Fasting or Upavasa entails the act of abstaining from consuming food for the greater good of one’s soul and body. Known as Upavasa in Sanskrit, Upa means “near” and vasa mean “to stay”. The word loosely translates to “stay near the lord”. It forms an integral part of Hinduism and is an act of sacrifice, where one sacrifices worldly pleasures like food for the greater good of attaining peace and self-control.
Along with the nourishment of mind, body and soul through controlled fasting- fasting health benefits has much more to its credit.
Also, it has its place in many cultures. In ancient Greece, Hippocrates had prescribed therapeutic fasting for many ailments. In Theravada Buddhism, it happens to be an integral part of the monastic lifestyle. During the holy month of Ramadan, millions of Muslims observe fasting worldwide also.
Fasting health benefits is also a way to grow both spiritually and physically. Inherent to this revered ritual is the feeling of general wellness, a peace that abounds oneself to abstain from the simple pleasures of life. Taking into consideration the innumerable fasting benefits, the physical health of an individual stands to gain the most. Its goodness is equally appreciated in the sacred texts of the Vedas, Ayurveda and behind the science of fasting.
Fasting health benefits- ‘Ahimsa’
The food habits vary with different belief systems of different communities. Indian eating habits are as varied as they come. A plethora of spices, herbs, dairy products and fresh vegetables add to Indian cuisine. To have conquered your heart over the mouth-watering Indian food in itself means that one has mastered the art of self-control.
While there many discussions over the consumption of meat have done, which is looked down on in Vedic scripts, Hinduism essentially does not discourage meat-eating but it strongly disavows “himsa” or violence against fellow species. Due to this, many Hindus prefer a vegetarian diet.
Know more about the healthy eating habits in India
How to fast for health?
The Indian literature on Mitaraha has highly contributed to the field of dietetics and the science of fasting. The Sanskrit word literally translates to ‘a habit of moderate food’. They speak about the importance of inculcating a habit of proper dietary practices.
They shed light on mainly two sections- The philosophical aspects of maintaining a moderate diet and secondly, the art of aharatattva. The texts of Upanishads and Sutras speak of the importance of maintaining a restrained and well-balanced diet. The book of Samhitas, among its many prayers and mantras, discuss the food habits suitable for different occasions. Sandilya Upanishad also speaks widely about Mitahara.
The Taittiriya Upanishad has the earliest mention of the concept of Mitahara. Its pious hymns speak about the importance of leading a life inclined towards healthy eating habits. Mitahara also finds its place in chapter 6 of the Bhagavad Gita which says that the yogi way of life is all about striking a balance between the required amount of food and sleep.
The South Indian text of Tirukkural, written by Tiruvalluvar also discusses all that a man stands to gain by changing his unhealthy eating habits. The text also warns against overeating and how it can wreak havoc in one’s life. Taking into view the various fasting health benefits- the health of individuals really have been taking a turn for the better as these ancients texts tell us.
The art of Aharatattva
In Hindu mythology, the word Vrat means ‘a vow or a rule’.The hymn 9.112.1 of Rig Veda calls a man’s vocation to be his vrat. It also, in hymn 1.93.8 calls any act of sacrifice to be vrat. In general, it is a religious practice that could either be a fast, or a pilgrimage, or a special puja or even a recitation of mantras. It is a term very closely related to upavas.
Types of fasting according to Hindu culture
India is the land of diversities, different cultures and practices exist among each religion. The love of one billion individuals has given birth to the name Hindustan or India. It is home to nearly 996 million Hindus who practice and adhere to different deities and rituals.
There are different types of fasting common to a typical Hindu household. Be it a festival, a holy day of a month, or an auspicious occasion- the benefits of fasting for a day even is immense.
Fasting Health Benefits- Culture and religion
The different revered deities of Hinduism are paid respect on different days of the week through rituals and fasts. Those observing fasts only eat once a day and conduct pujas by visiting temples of the many deities. Some of them also abstain from eating certain kinds of food items.
Fasting during the week
Many people observe upavasa on Mondays as a mark of respect for Lord Shiva. Their day starts and ends with a revered ‘Om Namah Shivaya’. Unmarried women, on this day, observe vrat as an austere for a good marriage. It is generally an auspicious day to fast for the prosperity of one’s family.
Tuesday is dedicated to four deities namely Lord Ganesh, Durga Ma, Goddess Kali and Lord Hanuman. Any food containing salt is not consumed by the ones observing their fast. The fasts on Wednesdays are observed for planet Mercury and Lord Vithal, a reincarnation of Lord Krishna. It is a good day to start off any new ventures and those observing a vrat would be blessed with fortunes.
Lord Vishnu and his incarnations are generally worshipped on Thursdays. People offer special pujas with ghee and milk to the lord on this day. Dedicated to Mata Santhoshi, a reincarnation of Goddess Durga Friday is when women observe fast for physical and mental health. On Saturday, people generally observe fasts to escape the evil effects of planet Shani(Saturn).
Offerings to Lord Narayana are made on Sunday, and cleansing of aura on this day is done through fasting. These days and their significance convey the health benefits of intermittent fasting.
