Fasting Concept - An Ayurvedic Approach
All most every medical and health science on this planet recognized the advantages of fasting concept in many different ways. Fasting is selected as a treatment for a few health disorders as well as for maintaining and to improve the quality of health. Also, fasting concept has a fundamental part among ceremonial as well as for spiritual reasons.
What is fasting?
Abstain from all or some kind of food or drinks. In Sanskrit fasting is called Upavasa. As per Ayurveda, concept of fasting / upavasa comes under Langhana Karma (Depletion Therapy), which is one among the basic principles of treatment. Langhana is derived from the word ‘Laghu’ which means ‘light’. The purpose of langhana therapy is ‘to make the body light’. Any therapies, herbs, lifestyle or diet that brings lightness to the body is called Langhana. So upavasa comes under langhana therapy.
Ayurveda believes ‘Langhanam paramaushadham’, means depletion therapy is the best treatment modality for many diseases, which includes fasting. Also recommended to do langhana in the treatment of diseases such as fever, vomiting, diarrhea, indigestion, obesity, diabetes, and many other diseases caused by ama (toxins).
Importance of fasting
Overeating, wrong eating habits, processed foods, unhealthy foods, poor quality foods, along with vitiated doshas reduce the intensity or impair the digestive fire and cause digestive disturbances. Over a period of time, these lead to the formation of metabolic toxins (Ama).
Eventually, with the continuous indulge in poor dietary habits and lifestyle, toxic material moves to the deeper body channel and circulates throughout the body. These sticky heavy toxins then settle in the body channels and different body tissues and manifest various diseases.
While doing depletion therapy, the body gets more rest, particularly the digestion process, eventually helps to kindle the Agni (digestive fire) and metabolism, helps to controls the toxins, removes the stagnation and blockages in the body tissues and thereby minimizes the manifestation of diseases.
When and how to do a fast?
Ayurveda generally recommends short upavasa, which means not recommended to do zero fasting (complete abstain of food and drinks). Intense and extended upavasa can weaken the digestive fire. Like a strong wind can put off the fire (like blowing out a candle). As our digestive fire is like an oil lamp that requires proper oil (fuel), heat and air (oxygen) to ignite well.
The body can say when you need fasting or rest for the digestion process.
Here are some signs that say your body is ready for a reset or rest:
- When you feel tired or fatigued, particularly in the morning
- Gaining weight
- Heavy and lethargy, especially after meals
- Coated tongue
- Poor appetite
- Slow digestion and metabolism
Then choose the proper and right fasting concept, like with fluids or light meals like soups or even intermittent fasting. When the symptoms got clear and when you feel lighter, appetite improved and tongue got clear then stop the upavasa and gradually back to the solid diet.
Effects on doshas:
Fasting concept does not equally apply to everyone.
People with vata constitution (airy qualities) should not engage in upavasa unless doing it mindfully and know when to stop. Vata constitution having light, dry and unstable qualities, fasting can further increase those qualities and aggravates vata which can deplete the body tissues.
Pitta (fiery qualities) having intense and strong metabolism, long and intense fasting can make them irritable and can aggravate the Pitta.
Kapha dominance generally tolerates fasting quiet well. Means people who need airy qualities can indulge in fasting – like the kapha constitution or people with kapha imbalance, overweight or in the above said signs.
The duration and intensity of fasting is depending on dosha involvement. Longer duration for kapha involvement and shorter and mild duration for vata and pitta constitution. Not only the dosha involvement, the age, the strength of the person, imbalance, season and time of the day are all to be considered to choose the fast concept.
How to end a fast?
It is important not to jump into your regular diet right after you finish the upavasa. Slowly starts with light warm liquid which is easy to digest, then gradually and slowly back to semi-solid and then to a solid food diet. This helps to kindle the fire and capable to digest all forms of food.
Contraindications for fasting:
As upavasa is a lightening therapy, it can be very depleting for those who are very young (children), elderly people (old aged), menstruating days, underweight and chronic vata imbalances.
Fasting and weight loss:
Most people choose to fast for weight reduction. As per Ayurvedic point of view, weight problems are not only just because of overeating but slow metabolism too. Fasting can help to reduce the body weight for the short term. And in many cases putting on weight again when back to the normal solid diet is common. So one must correct the metabolism through understanding the fasting concept to achieve the benefits for the long term.
Ayurveda is a very tailor-made or an individualized system. It is important to follow and understand your unique strength and caliber, as well as what, when and how to do things.
1. Ashtanga hrudayam sutrastanam
2. Charaka samhita sutrstanam
3. International Journal of Science, Environment ISSN 2278-3687 (O) and Technology, Vol. 6, No 1, 2017, 787 – 792