenge now is to try and stay in this centred space, taking it moment by moment. The reason I feel wonderful isn’t simply because I fasted, it’s because of the inward journey I took. I listened to my body wholeheartedly and cared for it from a place of love, not punishment.