Does Ayurveda Recommends Fasting?Dr. Anil K Mehta
WHAT IS FASTING?
Fasting is an integral part of Indian tradition and culture. It means that someone
willingly abstains from certain or all foods, drinks or both. According to the Vedic traditions, fasting is a
time for inner reflection and is useful for health. The Sanskrit word for fasting is Vrata, which also
means to vow or to promise.
A Vrata consists of one or more actions, including complete or partial fasting on certain specific
days, a pilgrimage (Thirtha) to a particular or more than one place, avisit and Darshan (upliftment from
looking at an image of God) and Puja (ceremonial act of showing reverence to a God, traditionally with
flowers) at a particular or more than one temple, reciting mantras and prayers and performing puja and
Havans (offering fire to God).
There are four categories of Vratas: −Vara: fasts on weekdays; −Tithi Vratas: fasts on certain days of the
lunar months; −Masa Vratas: fasts undertaken in a particular lunar month; −Samvatsara: fasts that could extend an entire year.
Vratas can be very diverse in their degree of restrictiveness. For instance one can leave out solid foods
from the diet, or one particular type of food or consume only one type of food. But rarely one abstains totally from eating all foods.
Acknowledged categories of food restriction are: −Anahar: grain consumption; −Palahari: one who eats
fruit; −Dudhahar: consumption of milk or milk products; −Nirahar: strictly water intake.
The duration of a fast might be diverse for each individual person, but the purposes are traditionally the
same: gaining liberation and inner purity. According to the ancient Hindu texts, Vrata assists the person
doing the Vrata to achieve and fulfill his desires, while performing Vratas brings the divine grace and
FOOD AND RELIGION
According to our Hindu traditions, food and religion are related. First of all, religion was used to regulate cycles of agricultural and human growth through prayers and offerings and
secondly, religion gives us a framework or perspective in which the soul can ripen and develop. In
Ayurveda, feeding the body and the soul are extremely important and completely.
Intertwined with our health. In Hindu religious tradition, this is clearly visible in the fact that religion and food have formed a symbiosis.
Within various Hindu traditions, there are also different types of fasts. For instance, women fast on
different occasions, like karvachauth. This is a day on which married women fast for the long life,
prosperity and health of their husbands. After sunrise the women observe a strict (vegetarian) fast,
which is broken after sighting the moon at night with their husbands.They end it with offering water
and flowers to the moon. Another important occasion for fasting is Shiva-ratri. This fast is considered to
be the most important fast for the devotees of Lord Shiva. It is believed that if a devotee observes Shiva-ratri fast with sincerity, pure devotion and love he is blessed with the
divine grace of Lord Shiva. Though most people consume only milk, juice and fruit, some don’t even consume a drop of water all through the day and night. These days are being celebrated together, but people also fast individually. This in honour of their devis (goddesses) and devatas (gods). Each day of the week is dedicated to one of these many Hindu deities. Depending on personal beliefs, one can set aside a certain day or days for fasting. For instance, devotees of Shiva tend to fast on Mondays, while devotees of Vishnu fast on Fridays and Saturdays.
WHAT IS THE AYURVEDIC VIEW ON FASTING?
In Ayurveda, fasting is seen from an overall health perspective. It eliminates toxins from the body and purifies body, mind and soul in this way. The body becomes light and the mind will become soft and peaceful which will improve mental and spiritual capacities. In the night, we all undergo a short fast, which eliminates the toxins from our body. However, this may not be enough, according to Ayurveda. In modern day life, we are all exposed to many toxins: environmental toxins, stress, negative emotions, lack of exercise, refined food, food additives etcetera. If this build-up of toxins –which is called Ama in Ayurveda –is too large, this will cause imbalance and finally develop into illness. To prevent this storage of toxins, Ayurveda recommends its extensive detoxification program Pancha Karma, which consists of different cleansing therapies such as massages, sweat therapies, diet and a definite elimination from the toxins from the digestive tract. But as a home-cleansing therapy, we can observe a fast with only liquids and very easily digestible foods, such as fruit- and vegetable juices and pureed vegetable soups. This will give the metabolism the opportunity to clean up what was left behind.
However, in Ayurveda we Ask Ayurveda Does Ayurveda recommend fasting?
It is utmost important to know who the person is, more precisely: what his body constitution is, his
lifestyle, eating habits, digestive capacities etc. The body constitution is the health profile of a person,
his metabolic blueprint and it tells exactly what his strengths and susceptibilities are. Before fasting is
observed, it is very important to look at the individual constitution. If a person has Vata-constitution, he
should not observe fasting for more than three days. Actually, eating at the right times is for Vatas already fasting, because they tend to be very irregular. If a Vata-person considers to do a fast, it is best for him to ask for proper medical guidance, since Vatas have more difficulty staying grounded. A fast for
more than four days will aggravate Pitta. For Pittas a fast for one day per month is advised. But it is
unquestionable, that fasts work best for Kapha-type persons. They can do a liquid fast for 1 day per week. Kaphas can skip meals, but they can also observe prolonged fasts. Their body will burn Ama and feel lighter, more energetic, they will have more mental clarity and will overall feel happier.
The main reason why Ayurveda recommends fasting, is that it is beneficial for overall digestion. In general, Ayurveda sees a relationship between health and the digestive strength or fire Agni. Because a healthy and strong digestive fire will burn the sticky toxic material Ama, which can build up throughout the body and slow digestion and elimination down.Ayurveda considers the accumulation of Ama in our cells and tissues to be the underlying cause of disease and illness. Furthermore, Ayurveda says that digestion – and therefore Health –can be improved by regularly restricting the food intake. But at the same time, this can be dangerous, or at least risky: if it is not done under professional medical supervision. The digestive secretions that are essential for our health, metabolism and the build-up of
our body tissues, are derived from the food or meals that we have digested. Prolonged starvation of nutrients will lead to deficiencies in secreting digestive products in the stomach, liver and pancreas for example. It is also highly important, after a period of fasting, to restart the delicate digestive process and rekindle the flame under careful professional guidance. If this is not managed properly, this may lead
to a generalized toxic condition (Ama).
There are 4 basic types of fasting in Ayurveda:
−eating only light foods;
−consuming only fruits, vegetables or juices;
−abstaining from solid foods and drinking only water or herbal tea;
−abstaining from both food and water.