Is fasting the ultimate pathway into body, mind and spirit?
“Eating three times a day means taking on, almost without respite, the work of assimilation.”
― Adalbert de Vogüé
The concept of fasting is a practice dating back thousands of years, not just for its profoundly positive impact on good physical health, but also that of the mind and spirit.
To me, the ultimate pathway into equilibrium between the integral facets of our being, is fasting and purification. Having spoken about the intrinsic connection between our body, mind and spirit, and working at Santosa Detox Center in Phuket, who bases its philosophy on this synergistic connection, I felt it only fitting to celebrate my recent milestone birthday, by undertaking our strongest and most challenging detox program, a 21 day Full Fast.
I wanted to share some insights on what I can only describe as a deeply beneficial experience, and one which I feel has bought an incredible sense of balance and perspective.
The body is an incredible machine, and by starving the cells through fasting, we gain a true insight into just what a complex matrix of systems we operate on. We are taught from an early age not to deny ourselves, but in ‘nourishing’ according to a pre-prescribed timetable and school of thought on what we should be consuming, we are in fact denying the opportunity to purify and rejuvenate on a cellular level.
When cells are starved, for a period of time they enter into survival mode, where deep repair is able to take place. Fasting is often accompanied by a healing crisis, which is when toxins start to leave our body more quickly than we are able to comfortably process them. For the chronically ill, this can mean a temporary flair up, or for those in generally good health it can present a time when old injuries become painful again, or when symptoms such as fever, dizziness, headaches and nausea temporarily occur. This is usually short lived, and a ‘fasters high’ follows, where an increase in energy, a feeling of lightness, unparalleled clarity of mind and improved function in digestion, metabolism and sleeping patterns abound. It proves that we need less than we think in order not just to survive, but to flourish.
When the ‘faster’s high’ hit me, it caused me to think very deeply about just how much time we spend thinking about food, preparing it, deciding when to eat it, and on consuming it. In fact, our lives are governed by meal-times, and our minds train our bodies on when we should eat, and what is appropriate to eat during that period. This is not necessarily a negative thing, especially if we are being mindful and making a concerted effort to nourish rather than just fill ourselves each day. However, when consumption is taken out of the equation all together, it is amazing to realize exactly how much time and energy is left free to focus on other things. Going deeper, it even gives a sense of wonder, that our bodies are governed by a pre-determined timetable in the first place! What if we listened a little more carefully, and allowed ourselves the opportunity to feed our own unique bio-chemistry by our own set of rules? If everybody is different, then surely this increased mindfulness would go a long way in creating a healthy equilibrium.
On a spiritual level, it is incredible that when taking out this external stimuli, we are left with so much time and energy to focus elsewhere. It is this that makes fasting such a cathartic and emotionally healing time. Having the space to reflect and think allows an incredible journey of self-discovery to take place whilst all of the physical healing works away in the background. It is a time when much emotional toxicity is discarded, and our concept of time completely shifts. This is largely due to the brain.
One of the secrets of optimal health and vitality is the ability to operate from the ‘rest and digest’ parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), rather than the adrenaline fuelled ‘fight or flight’ sympathetic nervous system (SNS). SNS is fuelled by caffeine, alcohol, spiking blood sugar levels, stress and anything that causes our heart rate to increase – it is the breeding ground for chronic disease. The gentle PSNS is polar opposite in function – it slows our heart rate to conserve energy whilst our body activates the intestinal and glandular activity necessary for digestion. For optimal health we want to operate predominantly on our PSNS, and fasting causes this switch to happen. When the switch is made, true rest and relaxation are able to occur, and health is restored. When our alpha waves are slowed and theta waves increase, balance is found and psychological issues such as neurosis, a decreased focus on the superficial and feelings of being grounded and stable occur.
The natural high that comes with fasting is a profound one. Time and time again, we hear that it is “the best I have ever felt in my life.” It is hard to let go of these feelings, and the true reset is a perfect foundation for making healthier choices going forward. The purified body is able to send signals about what does and doesn’t work, and establishing the mind and body connection through fasting allows us to pertinently listen once more.
So at the end of 21 days, how do I feel? Honestly, that I want to keep going! But sensibly, I won’t. I will however, be adopting intermittent fasting every week going forward and I know that in doing this, I will be able to keep these feel good vibes going, and increase my health and vitality exponentially. The statement ‘less is more’ seems more profound than ever!