Fasting has always terrified me. The thought of denying my body nourishment, of intentionally renouncing food for a period of time feels like an attack not only on my biological needs and rhythms, but leaves me feeling emotionally destabilized and empty. I draw so much comfort and joy from eating that it takes the greatest self-discipline to shift my habits in any significant way.
Consume Less of Everything
In a world which overhypes eating and everything related to it (just see Instagram), fasting has taken on some new and interesting dimensions. On the one hand, I am wary of engaging with the health-and-weight-loss-crazed facet that is certainly one central motivator for many who choose to fast. On the other hand, I appreciate the un-marketability of 'real' fasting. Fasting is, inherently, a less-is-more sort of process – which means that it invites us to pare down, to detach from the addiction of consuming and then sharing what we've consumed in order to further consume validation in the form of 'likes.' When we fast, we can choose to make the process holistic: tuning in and dropping out for a bit, letting ourselves quiet and settle.
Connect to the Moon Cycles
I recently attended an ayurveda lecture at the studio where I teach. Here, I learned about Ekadashi fasting for the first time. Ekadashi means 'eleven' in Sanskrit, and in this case refers to the eleventh day after new moon and the eleventh day after full moon. Both of these days are credited with a lunar energy that is especially suited for cleansing, deep reflection and fasting, and are used in this way by many in India and across the world. Hindu philosophy states that Ekadashi days are most suitable for fasting because the moonlight on these two days each month serves to nourish our heart, leaving us more easily able to abstain from other, cruder forms of nourishment.
If we choose to follow Ekadashi days for fasting and cleansing, we have an opportunity every two weeks according to the lunar calendar. The fasting usually begins with only a light meal at sundown of the previous day and then fasting from sunrise to sunrise the following day. Traditionally, grains and legumes are avoided entirely on Ekadashi days, even if some food is eaten. Fasting, in this case doesn't have mean complete renunciation of food – rather, it can be a pared down, simplified diet for a day, meant to draw focus and inward. Fruits, vegetables and dairy products are considered acceptable fare on an Ekadashi day. It could also mean fasting non-edibles – like social media, screens or other habits that we need pause from.
This intermittent approach to fasting that gives some room to consider what sort of abstinence might be most beneficial for us is one that I feel drawn to. I sense a connection also to yogic philosophy and the tenet of Bramacharya, which encourages us to learn to manage our energies wisely. Taking two days each month to consciously moderate my desires and my consumerism strikes me as a wonderful way to integrate Bramacharya into my life. Who wants to join me?
Photos: Sanjin Kastelan