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Approximately four months ago, my husband and I came back from a vacation in Europe to a disaster at home.
A water line leak had destroyed our living and kitchen space.
We have been living off a refrigerator, microwave, and restaurants for the last few months while waiting for our house to get redone. After the first month, it got tedious. What was supposed to be a two-month project turned into four.
In the beginning, I tried to eat healthy. But there were a whole lot of stressors, including a family medical crisis, and I slowly started indulging. And indulging some more. Especially in those yummy simple carbohydrates that make us feel good temporarily. Not so unfamiliar, is it?
In a couple of months, I hit saturation point. I was disgusted. Heavy and uncomfortable in my own skin. Clothes didn’t fit right anymore. Yoga poses didn’t feel quite the same.
We cannot control everything that happens, but we can control what we put into our bodies.
I decided to undertake a water fast for the first time in my life to shake myself out of the comfort zone I had been in. I chose a water fast in particular because it is the most intense form of fasting. I have tried juice and fruit fasts years ago, and they were not challenging for me.
I wanted to challenge my mind and body and see what they were capable of. I needed something to push myself to the maximum edge of discomfort. Maybe it was a chance to break the cycle I had been in for a couple of months.
It was time to love my body more than I loved comfort food.
After doing tons of research, I embarked on an water fast comprising of water and herbal tea. Two to seven days is common—I chose seven days. A few sips of black coffee were also consumed on the second and third day. These were the hardest days with some prolonged headaches. After day four, energy levels increased and my body started coping with the fast well. I continued to teach yoga during this period, but did not engage in any intense workouts. I listened to my body and gave it rest as needed.
The bottom line is: a water fast is not easy. It takes a great deal of determination and willpower.
But our bodies are capable of much more than we think.
I experienced several moments when I desperately wanted at least a morsel of food. But these moments pass, if we are patient with them. If we breathe into them. Specifically, a belly breathing technique can help a lot during such moments.
At the end of the fast, my body felt lighter and more energetic. My skin felt baby soft. It was all goodness. But the most wonderful ways in which a fast can help transform the mind and body go way beyond this.
Here are some of the other benefits:
Increased clarity, alertness, and openness.
In spite of all the same stressors that still exist in my life, I had more clarity. There was more freshly oxygenated blood flowing to the brain. The mind felt lighter, more alert, and spacious. And who doesn’t want more brain power?
A transformational relationship with food.
I have generally been a healthy person, practicing and teaching yoga, and eating right for the most part. But the last few months changed my relationship with food. And comfort food for the soul isn’t a bad thing, but when it happens a little too often, it can become unhealthy.
The amount of food our body needs is less than the mind makes us believe sometimes. And a water fast drilled this into my head. I am a foodie, but I love my body as much as I love food. The water fast reminded me of that.
Increased ease in adapting to stress.
When I started the fast, life stressors were rather high. And at the end of the fast, they were still present. However, I experienced an increased ease in adapting to them.
Fasting is a challenge to the brain. Dr. Mark Mattson, a professor of Neuroscience at The Johns Hopkins University states that “Your brain responds to that challenge by adapting stress response pathways that help your brain cope with stress and disease risk.”
Increased sense of acceptance and contentment.
At the end of the fast, I felt an increased ease in accepting the present moment as is. Yoga and meditation help me greatly with that, but the fast just made acceptance even more natural, even in the midst of chaos. A sense of inner peace and contentment took over me.
Awakening of the dormant warrior.
During the last few months of hardship, when I indulged in unhealthy food, I did not feel like a warrior. I did not have the willpower to order healthy take out consistently. I succumbed. The warrior within me was on a sabbatical.
Undertaking a fast was brave and ignited the warrior spirit in me. It was an incredible feeling, a reminder of what exists within. But warriors are both brave and gentle, according to the great Buddhist master Chögyam Trungpa. I was kind to myself by taking adequate rest as needed during the intense fasting process.
Overall, it was an experience that I would be up for again at some point in my life. Sometimes, the body and mind need a jolt, maybe even what may seem like going to the extreme to reset and find balance.
“Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity. Enter again into yourself.” ~ Saint Augustine