On the way to self development any method which makes us anew is welcome. There are different opinions on fasting among Yoga teachers ranging from straight positive to a very negative.There is a common sense to all of those though. Let’s consider a Yogi living within strictly structured ashram environment. The lifestyle of ashram maintains his body, mind and spirit at such pure level that there is no reason to start purification of the body-mind-spirit. In fact his lifestyle is structured such a way that it purifies him on the daily basis. But let’s consider a Yogi who lives in the midst of the human society, in the city, a householder. His body is not isolated from the influence of the environment, neither his mind can be always under control (let us remember that there are no angels in human body). Fasting in this situation is a powerful and logical tool to employ for purification purposes.
I did water-only fasting many times in the past, the most recent lasting 7 to 10 days. All the experiences were generally in line with many books and online information dedicated to this topic.
This time it was quite different. So much so that some expectations of the feelings and conditions during the fast were even opposite to what actually happened. The only difference I introduced in this fast was daily Yoga routine. I could not find anywhere detail information on Yoga fast, therefore learning from personal experience deemed to be the only source of learning.
The main purpose of this water-only fast was mostly spiritual – to help me quieting the mind and emotions, increase concentration, increase feeling of the purpose and advance my Yoga both Hatha and meditation. Before starting I setup my guidelines here which reflected my goals and expectations based on previous experiences and on public information. In the past, during the last days of fast overall weakness made me stop any yoga attempts in favor of just laying on the sofa large part of the day.
This time I made a commitment to follow daily full Yoga routine in the morning and evening until I just feel like can’t do this any more. Going ahead of my story – this fact alone changed my experience dramatically getting way off the usual patterns.
The beginning was as usual. First 3 days needed some willful adjustment but once mind is saturated with idea that “I am not eating” – it’s over with food. Any crisscrossing with food should be evaded during this adjustment period. After 3 days in terms of hunger it is easier – no more. Daily Yoga routine includes both Hatha, Pranayama and meditation morning and evening. Now, observations…
Tensions in the body increased gradually. Major or minor pains, difficulties, blockages gradually increased to the point that just sitting became very hard. My major problem – blockage and high tension in the middle of the spine got really bad on 4th day making not just sitting but even breathing too hard and strenuous. It surely made meditation not working as whole body struggles with just sitting. Switched to comfortable crossed legs sitting on sofa – not much better. Seems body is adamant with increased sensitivity and wants attention on this subject.
At the same time, kind of background lightness rose in mind. Mind got quieter as the main work switched to the body purification. Seemingly contradictory developments: while pains and tensions in the body increased, stiffness on another side, got gradually reduced.
First breakthrough was on the 9th day: flexibility was regained to the point my body experienced about 10-15 years ago. This does not mean that all the tensions vanished, but they were “stabilized” without further increase, while overall lightness and calmness of mind was very comforting. Mind works continue – search for the purpose and meaning goes on…
On body purification process: this is the simplest subject to learn from the fast: The law is this: Body knows what it is doing!
For example all the debates about necessity of enema based on speculations only instead of the direct experience. The experience tells this: body takes care of everything inside your body! I repeat – everything. Urine is heavy dark colored throughout all the fast. Why? You don’t have anything to digest, right? Wrong. The dark color is the result of the body dissolving/processing/digesting everything whatever is trash or a ballast of the body. That includes the content of your stomach making it empty in the process. This heavy color of urine tells you how much of cleaning and rejuvenating work is done inside you in the process… There is so much work to do in this “house cleaning” that body has something to “digest” for many days of the long fast! Increased pains and tensions are yet another indication of the same phenomenon – “Beware: work is in process!“
Second breakthrough was around last days of my fast (total 15 days). Flexibility of the body reached my level of about 25 years ago. Again, I could do Asanas as sophisticated as I did when I was 30… Tensions in the back somewhat reduced (but not vanished), breathing is easier, overall lightness is profound.
A complete sense of rejuvenation at physical level was felt in the process of exit from the fast: 2nd day after the break. This is it – I got a new body! Now – pain is gone, no tensions, flexibility at my highest. As the process of exit is continuing for some time, urine is still showing that the work is still “in progress” but the feeling is that I am “done”. How much of the body “overhaul” is done we can never grasp. Besides major sicknesses, so many small ailments getting fixed that we cannot be aware about their presence in the first place. These ailments are not only healed but their traces are getting removed from our memory! Here is a funny example: on the 3rd day after exit, I opened the drawer of cabinet to get a new tooth brush and stumbled over the small medicine bottle. I wondered “what is it?” I don’t use medicine… This was a surprise reminder of my annoying problem in the past I completely forgot about! I suffered eyes etching for a long time rubbing them without getting a relief. Annoyed with it, I once consulted an eye doctor. She explained a typical “dry eyes” syndrome and gave me some eye drops to apply. I did not want to argue with a holder of esteem diplomas and certificates by asking a question: ” how come tears running, eyes are wet all the time while in “dry eyes” syndrome?… I simply tried to apply the remedy and it did not help.
