FASTING is the Ultimate Power

  • By Prema Raghavan
  • June 20, 2024
  • This comprehensive writing includes Benefits of Fasting, Religion and Fasting, Detoxification, When to fast, What Happens during Fasting, Fasting Guidelines, Breaking the Fast and Limitations to Fasting.

Nature is a delicately balanced system of cause and effect, which are inevitably and inextricably linked. No universal remedy for diseases has ever existed in the past, nor will any exist in the future. There is, nevertheless, a universal formula for health. Fasting is not so much a treatment for illness as it is a means for wellness. There is nothing new about the idea of fasting, except that it has been largely forgotten in today’s fast-paced, consumeristic life. If you feast, you must also fast. 

Benefits of Fasting 

Fasting conserves bodily energies that are otherwise employed in the digestive system and channels them for other purposes. Some of the benefits of fasting are:

1. Rests the digestive system and other vital organs.

2. Stops absorption of foods that decay in the gut.

3. Removes toxins and impurities from the blood.

4. Aids in repair of damaged tissue.

5. Enhances appreciation of food.

6. Increases the power of digestion and assimilation. 

7. Re-establishes body secretions and chemistry.

8. Improves mental power by calming the mind and sharpening the senses.

First published in Journal of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.


Religion and Fasting

There is science behind the tradition of Ekadashi fasting. The atmospheric pressure is at its lowest on Ekadashi, making it ideal for fasting.

During the bright and dark fortnight of every month, from Ekadashi until the full moon day or until the new moon day (as applicable), the oceans experience high tide. This is because the moon comes somewhat closer to the earth and pulls the water towards itself by force of gravity. Fluids comprise a large percentage of our body composition. The moon has a strong influence on water during these days. If one eats grains during Ekadashi, they absorb water and there is an increased chance of developing diseases.

Fasting for special purposes or during sacred occasions is characteristic of major world religions. In Jainism, fasting according to certain prescribed rules, accompanied by certain types of meditation, enables individuals to dissociate themselves from the material world and attain a transcendent state. Some Buddhist monks of the Theravada school fast as part of their meditation practices. In India, Hindu sadhus (holy men) are admired for their frequent personal fasts for various reasons.


The food we eat is not fully digested at times, particularly if we are under stress or eat the wrong kind of food. Half-digested food that is neither absorbed nor expelled circulates in the body as toxins. Ayurveda refers to such toxins as Ama, a Sanskrit word that literally means undigested or uncooked. All diseases have their roots in the formation of toxins. Eliminating existing toxins and avoiding new toxins are fundamental aspects of good health and healing. Fasting as a means of detoxification has been practised for centuries by many cultures around the world.

Detoxification primarily involves cleansing the blood. This process takes place automatically through removal of impurities from the blood by the liver, where toxins are processed for elimination. The body also eliminates toxins through the kidneys, intestines, lungs, lymph and skin. When this system is compromised or abused, impurities are not properly filtered and every cell in the body is adversely affected, resulting in various diseases.

Fasting aids this automatic cleansing process by:

1) Resting the organs.

2) Stimulating the liver to drive toxins out of the body.

3) Promoting elimination through the intestines, kidneys and skin.

4) Improving blood circulation.

5) Preparing the body to be refuelled thereafter with nutrients.

Because of the energy used up in digestion and since most foods continuously load the body with new toxins, the body is unable to detoxify efficiently during the normal course. Rest is therefore a necessary element of detoxification. The body’s energies are concentrated in cleansing the system. Through this process, the body’s healing powers are greatly enhanced. 

When to Fast

Fasting is advisable under the following circumstances:

Health breakdown: A fast becomes imperative during a health breakdown, but must be undertaken under medical supervision.

Sluggishness: When one is not particularly sick but feels run down, even a one-day fast is very effective.

Routine maintenance: People often fast one day in a week as a routine for health or spiritual reasons. Loss of appetite is a common complaint amongst the sick.

In a majority of cases, nature takes away the appetite because a fast is needed. Loss of appetite is simply an indication that the system is over-charged with pathogenic matter. A short fast is the simplest method to relieve the system. In the animal kingdom, where the rules of nature are instinctively abided by, fasting is practised when sick, wounded or hibernating.

Bowel trouble is a good indication to undertake a fast. Mere observation of one’s bowel movement and stool can help one track digestive health as indicated below. 

Healthy: Brown in colour, Well formed, Paste-like consistency, well hydrated and Slips out easily without any strain or discomfort

Unhealthy: Stool that is pencil thin, hard or lumpy, Soft foul-smelling stool that sticks to the toilet, Whitish mucus in the stool, Feeling of incomplete evacuation and Undigested food in stool.


What Happens During Fasting?

Fasting is a purifying and rejuvenating process while starvation is a destructive and potentially fatal process. Normally, our body stores for itself a reserve of nutritive materials in the form of fat, bone marrow, glycogen, lacteal fluids, minerals and vitamins. While fasting, the body draws upon its reserves to nourish its tissues. Fasting is abstaining from food while possessing adequate reserves to nourish one’s vital tissues. In contrast, starving is abstaining from food after one’s reserves have been exhausted, whereby vital tissues are compromised. 


The scheme of nutrition in humans and other higher order animals consists of the following steps:


1. Eating and digesting food and elimination of indigestible waste.

2. Passage of digested nutrients through the walls of the digestive tract into the blood stream, which carries them to all the cells of the body.

3. Absorption of these nutrients by the cells.

4. The final utilisation of these nutrients in various activities of life.


The first three of these processes go on only when food is being eaten or for a short period thereafter. But the fourth process continues as long as life exists. The body’s vital functions, wear-and-tear and its repair and replenishment do not cease during fasting. While fasting, enzymes stored as reserves in the body are made available for use by the vital tissues. 


