Fasting, is practised quite widely around the world. It is considered an integral part of the Indian culture and tradition and is also a religious practice among some religions. However, it is important to understand the concept and principles behind this practice in order to fully benefit from it.
Upavasa- Fasting in Ayurveda
Ayurveda describes fasting as ‘Upavasa’, defined as the abstinence from all the four forms of food; chewing, licking, swallowing and drinking.
According to original Sanskrit Ayurvedic writings, ‘Fasting is the secret of well-being’. The writings suggest that health seekers should,
“Chikitsatam vyadhikaram pathyam sadharanam aushadam prayshitam prakritisthapanprashanam itaman”
“individuals ought to eliminate everything that is disruptive, that is not completeness, by that which is reasonable for the person, utilizing methods and arrangements to re-establish the person, to re-build prakriti (nature of your body) and appease that which is helpful for well-being”.
Principle of fasting
The doshas (humours) in the body, especially those in the Amashaya (digestive viscera) reduces the intensity of the digestive fire. This is said to cause digestive impairment, production and piling up of metabolic toxins (Ama) which block the minute channels of the body, causing innumerable diseases.[i]
Fasting is a powerful approach to ignite the digestive fire that burns away all accumulated toxins that are saturated in the body and mind. During fasting, absence of food in the viscera brings about digestion of the metabolic toxins, kindles the digestive fire and removes the blockage in the channels.
Process of fasting
- According to Ayurveda, the time and sort of fasting is based on the body type of an individual. It relies on the Vaya (age), Agni (fire), Kala (season) and Dosha of the person (Vata, Pitta and Kapha).
- The doshas are found to have unique metabolic activities where kapha is slow, pitta is fast, and vata is considered to have variable metabolism.
- Ayurveda states Spring (Shishira Rutu) as the best time for fasting, according to which the cold and moist period from the end of February onwards, is exceptionally appropriate.
- Long haul fasting can hamper health and therefore as suggested in Ayurveda, short term fasting like once a week at the similar time or few days every month is effective.
Treatment of diseases
The therapeutic importance of fasting is recommended in few diseases, when the disease manifests due to the accumulation of toxins (Ama) in the digestive system (Amashaya):
- Fever– referred to as ‘Jwara’, results due to blocked channels causing loss of appetite and perspiration.
- Digestive disorder: diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting
- Other illnesses– Obesity, irregular menstruation and infertility.
Fasting should be administered and performed in a systematic way and under medical supervision. The few circumstances where fasting is inadvisable are:
- Vata predominant disorders like heart diseases, asthma, etc.
- Old, young individuals and pregnant women.
- Those who experience excessive hunger, thirst.
- Those with emotional extremities like anxiety, etc.
Fasting and Health
As per Ayurvedic texts:
रोगास्तस्यापहर्तारः श्रेयसो जीवितस्य च|
“Health is the best source of virtue, wealth, gratification and emancipation while diseases are destroyers of this (source), welfare and life itself.”[iii]
Ayurveda considers health as a state of equilibrium, but in today’s world, health is compromised due to increasing lifestyle changes and exposure to several toxic substances. It is thus essential to cleanse and eliminate the body from these toxins in order to boost immunity and well as promote healthy lives. Lifestyle practices that incorporate medically supervised fasting, reduces the risk of chronic diseases disorders, but more importantly promotes health and well-being.
Adiga, H., Hebbar, K., & Adiga, R. (2019). ‘Fasting’ the Forgotten Fortune of Fitness and Ayurveda. Indian Journal Of Public Health Research & Development, 10(11), 2481. doi: 10.5958/0976-5506.2019.03980.9