Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is not doing something.
I’m talking about intermittent fasting: skipping meals for one day every week.
In yoga and Ayurveda, the benefits of fasting have long been celebrated, although Western medicine has only just started to explore them.
According to Sivananda, the great doctor-turned-yogi of the 20th century:
“Fasting overhauls the respiratory, circulatory, digestive and urinary systems. It destroys all the impurities of the body and all sorts of poisons.”
It’s a great cleansing practice and is strengthening for both your body and mind.
The day after fasting, you’ll feel incredibly strong, light and be vibrating with energy.
Do it once a week and you’ll enjoy the effects every day.
Over time, you’ll reduce your chance of weight problems, heart disease, and even cancer and Alzheimer’s.
I’ve been fasting for 36 hours every week for a long time, and it’s an essential part of my health program and spiritual practice.
But with fasting, you don’t need to take anyone’s word for it.
Once you experience the benefits for yourself, you’ll never want to give it up.
Why Does Fasting Work?
From a yogic perspective, fasting increases the inner fire.
The same energy that breaks down food is also responsible for healing and cleansing the body.
If that energy is always occupied with digestion, there isn’t so much left for purification.
Pollution and chemicals in our food make it impossible to avoid toxins in a modern lifestyle. Add constant eating to that, and toxins build up.
When you stop eating for a while, it gives the inner fire a chance to do its other work. It burns strong and gives your system a good cleaning.
Western science has also weighed in on fasting. Research shows that intermittent fasting increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin, decreasing the risk of diabetes and heart failure.
The mild stress also revs up the body’s cellular defense system, increasing the levels of special proteins that protect neurons from decay and get rid of damaged molecules.
One group is now working to get fasting approved by the FDA as part of cancer treatment programs!
What To Expect While Fasting
When you first start fasting, you’ll probably experience what in yoga is called “purification effects.”
These effects might include weakness, dizziness, nausea or emotional disturbances.
There’s only one trick for these: don’t quit!
Purification effects are actually a good sign as it means your body is pushing out toxins. For a long time, they were just sitting in your system, but now you have the strength to clean them out.
You’ll feel their effects directly for a while, but it will pass. When you fast regularly, the effects become much milder.
Most of the distress new fasters experience is psychological since your body can do just fine without eating for much longer than a day.
If you’re having trouble, drink some tea or water, meditate or walk around in nature to recharge.
You can also start with a light fast, drinking juice through the day and even a clear broth like miso soup in the evening.
When that becomes easy, try a full fast on just water.
Breaking The Fast
How you end your fast is as important as how you keep it.
In the morning, before you break your fast, do a yoga practice focusing on the stomach area, or some vigorous exercise to break a sweat.
This will help your body clear out any remaining toxins and prolong the effects of the fast.
When you’re ready, ease your digestive system back into action with a smoothie or fruit. About an hour later, you can have a light meal.
Try not to eat too heavily the day after a fast. You might be tempted to overeat at first, but once you fast a few times, you’ll find that you don’t need or want the extra food.