I have been thinking about doing a full-blown fast for a few months now - one that lasts 3-5 days. One of my dear meditation friends and I have kicked around the idea of doing one together. It seems like it would be really nice to have someone going through it at the same time for moral support and a sense of camaraderie. The last few months of course have not been a good time for trying a fast for the first time, considering my international move. I have spent the last few months in near-constant movement (when not meditating or sleeping!) trying to get things organized, putting furniture together, driving the kids to various day camps and appointments, etc. I'm currently relying more on my energy from food than normal to give me the extra energy in this time of transition. However, once the kids have started school again and the house (life!) is in a steadier state, I (a bit nervously) look forward to giving it a try.
While I haven't done an all-out fast, I have been doing some intermittent fasting, intentionally skipping breakfast some mornings. I've heard on several podcasts (for instance, various interviews from Rich Roll and Jonathan Fields) that intermittent fasting is good for the body because it gives the digestive system time to rest. This is more inline with how the human body has operated until relatively modern times. Food being so readily available at any time all year long is a pretty new concept from a human history standpoint. Our bodies are designed to endure periods of scarcity, and letting our digestive system rest allows it the chance to clean out and get rid of toxins and build up. Even by just having an early-ish dinner and then skipping breakfast (or delaying it as long as you can), you give your body a longer time to get the food worked completely through the system and allow yourself at least a short time of digestive rest.
A particularly good interviewee I have listened to on this topic was Dr. Frank Lipman (both on Rich Roll's and Jonathan Field's podcasts). He has a lot of good information about holistic health in general. He's the author of several books and sells holistic products, so he's easy to find for more info.
What if you are not in a position to skip a meal, due to a particular health issue? I have another meditation friend who would not be able to join a fast because she is pregnant. There are, of course, various versions of "fasting" which can be done for the betterment of your health and/or as a symbol of your devotion. Cutting out something you really enjoy from your diet but is doing you a disservice is one way. It could be alcohol, soft drinks (Coke is my weakness! I try to keep it to one a week), all sugar, only dessert. This is the same concept some people take with observing Lent.
You could also have a fast from things completely unrelated from food which are not serving you. I took a Facebook fast many months ago. Like many, I realized I was wasting so much time trying to stay caught up with what was going on in this imaginary parallel world called Facebook that I was sacrificing life that was right in front of me. I would sometimes be with my kids, filling the downtime with Facebook, and missing some chances to truly be present with them. Even when just watching TV with my husband at night - we would pause what we were watching so he could get a snack and I would immediately go on my phone to see what was happening on Facebook. I couldn't just sit there and be present without "doing" something (somehow it felt productive, staying caught up on the latest posts). As I have gotten deeper in my yogic studies, I have learned that bringing that stillness of mind into our lives outside of meditation has positive effects on our ability to still our mind during meditation. While waiting for our partner to return from a snack break while the TV is paused, or while waiting in line, pumping gas, or walking down the street, instead of reaching for our phones to check Facebook we can go inward and quietly, consciously, and inconspicuously turn our attention to our breath. We can do a few easy, calming breathing exercises where we gently control the breath, or we can simply turn all of our attention to the breath as a centering activity as we do in meditation.
Of course, the intention of a fast is that it is a break. Ultimately, we must return to eating for the sake of keeping our bodies going. However, the other types of fasts which involve cutting out something which is not serving you anyway could be the first step in ridding yourself of a bad habit. You may find that by cutting out sugar for a limited time ultimately leads to great side effects like better digestion, your clothes feeling more comfortable, fewer headaches, etc, which gives you the push to create the new healthy behavior of avoiding sugar long term. After resisting Facebook for a limited time, I am almost positive you will find yourself more aware of the world in front of you, more connected in deeper ways with your surroundings and the people in your physical space, and a feeling as though you have just gained buckets of time back from your day.
I never truly came back from my Facebook fast. I guess I didn't really initially approach it as a "fast," but rather wanted to focus on keeping my energy and attention inward as much as I could outside of meditation, and I realized Facebook had a big outward pull on my energy. It took time to rewire my habits from filling so many of my moments checking for updates, but I really feel that I am much better for that change of behavior. And, knowing that I had the willpower to resist when I was in the thick of that rewiring gives me hope that I can overcome the challenges that await me in a future fast!
I am an Ananda® certified meditation teacher. I am passionate about meditation and embrace a yogic lifestyle for greater wellness physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
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