Advanced Yoga Practices
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Lesson 310 - Fasting - A Powerful Spiritual Practice  (Audio)

AYP Plus Additions:
310.1 - Why are AYP Fasting Instructions so Varied?

From: Yogani
Date: Feb 24, 2009

New Visitors: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the web archive, as previous lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why This Discussion?"

Restricting or eliminating food intake for a time, known as fasting, is an ancient practice that can be found in most of the worlds spiritual traditions. These days, it has been ritualized in the religions to the point of being little more than an occasional ceremonial observance. Yet, there is great value hidden in fasting that is being rediscovered in modern times as more people have sought to reveal the underlying truths in their religion and the effectiveness of spiritual methods that have been utilized by serious practitioners for thousands of years.

The principle behind fasting is simple. When the body is given an opportunity to take a break from processing food, it will purify itself. Its energy resources are naturally redirected from digestion and assimilation, and are fully devoted to conducting an inner cleanup. In this mode, the body is much better able to overcome disease and obstructions in the organs, tissues and nervous system, including the subtle neurobiological blockages within us that are the primary inhibitors of our spiritual unfoldment. So, prudent fasting is both an effective health therapy and an important spiritual practice, all rolled into one.

Fasting is an aspect of diet, because diet is not only about what we are eating, but also about what we are not eating. While, in the strictest sense, fasting is about not eating anything for a period of time, the fasting effect, can also be observed to be working to one degree or another across the entire range of our dietary habits. In other words, the health and spiritual benefits of eating a light and nutritious diet are due in large part to the fasting effect, which is a condition of inner functioning that provides the natural processes of the body a greater opportunity to engage in cleansing, purification and opening.

So, while a purist may regard anything more than zero food consumption to not be fasting, we are more interested in the practical results that can be achieved by moderating food intake to varying degrees at different times. This brings us back into our main diet discussion, which is about what we are doing with food every day, whether we are doing a full-blown fast, or simply favoring lighter more nutritious eating habits. Both will be stimulating the fasting effect to varying degrees.

The goal in the AYP system is to effectively utilize all of the known principles of human spiritual transformation through the integration and optimization of effective practices. This will, by necessity, draw us away from extremist attitudes about any particular spiritual method. As with diet, attitudes about fasting that we see in the world may also have a tendency toward an extreme magic bullet mentality and flight of fancy, with a corresponding loss of focus on maintaining a balanced approach. The extreme approaches we may encounter as we explore knowledge sources on fasting do not invalidate the usefulness of the underlying principles themselves. We just need to find a rational moderate approach.

Those who pursue extreme approaches can distort the real value to be found in the method they may be fanatically promoting. Let's not be swayed by extreme points of view, and take the middle road that takes good advantage of sound principles of spiritual transformation leading to steady progress with safety.

We began with sound spiritual practices like deep meditation and spinal breathing pranayama. And then we discussed the natural emergence of healthful and spiritually evolutionary eating habits. We make choices about these things as our awareness expands from within and as our neurobiology naturally seeks a higher mode of functioning. It is the same when we consider fasting. We have been moving in that direction already.

There are several ways to approach fasting. It will depend on our personal preferences, and also on our metabolic health when starting out.

The simplest way to add more of the fasting effect into our daily routine is to skip a meal for several days running. Our ability to do so will depend largely on our comfort level. For some, it will be very uncomfortable and difficult. For others, fairly easy. It is a good place to start with our own experiment in fasting. Skipping a meal does not mean eating twice as much at the next meal. It means reducing the total food intake for a day, one meals worth, or for several days if we find it to be comfortable.

For those with a medical condition such as hypoglycemia or diabetes, where reducing food consumption could be hazardous, a doctor should be consulted before undertaking any sort of fast.

The advantage of the meal skipping approach is that it is easy for almost anyone to do anytime, to begin experiencing the fasting effect. The disadvantage in the meal skipping approach is that we may notice discomfort expressing itself as hunger. With a fast involving no food for several days or more, the discomfort we have called "hunger" is generally found not to be hunger, because it passes as the fast continues. Then we know it for what it is the biological withdrawal symptoms associated with a habitual dependence on food intake. No one will starve in a few days or even a few weeks without food. But many have felt like they were starving, due to the withdrawal symptoms associated with no food intake after only a few hours. Interestingly, those who are on a long fast don't feel hungry, once the initial adjustment has occurred. For those who have experience with fasting for several days or more, the discomfort passes until much later when a genuine hunger returns. This latter stage hunger is a signal that a fast may be ended naturally.

Liquids are another matter. No fast should ever be undertaken without adequate hydration. Our body needs water on a daily basis to continue to function, whether we are fasting or not. On a strict fast, only water is necessary to continue it. There is also the popular juice fast, which adds nutrients, particularly sugar, which is an energy source. For those who are inclined toward ongoing discomfort during a fast, a juice fast may be preferable.

We each will find our own balance. For many of us, moving gradually to a light and nutritious diet may be more than enough. This too involves the fasting effect lightening the food processing load in the body so our energies can better support our inner processes of purification and opening, and also the production of refined substances in the digestive system and elsewhere that are directly related to our emerging enlightenment.

This brings up the matter of kundalini again, which is the rise of ecstatic conductivity and radiance in our body, facilitated by the associated refinements in digestion.

If we are adjusting to an awakening kundalini, we should follow an appropriate diet, which will at times lean toward a heavier diet and eating more often to temper the fire in the GI tract. During this stage of our inner development, fasting will not be advisable, as it can accelerate the purification process and exacerbate our kundalini symptoms.

Fasting is most useful before we have awakened our inner energies, and then later on when our higher neurobiology has stabilized. During the in-between period of kundalini energy awakening and adjustment, we will be wise to adjust our eating habits to support that. There is a time for everything, and everything in its own time.

In cases of illness, fasting can be combined with Amaroli (urine therapy) to apply the powerful combined natural healing effects provided by these two practices. This will be further discussed in upcoming lessons.

Fasting may also be combined with sun gazing and breathing techniques, which profess to provide the means for sustaining life from sunlight and air, without food intake. Whether this is true or not remains to be investigated by modern science. If such abilities exist within us, we may find signs of their manifestation as a result of long term yoga practice. Focusing on such phenomena to the exclusion of deep meditation, spinal breathing pranayama and other yoga practices will likely be premature. Let's be mindful of our tendency to get caught up in flights of fancy.

The advantage of self-directed and self-paced spiritual practice is that we can make adjustments in our practices as necessary to accommodate our inner unfoldment. This applies to the evolution of our diet over the long term, and to the judicious use of fasting according to our preferences and needs.

The guru is in you.

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Note: For discussion on the role of fasting on our spiritual path, see the Diet, Shatkarmas and Amaroli book, and AYP Plus.

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