The body is very selective in the order in which it uses its reserves, starting with fatty tissues. In doing so, it also begins a thorough cleansing process whereby it ejects all the toxins accumulated in the cells over time.


Fasting Guidelines

How one begins and conducts a fast determines its effectiveness. It is not advisable to abruptly stop eating on the day of a fast. It is safer to prepare the system for a fast through a raw food diet lasting a day or two. This diet is low in protein and starch, and rich in alkaline and mineral elements.


It is advisable to restrict one’s activities during fasting so that energy is conserved and healing is accelerated. Quietude, peace and sensory inactivity help conserve energy. When one is at complete rest, bodily energies rejuvenate, cells replenish, tissues repair and organs refresh themselves to prepare for renewed activity. 


During a fast, drugs and herbal/ alternate medicines should be avoided. This is because biochemical changes that occur during fasting may alter the way the body handles the medicine. While fasting, the body’s resistance to cold is likely to be lower. Chillness inhibits the elimination of toxins and therefore the body must be kept warm during a fast. There is a particular need for cleanliness during a fast. Baths must be of short duration and with lukewarm water. This is because the body expends less energy when the temperature of the bath water is closer to that of the body.


The optimum duration of a fast varies and must be customised according to individual need and health condition. Beginners usually start with a short 24/36-hour fast. A do it-yourself fast of more than two days must not be attempted.


A three-day fast aids detoxification. A five-day fast begins the healing process and rebuilding of the immune system. Longer fasts can pre-empt many problems and help avert various illnesses. Water fast, whereby nothing other than water is consumed, must be done under supervision. At least ten glasses of water must be consumed daily. Working and driving are not advisable during this period. It is important to choose a stress-free day for such a fast.

A liquid fast involving fresh juice can be done without supervision and is advisable for beginners. Organic vegetables, fruit juices or coconut water are advisable during such a liquid fast. Canned and bottled juices are not recommended. It is better to avoid highly acidic juices like tomato. Be sure to drink water with the juices.


Being aware of the way our desire for food varies during a fast helps us keep it in check. Taking the example of a four-day fast, the desire for food typically exists on the first day of the fast, is heightened on the second, decreases on the third and finally abates on the fourth. When one starts the fast, physical changes occur that need not be a cause for alarm. Some normal symptoms include:


1. Heavy coating of the tongue.

2. Bad taste in the mouth.

3. Bad odour in the breath.

4. Dark colouring of urine.

5. Vomiting and diarrhoea (in some cases, indicative of the cleansing process).


Here are some recommendations from naturopathy:  Fast once a week, on a day when your workload is less.


1. Eat a light meal on the evening prior.

2. Drink 8-10 glasses of lukewarm water during a fast to settle hunger.

3. Engage in light activities: read light books, meditate and sit in a natural environment.

4. Avoid jogging and heavy exercises.

5. Avoid fasting during a serious medical ailment.


Breaking the Fast 

The most important rule is to never force food into the stomach unless there is a definite demand. The ideal moment to break the fast is when hunger returns. The aforementioned symptoms are then reversed—clean tongue, sweet breath, clean taste and clear urine —indicating the removal of toxins from the body and its readiness to receive food. 


The care to be exercised in breaking a fast is directly proportional to the length of the fast. A fast should be broken by slowly sipping a glass of fresh fruit juice. After a fast, the digestive organs are in a condition of complete inactivity and to overload them suddenly with a big meal can cause indigestion. The hydrochloric acid in the stomach may have been weakened by fasting and has to be built up along with digestive enzymes. Hence, a fast is best broken gradually. This also presents a good opportunity to change one’s eating habits to include a healthier diet. 

A few suggestions for breaking a fast:


1. Eat a date to break a one-day fast. Dates help the body to reactivate the digestive process. They give the body the energy it needs to deal with more complex food.

2. Break an extended fast with fruits such as watermelon or diluted lime/orange juice.

3. While continuing to drink fruit or vegetable juices, add the following:

First day—fresh salad without any dressing 

Second day—boiled or baked potato with the skin and without seasoning

Third day—steamed seasonal vegetables 

Fourth day—return to normal diet 


Limitations of Fasting 

Fasting may be impractical for many because of their lifestyle and commitments. Fear, anxiety and apprehension of the effects of fasting can prove counterproductive. People who are underweight or with physically weak constitutions may not be able to withstand even a short fast.


With respect to obese people, it is important to know whether their overweight is caused by normal fat or bloating. If the encumbrance is due to superfluous fats or accumulated waste, fasting may suffice to eliminate the impurities. However, if obesity has its origin in other causes or is due to a weak negative constitution and lowered power of resistance, fasting may aggravate the abnormal condition instead of improving it.


Whatever weight one sheds during fasting is usually regained once the fast ends, unless lifestyle changes are made. Obesity has become a very common problem and is the cause for a number of ailments. This is because modern lifestyles overfeed and under-nourish the body. A gradual weight reduction programme through fasting followed by a healthy long-term diet regimen is safe and efficient. A crash diet on the other hand is unadvisable and detrimental to the body.


Based on the evidence from studies on animals and humans, a periodic fasting routine during adult life can promote optimal health and reduce the risk of many chronic diseases, particularly for those who are overweight and sedentary.


The cleansing process of fasting heals the body and the mind. It can be universally practised and provides a useful tool for the maintenance of holistic health.


This article was first published in the Bhavan’s Journal, June 16-30 2024 issue. This article is courtesy and copyright Bhavan’s Journal, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai-400007. eSamskriti has obtained permission from Bhavan’s Journal to share. Do subscribe to the Bhavan’s Journal – it is very good.


Also read

1. Fasting a perspective

2. Jainism, science and intermittent fasting

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