Fasts on festivals
Known as the land of festivals, there is no dearth in India for festivals or the rituals that accompany them. Associated with most of the festivals are gods and goddesses and different vrats. Home to North India, Navratri is a nine-night Hindu festival as the name suggests and is a much favoured time for Durga Ma’s devotees to observe a fast.
Devotees fast for nine days in the hope of getting blessings from the goddess of prosperity. Some other popular festivals, such as Shivratri and Karva Chauth are also celebrated by observing fast.
Fasting Health benefits- Lunar cycle
Among the different kinds of fasting, Ekadashi is the most common. People often fast on the eleventh day of each ascending and descending moon. The word itself entails that we should control our 5 senses and one mind. This special day is one of the most auspicious days in Hindu cosmology and hence fastings on these days remain powerful. This fast is an offering to Lord Narayan.
Do you know why we do fasting on the night of Mahashivratri? Know the science behind Mahashivratri.
Fasting benefits on health as in the scriptures
Among the different joys that abound in this seemingly simple life of ours, the food, the people and the wonderful moments in between become important. We, humans, are lovers of food, explorers of different cuisines and experiences. And there is no greater control than controlling our love for food. So, for prolonged fasting health benefits, one must control his cravings for food through willpower and determination. Fasting is the epitome of all good things that come with self-restraint. Fasting is also a way to reign in the ever-wandering mind. In this world where one’s materialistic pleasures precede spiritual gains, fasting is a method to make sure that you give importance to what matters most.
According to Hinduism, fasting brings about a period of contemplation where our soul is in sync with our body. It ushers in a feeling of peace and contentment. This is ultimately what any being on earth seeks for the harmony of the soul and body.
Hidden Science of fasting according to scriptures
To the ever turbulent lashing waves of our mind, fasting comes as a blessing in disguise. It is a ritual to cleanse one’s body and soul of impurities. By doing this we invite positive energies to gush forth within and also permeate those in our immediate circle. It is one of the paths of unwavering focus and a step closer to the divine. One who is in control of his desires is ultimately the master of his world.
With better control of one’s mind comes a heightened understanding of the self. It takes us on a path of introspection and becomes a tool to check our emotions. Hunger is usually a state where our emotions and desires get the better of us. We are under a spell to do anything and everything to satisfy our pangs of hunger.
It is a state of no control where we do not think clearly. Fasting makes us more receptive to our outer environment by giving us a strong grip on our minds. Those who practice upavasas find it easier to control their emotions and can easily detach themselves from sudden emotions. Our digestive system also cleanses easily.
Fasting health benefits- What science has to say!
Science and medicine have much to say about the benefits that come with fasting. Eyeing the fasting health benefits, health sectors are all praise for this wondrous ritual. Just like the Vedas, science strongly backs the emotional benefits of fasting. In this fast-paced world where one is always on the run to be the first and the best; a simple ritual such as fasting can be of immense help.
Benefits of fasting on the Brain:
Fasting helps the brain function by lessening the production of some inflammatory proteins like cytokines. Different studies have also shown promising responses to the increased resistance of the brain to mental stress attributed to intermittent fasting benefits. They also show that fasting lessens the chances of a neurodegenerative disorder.
Benefits Diabetes Patients:
Due to the fewer intakes of calories, prolonged fasting health benefits that accompany the process becomes a sigh of relief for the people with bad cholesterols. With less intake of sugar, the demand for insulin falls which is another sigh of relief for people suffering from Diabetes.
Role of Fasting in Weight Control:
This pedantic nature of man like worrying over increasing weight has ‘Fasting’ as the best solution. And is also a go-to option to lead a well-balanced lifestyle and burn some extra fat while at it. The benefits of fasting for a day includes reduced calorie intake which in turn leads to less fat accumulation. It also moderates appetite by bringing about a feeling of fullness.
Another review found that intermittent fasting over 3–12 weeks was effective in inducing weight loss. Considering the fasting benefits, health services have been really appreciative of its merits.
Benefits in lowering Cholesterol:
Apart from aiding weight loss, the health benefits of fasting for 24 hours also include improved cardiovascular functioning. People falling victim to heart problems constitute a major chunk of the deaths in the present world. It accounts for 31.5% of the global annual deaths. Fasting causes a fall in blood pressure which in turn reduces one’s chances of heart problems.
Hence knowing how to fast for health becomes all the more important in today’s world. Once we start inculcating fasting into our lifestyle, owing to these fasting benefits, health issues would become the least of our worries.
To sum up, while the health benefits of intermittent fasting are aplenty still anything overdone poses the threat to nullify the benefits reaped. It must be kept in mind that one should be mindful of his capacity. Fasting for longer periods can cause sudden blood sugar crashes. Hence one must always be mindful of the changes that come with fasting. Staying hydrated is part and parcel of fasting.
The process is all about bringing about a feeling of wellness and not starving oneself. It should be a celebration of self-restraint and well-disciplined life rather than a chore. Fasting for health benefits alone makes it feel like one, so it should be more of a hobby as if you’re passionate about it. And behold, when you start enjoying the art of fasting your life indeed will change for the best!