Intermittent Fasting: Go Without, Expand Within
Intermittent fasting has been a trendy subject lately. Yeah, detoxes and fasts in general have been on people’s minds for many years, but intermittent fasting seems to be the trend. What is it? Why would you want to do it? And what should you be fasting on are the central questions.
The word intermittent implies that fasting happens at irregular intervals; not continuous or steady. Wikipedia defines intermittent fasting as an umbrella term for various diets that cycle between a period of fasting and non-fasting. A fitness website defines it as not being a diet, but rather a dieting pattern; it is about making a conscious choice to skip certain meals. The time suggested is at least 16 hours between meals.
What’s So Great About Intermittent Fasting?
The idea is simple. Intermittent fasting gives the body a rest from digestion so it can concentrate on cleansing and healing the organs. The body does a major cleansing job every night, kind of like a German housewife keeps the house spic’n span. The stomach cleanses between 10 pm-12 am, the heart between 12-2am, liver and gallbladder 2-4 am and the colon, kidneys and bladder between 4-6 am. Intermittent fasting also resets your agni (digestive fire) resulting in better digestion and elimination.
What Should You Be Fasting On?
Most people, when hearing the word fasting, think about fasting on food. Right on, seems natural, right? However, turning on my Ayurvedic light bulb, I got to thinking that there is much more to fasting than going without food. After all we have a total of 5 senses. Besides taste there is sound, touch, sight and smell. So what about fasting on those?
For me the definition of fasting is the conscious choice to refrain from sensory overload. Knowing that the misuse of the senses (samhita in Sanskrit) is one of the causes of disease from an Ayurvedic perspective, intermittently giving those senses a break makes a lot of sense.
The senses are our doorway to the physical world and how we experience reality. The clearer and cleaner our senses the more pure our perception of reality. No senses = no perception = no experience. The murkier and clogged up our senses the more construed our view of reality. We call that murkiness maya, or illusion, in yoga.
Anything we take in through the 5 senses has to be digested. That’s right! We don’t just digest the food we eat, but also what we see, hear, feel and smell. Sensory overload leads to overwhelm, worry, fear, nervousness, sadness….you can pretty much name any negative emotion. How it shows up for you depends on your constitution, the type of sensory food you are feeding yourself (consciously or unconsciously, willingly or unwillingly) and the level of your sensory agni (= ability to digest incoming information).
Intermittent fasting on all senses makes so much sense. It creates space, ease, lightness, and clarity. The question then becomes in what way could you possibly fast on the different senses. Let’s check it out:
Fasting on Sound
Silence is my favorite way of fasting. It creates an immediate sense of spaciousness, clarity and ease. I can watch how my body’s ability to digest experiences manifolds. Emotions, movies, conversations, interactions, even my ability to digest food increases.
When I was in my 30s, I did a number of silent meditation retreats (they are called Vipassana Retreats in case you are wondering) where you don’t speak for a number of days, traditionally 10. The silence includes not talking, but also not looking at other people or otherwise making contact. It also includes taking in as few external sounds as possible. No listening to radio, TV or other chatter from the external world. That is serious fasting on sound. I love it! And I think it is golden. It made me feel spacious, more present and mindful. There was a sense of clarity, grounding and lightness as well. No more carrying around the heavy burden of undigested emotions and experiences.
For a year, I continued this trend by fasting on sound one day a week, typically Sundays. I refrained from talking, making phone calls, had no idle chatter with people, went for silent walks in the woods (without headphones :). This set me up for a stellar week. My energy was unleashed and I was ready for intense action again. My mind was clear, my body rested. It also made my speech more mindful…which also makes sense since the organ of action related to sound is speech and the tongue.
Your experiment with fasting on sound does not have to be that dramatic. You could simply choose to turn off your radio anytime you drive a car, go for walks in silence instead of listening to the newest podcast or engaging in idle chatter with a girlfriend. You could choose to spend 10 minutes in meditation before going to bed instead of right after watching TV.
What do you choose to fast on when it comes to sound?
And how is it impacting you?
Fasting on Sight
Someone who is blind has an extreme experience of fasting on sight. It is well known that blind people’s capacity to perceive with the other senses heightens. It is as if they are “seeing” through the other senses. Whenever we turn off one light bulb, the other light bulbs shine more brightly.
We have the opportunity to replicate a blind person’s experience by attending a darkness retreat. Yep, they do exist. It is a retreat where you are in total darkness for a number of days. You can do whatever you want in that darkness, talk, laugh, act funny, sleep, dance…..you just can’t see. If you don’t want to go quite that extreme you could simply choose to fast on reading, studying or researching. Also refraining from looking at your ex lovers picture or facebook page could be a way of fasting on sight.
Sight fasting becomes rather important when the sense of sight becomes so imbalanced that you cannot see clearly anymore, metaphorically speaking. An extreme example would be watching excessive pornography. It has become a pathology amongs teenagers and young adults over the past few years as it is now so easily accessible via the internet. Excessive exposure to pornographic material puts one at increased risk for committing sexual offenses, experiencing difficulties in one’s intimate relationships, and accepting rape myths (i.e. beliefs that trivialize rape or blame the victim for the crime). Fasting on the sense of sight would do a world of good here. It’s like a drug withdrawal but through the sense of sight.
We don’t have to venture that far, however. We can simply notice how different we feel when we look at a natural object like a tree or flowers, versus bathing our eyes in stuff at a shopping mall. The one produces ease and peace, the later confusion.
