Think Fast – Or Not

As regular readers of this blog, or my twitter feed, know, I’ve recently been fasting on “moon days.” This has meant full fasts on full moon days, new moon days, and ekadasi days. Having done so for a month, and having also completed two longer juice fasts in December, I’m trying to assess my reasons for fasting and whether I am accomplishing what I hoped with the process.

In December, I juice fasted for a total of 10 days (two 5 day fasts). This was partly to add additional tapas to my yoga journey, partly to cleanse the body in support of the principle of saucha, and partly to help my body physically process some strong drugs that I was given during a medical treatment. At the end of those experiences, I felt very positively about them (see previous post for details) and decided to investigate other plans/philosophies of fasting and yoga.

During this investigation, based on a suggestion of a teacher training peer, I encountered the triyoga idea of fasting, which encourages full (water only) fasting on the above noted moon days. This results in around four days of fasting per month.

While I have been able to do the fasting in the last month as planned, I’m a little conflicted about it right now. Fasting is not a religious undertaking for me; it’s a philosophical/physical undertaking. Thus, it needs to “make sense” to me in those ways. I understand the notion of freeing up energies usually associated with eating and I can see the value of that. But, I’m not sure it’s doing that for me.

Yesterday was a fast day, and coincidentally also a yoga teacher training class where we focused on the koshas. As we talked in class about the koshas and how yoga helps us to create more permeability in the physical, intellectual, and even emotional selves and thus improves access to the bliss self, I started to think about fasting in this way. Ideally, it appears to me that fasting is one way to remove focus from the “food layer” of the self and allow it to shift to other koshas. That seems good. But, I actually think, for me, full fasting is working the other way.

As an individual who has “struggled” with eating disorders for over 30 years, I’m not sure fully fasting is a good choice. I’ve fasted many many times in my life, and almost always for reasons completely related to the physical self and to the ego. I have a long history and a deeply ingrained pattern of seeing fasting as a way to weight loss or weight control. While I think the issues are relatively well controlled right now, fasting made them more present to me, not less. During fasting days, I found myself thinking about my weight and wondering if I would lose any weight. When I was hungry and considered breaking the fast, I convinced myself out of it not through any greater good, but through a combination of reminding myself that it would be good for my weight and refusing to “fail” at the effort. This is not exactly what I was going for with the fasting. These ramifications stretched somewhat into the day before and the day after the fast, when I wondered if I should reduce my diet more, so that the impact of the fast would be greater. The bottom line here is that I was actually more focused on the physical self and the ego, not less so. Hmmm…

I am not yet totally convinced that fasting is right out (to quote the great Monty Python) for me, but if I’m going to continue this as part of my yoga practice, I need to determine a way to do so that elevates my practice, rather than reinforces the “bad grooves” I already have.

This really highlights for me the idea that the practice of yoga is individual. Techniques – or poses – that work for one person may not work for another. Adjustments must be made to meet the needs of the student, whether that means an additional block or rethinking a fasting plan. Learning and yoga arrives in interesting forms!

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16 Responses to Think Fast – Or Not

  1. Meg says:

    Wow, serious stuff. Good on you for having enough self-awareness to examine this issue thoughtfully, and sitting with what’s uncomfortable rather than “using” the fasting to get your weight-loss jollies. It does seem like you’re relying on the fasting a bit though, for undetermined reasons. Worth investigating deeply.

    • theveganasana says:

      Thanks for reading, Meg. I felt myself putting off really examining my motives until the kosha discussion in class, and then I knew I just needed to really look at it. I think, until I can figure out the whys and wherefores of fasting for me, I’ll probably just put a hold on the process.

  2. Katie says:

    This is really interesting. I find I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what I eat recently as well.

    A few years ago I made some changes to the way I eat after reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and some other books about the food industry. I started eating locally and sustainably and joined a CSA, among other things.

    I’ve stuck with those changes, but I find that the “what to eat” issue is coming up recently again–possibly because of teacher training, the vegetarian/vegan issue as it pertains to yoga and ethics, and just generally being more aware of my body/health and considering the way different foods make me feel.

    So, I recently did a two-day smoothie “fast” as part of a detox/elimination diet, and then resumed eating a really restricted diet(vegan, soy-free, citrus-free, gluten-free, grain-free, nut-free etc.) for about a week. The idea was to eliminate all foods that tend to cause food sensitivities and then add them back in slowly. I thought I would feel great and more vibrant by not putting any meat/dairy/heavy stuff into my body. This was not about weight loss for me but just about eating only nutritious food and identifying food sensitivities. But, in fact,I felt pretty horrible, both physically and mentally. I was surprised by the strong cravings I had (and the resultant crankiness from being determined to not give in to said cravings!). I just felt really deprived and frustrated. I was eating super healthy stuff, and I thought I would feel fantastic, but I just didn’t. I ended up giving it up after about a week, and I’m usually pretty tenacious about not giving up on things (your comment on not wanting to “fail” at the effort resonates with me).

    My reaction was really surprising to me. I may have felt differently if I had given the diet more time (everyone does say that you will feel pretty bad the first week on detox diets), but I really felt it wasn’t worth it to continue.

