The right way to fast as per Ayurveda
Article contributed by By Dr. Amrutha Nambiar
Fasting as a practice is an integral part of many traditions, cultures and even religions. It is believed that fasting has several benefits for the mind and the body. However, it is important to know the right way to fast. Lack of knowledge or due to wrong understanding of the practice of fasting may disturb the balance of the mind-body complex. In order to experience the benefits of fasting, we must understand about our Prakriti. Each individual possesses unique characteristics known as his/her Prakriti or nature based on the predominance of vata, pitta and kapha in the body. Fasting according to one’s Prakriti has got proven benefits.
What is fasting?
Fasting does not necessarily mean complete deprivation of food. It is a method of cleansing the system with total awareness of food, breath, thoughts and all sensory experiences. Here, when we say awareness of food, it means avoiding food items which are harmful to the system and wisely choosing a diet based on one’s own Prakriti. Following a proper method of fasting will regulate the Agni (digestive fire which is responsible for proper digestion of food), remove ama (toxins or impurities which are accumulated in the body due to improper diet and regimen) and maintain ojas (vital energy) in the system, thus helping to maintain the homeostasis.
As per Ayurveda, fasting is also part of seasonal routine, including purificatory procedures (Panchakarma) with certain guidelines. Each season is also characterized by cycles of vata, pitta and kapha. Fasting based on these guidelines during specific seasons will help maintain health and vitality.
Why is fasting necessary?
When we look into the process of digestion, the food which is ingested, with the proper jatharagni, will break down into ‘saara’ (formed as nourishment to the body) and ‘mala’ (which is the waste product that needs to be excreted). The formed saara will undergo a series of transformations to form ‘ojas’ which is the vital energy in the system. Ojas gives strength and radiance to the body. All mental and physical functions including the maintenance of a proper immune system depends on ojas. Good and properly maintained ojas is a sign of health.
Improper diet and regime hampers the jatharagni leading to formation of ama. Ama is nothing but the toxins which have accumulated in the body due to impaired metabolism leading to a decrease in ojas and the blocking of the channels in the body leading to the manifestation of many diseases.
When ama is accumulated in the system, it shows signs such as weakness, indigestion, bloating, malabsorption, body aches, headaches, fever, skin rashes, dryness, anxiety etc.
Ayurveda recommends fasting as a method of removing this ama.
The benefits of fasting:
- Better digestion and a cleansed digestive system.
- Rejuvenation of the body and mind.
- Imbalanced dosha is pacified.
- Improved mental functions.
- Improved skin radiance and hair texture.
- Improved immune system.
- Helps in regaining the homeostasis.
FASTING FOR PEOPLE WITH DOMINANT VATA PRAKRITI
If you have a predominance of vata dosha in the body or have a vata imbalance, complete fasting is not for you. Zero fasting, water fasting and prolonged fasting is not recommended for you. Because fasting will increase dryness, lightness in the body which aggravates vata in the system.
Following a khichdi diet with vata pacifying herbs and ghee for 3-5 days is a good option to detox the system for vata people. And this can be repeated once a month. Seasonal panchakarma treatment like basti (under supervision) also can be done to maintain dosha balance.
FASTING FOR PEOPLE WITH DOMINANT PITTA PRAKRITI
Pitta prakritis have a strong digestive fire, hence zero fasting, water fasting and prolonged fasting is not applicable for pitta prakrti and in an increased pitta state.
Sweet, bitter and astringent tasting fruit juice, vegetable juice, soups and a khichdi diet with pitta pacifying herbs are a good choice. One can choose either one day in a week or continuous 3 days in a month based on the imbalance.
Virechana under the supervision of a panchakarma expert is also advisable as seasonal routine cleansing.
FASTING FOR PEOPLE WITH DOMINANT KAPHA PRAKRITI
If you are healthy with a dominant kapha prakriti, regular fasting is good for you. Following intermittent fasting is highly beneficial for you. One can go for complete fasting or water fasting once a week.
As a seasonal cleanse, vamana and virechana can be done as per your physician’s opinion.
Fasting is not recommended for pregnant ladies, children, elderly people, during breastfeeding, menstruation period.
Also consult your doctor for proper guidelines if you have some disease or if you are on some particular medicine.
A FEW GENERAL GUIDELINES
- Eat only when you are hungry.
- Lemon, ginger, fennel seeds, cardamom, mint, cumin, coriander seeds, etc are good to remove toxins from the body.
- Make sure that you drink warm water to maintain hydration and cleansing.
- Haritaki, triphala or castor oil can promote cleansing by balancing the dosha. Your doctor can help you to choose the combination based on your prakriti.
- It is normal to feel weakness and fatigue on the day of fasting. But you will feel more energetic and active from the next day. This is a sign of proper cleansing.
- It is always better to slow down, watch your body and mind during fasting for a desirable result.End fast with light food or juice depending on the type of fasting you have done. Give proper awareness to the digestive system and slowly get back to the normal diet.