Intermittent Fasting In Ayurveda: A Spiritual Approach
To progress on the spiritual path, we need to be balanced mentally, emotionally and physically. While intermittent fasting is a hot new health trend, it is actually a practice that has been around thousands of year and is rooted in Ayurveda.
Ayurveda is often thought of as one of the oldest holistic systems of natural medicine, and that is an important part as we all need to be mentally and physically healthy. Yet, that system of medicine is only one part of the vast path known as “the knowledge of life.” Ayur, life, Veda, knowledge. To know the nature of life itself–that is Ayurveda.
Today, Ayurveda’s Ancient Knowledge of Intermittent Fasting is Now Acknowledged by Modern Science
John Hopkins Medicine recently rediscovered what Ayurveda has known all along and published Intermittent Fasting: What is it and how does it work?
According to Ayurveda, intermittent fasting does more than burn fat. Ayurveda known fasting can prevent, and in some cases, reverse conditions and diseases. When there is a gap in the digestive process, it provides critical cleansing time for the body and mind to purify. The brilliant process of cellular purification is compromised when there is a constant supply of food moving from one end of the digestive tract, to the other. It is only relatively recent that humans had 24/7 access to nearly all foods imaginable. Reflecting on my own ancestors, it was only a generation ago that they grew and raised all their food. Living in a remote area, there was no convenience stores or all-night markets.
Raised this way, I observed how to eat seasonally, that food abundance or scarcity ebbed and flowed naturally with the seasons, which built in fasting experiences. The term ritucharya in Ayurveda speaks to this. Ritu means season and charya means rhythm. Simply put, it is following the natural rhythms of the season year-round. This is in stark contrast to having whatever one may want all the time. When there is a constant supply of foods, and foods that are not produced by a particular season, it can lead to health issues. How is it that in modern life with brilliant medical advances, there are so many chronic diseases? According to Ayurveda, there is a connection.
Digestion consists of four processes: ingestion, digestion, absorption, and elimination. What happens when the roadway of the digestive system is constantly processing? (See: Poop Analysis with Ayurveda: What Your Poop Says About Your Health.)
Think of it as a rush hour pile-up all sorts of health problems occur mentally and physically. It is wonderful that research is highlighting the mental and physical benefits of Ayurvedic intermittent fasting and yet, it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what Ayurveda’s approach to fasting can do for your spiritual self.
Intermittent Fasting, Ayurveda, and the Digestive System
In Ayurveda, the digestive system is considered to be crucial to a person’s wellness and vitality. When the digestive system, agni, is unable to work optimally, toxins, ama, build up and cause imbalance before eventually leading to disease. Fasting promotes a steady release of those toxins and fosters proper regeneration of energy and digestive power.
For thousands of years, Ayurveda has recommended at least a 12-hour fasting window every day to give the digestive tract adequate time to rest and for cleansing on a cellular level to occur. If the digestive tract is never given a break, the all-important digestive fire, your agni, (think of this as your sacred fire) becomes imbalanced and can no longer properly digest the food ingested. Fasting is just one of the ways Ayurveda can help improve your digestion and overall health.
Intermittent Fasting as a Spiritual Practice
Fasting, in Ayurveda, is not simply intentionally skipping a meal or two. Fasting Ayurvedically, is an extension of practicing pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses —in Sanskrit praty means against and ahara means anything taken into the body. Ayurvedic fasting is a spiritual practice aimed at understanding one’s self and developing spiritual strength.
Ayurveda teaches us that intermittent fasting is not about the food but about the spaces between the meals. Intentionally skipping a meal is an opportunity to perform tapas, to exercise our discipline, and develop spiritual strength. When we choose to practice pratyahara through intermittent fasting, we deliberately choose what to put into our body, or, in this instance, not put into our body. We create a commitment to not eat, and through that experience, we gain determination on our path. It’s a lot like exercising and gaining spiritual muscle.
Practical Steps for Intermittent Fasting the Ayurvedic Way
Ayurveda teaches to eat with intention and focus and to set aside any distractions when enjoying a meal. When we focus on our food as we eat, we connect with the nutrients of the food and with the prana, the life force of the food. Even when you’re eating the finest of organic foods, if you forgo the grounded connection to your meal, you’re missing out on the most critical component.
A Few Guidelines for Intermittent Fasting as a Spiritual Practice:
- Eat your meals at the same time each day.
- Avoid eating between meals as it interferes with the intelligence of the digestive system and disrupts your prana, life force.
- Eat with awareness. “Eat, and only eat.”
- Practice eating meditation.
- Fast as a spiritual practice, not just a digestive practice.
- Eat breakfast like a prince/princess, lunch as a king/queen, and dinner as a pauper.
- Consider eating 2 meals a day. (If not pregnant, nursing, blood sugar issues, under 18, eating disorders, or any other health concerns that are contraindicated.)
- Find a gap, such as 12-16 hours between meals. This naturally occurs when one takes an early, light dinner and wakes with warm water or digestive tea first.
- Eat your last meal at least 3 hours before bed.
- Sip hot Saumya Digestive Detox tea throughout the day.
- Be grateful and respectful of the food you are eating, whether it is plant or animal, it’s life is now supporting your life and as you consume food, it becomes part of you on a cellular level. This is consciousness with eating and life itself.
These are general guidelines. What is correct and healthy for one person is not so for the next and may even be injurious. The key is to learn to observe how your body feels after eating each meal. Do you feel heavy and tired after eating or do you feel lively and focused? If you feel energized, your body is approving of that meal. If you feel dull and heavy, your body is having difficulty with it and it is letting you know it.
Intermittent fasting is another one of Ayurveda’s natural remedies for dealing with health concerns, optimizing well-being physically, mentally and spiritually– as well as a simple and effective tool for daily cleansing and detox.
“When we follow these Ayurveda guidelines, we naturally intermittent fast, cleanse and detox our bodies and mind every day.” -Veena
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