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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