    Through all this, I realized that I really really love food and cooking and that, at least for now, restricting my intake caused way more stress than benefit. Diet restriction triggered some negative patterns, just like for you, although they manifested in different ways. I might try this again in the future (perhaps in a less strict fashion and when I’m not also doing yoga teacher training), but for right now I am just going to focus on what I learned about myself and my relationship to food. Which is that strictly denying myself can trigger ridiculous cravings and much stress! This is something to be aware of and work on, but I know it certainly won’t change overnight.

    This also all relates to the article about self compassion that just circulated in our teacher training email group. I think we both struggle with being pretty hard on ourselves at times! Maybe these things are manifestations of that tendency?

    • theveganasana says:

      That makes sense to me (about compassion and the self). It’s funny what changes do strange things to the mental state. When I juice fasted, I didn’t feel deprived really, and wasn’t at all over-focused on the body issues. Maybe that’s because, being a vegan for a long while and eating primarily a fruit/veggie diet, it wasn’t that much of a shift? I’m not sure. But, not eating at all put me so quickly back in that “oh, cool, no calories for today… maybe if I only have a few hundred tomorrow, I’ll look thinner” frame of mind.

      I co-wrote an article a few years ago about mothering and eating disorders (related to the expectations of motherhood and femininity in US culture). One of the points I made in the article is that food issues are so hard to get away from, because we can’t just decide to stop having a relationship with food, no matter how nuts that relationship is. If I had issues with alcohol, I could stop drinking (with a whole lot of effort, of course). But, with food, we have to face our issues in one way or another every day.

      It’s all a bundle of mess, isn’t it? I’m glad you figured out that the diet changes weren’t helping you to a good place right now. With work, relationships, and teacher training, you have enough on your plate (HAHA!) without that added stress!

  3. Rachel Pokora says:

    I’m really glad you shared this reflection Lorin. I really identify with the question. I have been struggling with trying to find a way to be healthy without being obsessive. For years I counted “points” (the Weight Watchers system). I lost weight and kept it off but I was constantly adding things up in my head and obsessing about food. I really hated it even though it “worked.” I think my problem is that I haven’t learned to trust my body to tell me what it needs. First, I have to really listen to my body and I find that difficult.

    • theveganasana says:

      There is a quote by Henry Miller that I love:

      Our own physical body possesses a wisdom which we who inhabit the body lack. We give it orders which make no sense.

      It’s so hard to really listen to the body. We build up so many clever ways to ignore it!
      Thanks for reading, Rachel!

  4. Thais says:

    I think your self awareness and desire for introspection is beautiful. So thankful I found you <3 I would say more but the subject is rather sensitive in my mind right now (because of my own recent posting). I just wanted to leave so blogging love =)

  5. As you probably already guessed from something I said on Twitter the other day, your fasts make me nervous for you. I try to tell myself that you’re doing it for yoga reasons, but I can’t help but worry because I’m afraid you’re doing it for weight loss reasons as well, and that it feels like a safe cover to do it for yoga reasons. I’m glad to hear that you’re analyzing your reasoning behind it. You know I support whatever you do. I worry because I love you.

    • theveganasana says:

      I’m really glad that you asked me on Twitter about it. I had already been struggling with why I was doing it, but then when you asked and I responded, my words didn’t really ring true in my own ears and that was the impetus to really decide to call it off unless or until I figure out what I truly intend with it.
      Thanks for noticing and being bold enough to say something! XOXO

  6. Rebecca says:

    Just wanted to leave a note that the pure honesty of this entry is really appreciated. Fantastic analysis of self! xoxo

  7. Jennifer says:

    Hi Lorin!

    I think I’m done being just a lurker now; your posts are always so provocative, and your blog and others’ have inspired me to step out of the shadows!

    I really appreciate your honesty in this post, and I’ve struggled with a similar dilemma–the decision whether or not to become a vegetarian. I haven’t eaten red meat for 16 years, but I do eat poultry and fish. When I started seriously practicing yoga, and especially after I completed my YTT, I beat myself up for continuing to eat meat, as it didn’t coincide with the principles of ahimsa. I thought, “I’m a yogi; therefore, I should be a vegetarian!”

    I tried to cut out meat several times on and off, but the fact is, I keep coming back to my beloved turkey burgers and chicken tikka masala. I can’t help it–I like poultry. I love sauteed shrimp and tuna melts made with fresh tomatoes from our garden.

    I’ve seen all the movies (eg, Food Inc) and read the articles detailing the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle, but I’m just over trying to talk myself out of enjoying something that I love. I have a history of restricted eating as well, and trying to force myself into vegetarianism was just another form of that. I find that the more I “control” myself, the more out of control things get, ironically. Finding a healthy balance between two worlds is what suits me best!

    • theveganasana says:

      Yay for not lurking! I’m so glad you are commenting here.
      It’s such a loaded issue, food. We can’t set it aside, so we have to wrestle with it every day. We all have to draw a line where we can be in a way that doesn’t create more suffering. Maybe, for you, not eating poultry and fish would cause you and those around you suffering that is “bigger” in the universal sense than that caused by the meat eating. A healthy balance is required, regardless of where your fulcrum rests!

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