There is something delicious about hunger. It presents a raw desire we rarely allow ourselves to feel. Like Silence, it offers a deeper insight into ourselves, and takes us to the source of our true nourishment.
In this New Year, I have begun a practice of fasting on Thursdays. Thursday is named for Jupiter, the planet that relates to the Guru. I offer my hunger to my teacher and to spirtual teachers everywhere, to wisdom wherever it is revealed, to the light of consciousness within and all around. When I feel hungry I try to remember that food is love, that what quenches my hunger is love, that love is inexhaustible ~ and I vow to feed all such hunger with love.
Fasting is a beautiful ritual in the New Year. It clarifies, purifies, and helps us move into the New Year with an internal spaciousness, a greater expanse for life yet to come.
Physically, fasting strengthens the digestive fire while burning away toxins that clog the channels, weight the body and muddy the mind. Fasting increases energy, luster, mental acuity, immune response and overall well-being while reducing weight, fatigue, irritability and mood swings. It makes the body feel lighter, refreshed, more supple, and provides the satisfaction that comes from personal achievement.
For all these reasons, Ayurveda encourages fasting, but favors consistent, short fasts such as skipping dinner once a week or fasting for a few days each month over long-term fasting that can deplete vital tissue and increase, not decrease, imbalances that lead to disease.
According to your constitution, Ayurveda recommends the following types of fasting:
- Eating a mono-diet of Kichari only
- Consuming a liquid diet of raw or lightly cooked vegetables only
- Abstaining from all solid foods while drinking only water or herbal teas
If you know your doshic constitution, consider the following ~
Vata does best with the Kichari fast for one to two days;
Pitta benefits most from the second option, blending together a variety of dark, leafy vegetables with fiber like psyllum husks, oat bran or ground flaxseed, and a dash or two of turmeric, fasting for up to three days;
Kapha people get a boost from the traditional fasts of abstention, drinking only warm water and herbal teas, and can usually fast for longer periods of up to five days.
For an easy introduction to fasting, you can join me and choose one day of the week to consistently follow either of the options listed above. Thursday is a good day, as are Mondays. They are both “Kapha days,” when nature’s support makes it less challenging.
Whatever type of fast you choose, be sure to squeeze fresh lemon into warm or hot water and drink it often. Sipping ginger tea throughout the day will also help you burn, baby burn.
A small, thin woman once told me that she tried the Master Cleanse (the one with lemon, maple syrup and cayenne) but felt like a failure because she didn’t last the prescribed ten days. She did fast for seven days, but cold sores began developing throughout her mouth after the fourth day, and finally it became too painful for her to continue. Apparently, friends suggested that the fire in her mouth was a sign of detoxification and that she should have pushed through it, which only helped solidify her feelings of failure.
In fact, the cold sores were a sign of excess Pitta, or too much inner fire, which developed as a result of consuming only the sour (lemon) and pungent (cayenne) tastes – both “fire” tastes that are highly Pitta-increasing. Maple syrup added the sweet taste but not enough substance to balance so much fire. Because this young woman was slight, she did not have much tissue to contain that fire, nor much toxic waste to burn. Once the fire did purify her system, it had nothing left to consume but her healthy tissue.
I like the Master Cleanse and have done it many times, but this example is a reminder that there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to diets or fasting. So if you feel discomfort when fasting ~ more than the occasional lightheadedness or gentle headaches ~ trust your body’s wisdom: please discontinue and seek professional advice.
Just as Silence deepens us into Mystery, fasting helps us remember our true hunger – that deep, longing for union: to be one again with the divine, with the eternal, with Oneness itself.
It reminds me of this wonderful piece by Thomas Merton ~
There is in all things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light,
a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness.
This mysterious Unity and Integrity is Wisdom, the Mother of all.
There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity;
a silence that is a fount of action and joy.
It rises up in wordless gentleness and flows out to me
from the unseen roots of all created being,
welcoming me tenderly,
saluting me with indescribable humility.
This is at once my own being, my own nature,
and the Gift of my Creator’s Thought and Art within me,
speaking as Hagia Sophia,
speaking as my sister, Wisdom.
I am awakened, I am born again at the voice of this my Sister,
sent to me from the depths of the divine fecundity.
May you know the divine fecundity of Love ~
If you are interested in learning more on Ayurveda and diet ~ in clear, simple language, the fantastic book Eat, Taste, Heal outlines Ayurvedic cooking, and fasting, for the Western palate.