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye”. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Meditation offers a great opportunity to rest our sense of sight and cultivating an inner luminance with it. By closing your eyes and turning your vision inward we start to see a vast world we never knew existed. You will likely notice that over time your focus will naturally rest in the heart, which is beautiful. It will give you the gift of truly seeing and being able to hear your soul’s message. After all the heart is the seat of the soul and by hearing our soul’s message we will be able to step forward (=feet) in life with confidence and inner knowing that we are doing the right thing.
Fasting on Touch
Given that we live in a mostly touch deprived society, I have to ask myself, does it even make sense to fast on the sense of touch. Kids cannot be touched by their teachers anymore and are often barely touched by their parents. Self massage seems to make many people uneasy and a gentle touch on the shoulder by the opposite sex is often interpreted as a sexual advance. Touch somehow has received a bad rep over the years.
Of course there is the other side of things, the oversexual behaviors of young girls. Why? To find love? To be accepted? To feel pretty? May that be a derived consequence of lack of touch? Have we been over using other senses at the expense of touch in our over active fast paced world? The answer may be different for each one of us yet an important one to contemplate.
Touch pacifies the element of air, which is a good thing unless you want to feel overwhelmed, neurotic, nervous and anxious. Giving yourself a massage, getting it from someone else or simply snuggling with your partner has a wonderfully pacifying and nourishing effect on the nervous system. What a blessing in an overstimulated world.
Yet, anything in excess will lead to imbalance, even with touch. One Mom is saying: “I remember when my children were babies and constantly nursing. There were days when I felt all touched out by the end of the day. That's more like touch overdose for me”. A sense of repulsion develops to be close to anyone.
In more extreme cases being addicted to intimacy and sex might be a reason to reflect whether fasting on touch might be a good idea. Even just choosing wisely how much touch is right for us is important to create and preserve the right flow of energy. One wise lady is saying: “To me, sex is the most intimate touch, it is merging touch. Too much is not good for me. It depletes my energy. I have to manage this deep form of touch to preserve my energy, yet enjoy my relationship. It's a very essential balance for me. “
Overall, though as a society my sense is that we are in dire need of skillful and loving touch. What is your reflection?
Fasting on Smell
This is the most curious of the senses. Smell relates to the nose, obviously, because through the nose we take in breath and prana (life force). Without prana we are dead, with unhealthy prana we get sick (think cigarette smoke or car fumes). It is just that simple. The two nostrils relate to the two main energy channels ida (left side) and pingala (right side) in the body. Taking in smells that are disharmonious will upset these subtle channels and cause havoc in our energy system.
Smell relates to the element of earth and thus gives us a sense of grounding. Misusing, overusing or inappropriately using the sense of smell is ungrounding. Also, there is a major link between smelling and tasting. Actually, we can’t taste unless we can smell. I am sure you have experienced that before e.g. when being congested. Taste is referred to as Rasa in ayurveda. Rasa ist not only taste but also refers to sap, juice, fluid, essence and flavor. Through Rasa we experience the taste of life, the juiciness of our existence. Thus not being able to smell robs us of our ability to deeply enjoy the essence and juiciness of life.
Knowing that, the question arises, why we would even want to fast on smells? Going the extreme direction, some people have an addiction to smelling certain substances whether that be glue, gasoline, chemicals, rubbing alcohol, you name it….needless to say that this is a form of misusing this sense which ultimately will lead to imbalance. Some people find themselves, maybe unwillingly, in a factory setting with fumes or other harmful odors. Even just living in an urban environment and being surrounded by man made things will expose you to tons of unnatural smells.
Not venturing quite as far, smell fasting might also make sense when on a detox. Consciously withdrawing from smells that might tempt you to eat that which is disharmonious for your body (pizza? coffee?, cookies?) or would compromise your desire to stick with the detox. In this instance you could choose to stay away from restaurants that may tempt you to go astray.
Fasting on smell is hard. We can close our eyes, we can refrain from touch or being touched but how do we close our nose? Pinch it 24/7? Hardly. The solution lies in putting ourselves in an environment that provides us with harmonious smells. Nature comes to mind. Also indoor environment with plants, essential oils and other natural smells that brings harmony to that sense.
How one woman has purified her sense of smell:
“I had a phase about three years ago when I was on a holiday in pure and remote nature. Suddenly I noticed myself disliking the smell of all my cosmetics, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, make up, perfume. I was amazed to see – or rather smell – how many different smells I was covering myself in. Of course, they were almost all artificial. I gradually stopped using it all and swapped to less and more natural products. Lately even those are smelling “too much” for me and I am curious to discover the unique smell of myself again. I'm jumping around in the business world, where people have ideas of what “women” look like. When I'm not around such people, clearly oil is all I need and want. My bathroom is much more natural, my routines are quicker, I spend less money and actually I think that I look better”.
Where Does This Conversation Leave Us?
Going back to the beginning…. Knowing that the misuse of the senses (samhita) is one of the major causes of disease, getting skillful at how to feed your senses becomes paramount. Quite simply it comes down to being able to make conscious choices around what you want to surround yourself with:
What you want to see, hear, feel, smell and taste?
Intermittent fasting brings awareness, cleanses, gives space and thus allows us to consciously expand into the person we want to become.
To learn more about detoxing and fasting join the next Yogidetox and go without to expand within.