Religious traditions from around the world are full of stories of leaders spending days – even weeks – going without food in order to increase their receptivity to the spiritual world. Today, tales of fasting tend to relate more to the practice’s perceived weight loss benefits than towards any type of spiritual growth – yet we still see the recommendation to fast in everything from religious texts to pop culture magazines.
But should fasting play a role in your own spiritual journey? The answer – according to Sadhguru – may surprise you…
Eating throughout the day
Before we can begin to understand what role fasting might play in the health of the body and spirit, it’s important to look at how to best structure our eating throughout the day. Too often, we think of eating in terms of rigorous diet plans that require us to consume a certain amount of nutrients and calories – no more and no less – at certain points throughout the day.
In general, though, these recommendations aren’t in keeping with what our bodies need to process food. While you may lose weight following them, you do so at the cost of the body, which weakens in the presence of insufficient nutrients and incomplete clearing of the digestive system.
In the words of Sadhguru:
“In yoga, the ideal break between one meal and the next meal is eight hours. You can manage these kinds of meals even when you are working outside. But a minimum of five hours is a must for everybody. This is because only when your stomach is empty, your excretory system functions at its optimum.”
To see this effect for yourself, experiment by splitting one day’s worth of meals into two portions and eating it over two meals in a day. Once you’ve completed this, try repeating the process – but instead, splitting one day’s worth of meals into ten portions, consumed over ten meals. Interestingly, you’ll find that you put on more weight by splitting your meals into smaller portions, as the excretory system isn’t efficient. Because the stomach and digestive system are never truly empty, the cleansing of the body’s systems won’t occur.
With this knowledge, we can see the body benefits from temporary rests in digestion – but does this necessarily mean that fasting is a good idea?
Paying attention to Ekadashi
For a more complete understanding of the role fasting should play in your life, we need to look to the lunar cycles – specifically, the period called “Ekadashi,” which occurs on the 11th day after the full moon and the 11th day after the new moon. These instances of Ekadashi are part of a greater cycle found within human physiology called the “mandala,” which constitutes roughly 40-48 days. Given the length of this cycle, Ekadashi typically occurs three times during each mandala.
If you tune into your body, you’ll likely find that you need less food – if any at all – during instances of Ekadashi. On these days, the planet itself is in a certain alignment that allows us to turn our attention inward and perform both physical and spiritual “house-keeping,” resulting in significant gains in our overall well-being.
Unfortunately, we may miss these cues if the body is bogged down with digestion. If you are full on Ekadashi – either because you’ve stuffed yourself the night before or because you’ve continued to eat throughout the day – you miss out on many of the transformative benefits that fasting on this day can bring about.
So to answer the question of whether or not fasting is beneficial, know that it may be in these specific instances only. If you’re able to, try fasting from dinner on the night before Ekadashi to dinner on the night of Ekadashi and see if you can pick up on your body’s signal that eating less is acceptable. If, due to your overall activity level, fasting for this period of time isn’t possible without causing harm to the body, try a diet of only fruits, known as “phalahara.”
Outside of these particular instances, though, know that fasting for significant lengths of time only serves to deprive the body of the vital nutrients it needs to operate effectively. Although many people like to brag about their fasting routines – saying things like, “I couldn’t believe I made it a whole week without eating!” – this type of endurance-event fasting serves no purpose in a healthy lifestyle.
Instead, focus on improving the health and quality of your diet (take a look at Isha’s many recipes for guidance if you need to) and fasting only for brief durations when doing so will bring you more in tune with the natural world.