After the fast was over my eyes felt good with no etching. So much so, that “past problem” was erased from my memory as if this problem was in my past life…
There is one method to trace physical changes against the body weight. For each individual body structure there are weight thresholds which can be used as markers to expect certain changes. Throughout my 15 days of fasting I loose total 15 lbs of weight – from 145lbs to 130lbs. Most of the loss occur within first 10 days. In fact the last 3-4 days of the fast barely make any drop in weight! Since I did spend some energy (I was active to a degree), yet did not refuel myself, means that human body somehow breaks the Newtonian laws of physics? :=)
Weight loss threshold map can be viewed roughly like this:
- First 5 lbs lost corresponds to the feeling of weakening, increase in tensions and pain and overall “getting low”.
- next 5 lbs loss corresponds to the gradual slowing of the downfall and subsequent re-bouncing back to calmness and balance
- last 5 lbs drop is not much eventful and, in my example (subject to each individual structure), it came to a stop and stabilized.
Based on the above observation and general feeling at each weight level, I am thinking to maintain the body weight at about 135lbs. At this level the muscle strength did not diminish at all even while overall energy level was down during the fast.
Now, on relations with food. After first 3 days there is no craving for food. But the expectation of the main struggle ahead during the exit was something I was getting ready for (see my guidelines based on the previous experience here).
After 15 days were over, I sit down to meditate on a tomato in front of me ( Zen meditation technique). I imagined beforehand how I chew it, taste it, swallow it, etc. expecting it to be a very sensitive and pleasurable experience. As in the past… After all it’s being 15 days no food… Got into action…
Nothing. Not much taste in a kind of tomato I always liked! No excitement. No richness. Feeling was as if neither my body, nor my taste sensors care about food. I was chewing it as a robot who’s controlling program made it to eat… I stumbled. Instead of getting ready to control my flooding urge to eat more, I was only witnessing my robot-like body in the process of eating and was UN-impressed!
This reaction was not only absent from my previous experience but I never have read about it in those books which I am in possession.
Now I got a new task: to gently guide my body to remember eating process, while been careful to not allow all the dam get loose and flooded… after 2 days, going to the grocery shopping, kicked the old senses in… meal after meal, old tastes turned on. Today I am in the old game: enjoying but beware – new habits of eating are not registered yet, but the old ones are already active and alive! Caving in to the old ones would ruin the new accomplishments of this fast… conscious work must continue for some time even after the exit from the fast until new thought patterns regarding food get established in the mind…
Mind, moods, emotions… This is more complex to understand and to learn from, though this was the main purpose of my fast. After the pangs of the hunger vanished, mind was calming down consistently with each day. I wrote in my diary on the 10th day that I already enjoyed stability, calmness and overall “sattvic” feeling brought about by the fast. This calmness brought with it sense of growing inner power. I did not get to hear the inner voice regarding my personal problems yet, but overwhelming sense of peace and balance was encouraging. At the same time “inner voice” started “whispering”. It started about the problems of the seekers of true “authentic” Kriya teaching. This topic started circulating in my head in early mornings since day 8 of the fast. Subsequent mornings increased the depth of the knowledge to enlarge the scope of the topic to the overall guidance to the right path within Yoga. I was in the process of visualizing a complete picture of what the Kriya is within the domain of Raja Yoga, what are the causes of the perceived confusions and guidance to the clear cut path within it. All seemed to be very promising and I urgently needed it…
All experience was positive until day 11… The evening before I somewhat messed up my schedule. Don’t remember why or how. I only know that meditation that evening was either non-eventful or skipped at all.
Next night I woke up around 2 am to realize that I am nowhere on my path, I accomplished nothing, failed miserably too many times to count, made every attempt to straighten out my life only to fall again and again… I couldn’t fall asleep any more, neither to meditate as any attempt to focus in meditation only magnified my mental misery as if giving it another strength! I was in the hell! I tried to do Yoni repeating Om into the Kutashta to the point of exhaustion… hell deepened. Tried a sincere devotional Bhakti worship in dualistic approach to God – no results (at least the misery did not magnify any more)… in a hell of the moment…
The only “straw” to hold on to was: ” It wasn’t like this yesterday… what is different now? I had the reason before… where is it now?… it is all impermanence… this will pass too… “
Subconscious Samskaras popped up… they were still in me… I know they are in me now too …
All I could do was this: observe. Here they are… I know this is me too… Accept it as my reality. Don’t judge… let it display in all it’s “glory” and to pass too…
It was a horrible experience. Next morning the storm subsided. There was a resting calm again. This turbulence did not repeat again. Only one day like this throughout 15 days of fasting experience. From the next morning on, balance, purpose and energy were gradually built up back again with resumed inner voice on the same topic which was interrupted by the “hell”. One thing was left as a scar though – inherent insecurity from being dependent so much on mind/ego.
The end result of the fast is this:
- Rejuvenated body
- Rejuvenated sense of the purpose and commitment to a New Me
- Increased energies to follow my mission
- Increased focus, lightness and ability to concentrate in meditation
Will I keep the gifts brought about by austerity of fasting?
This cannot be answered by fasting though…