Fasting is one of the my favorite rituals because it allows me to experience more balance in life, expand my consciousness, align with my divine purpose, and experience greater healing and joy in my life. Fasting is willingly abstaining of food and liquid, for a defined period, and for a defined purpose.
I observe a fast day one Sunday a month, like Esther did in the Old Testament (from one sunset to the next day’s sunset), voluntarily skipping two consecutive meals in a period of 24 hours. Like her, I fast with a specific purpose in mind, coupling the experience with prayer.
After over two years, between pregnancy and nursing, I am slowly getting back to the pattern of regular fasting. I’m increasingly excited, because this ritual blesses me with guidance, gratitude, and peace. It is also a time to give, because I contribute a “fast offering” (at least the value of the two meals I chose to not eat), to share my blessings with those who can use some more.
In the Christian world, fasting is considered a commandment because Jesus himself fasted for forty days, and instructed his followers how to fast “when” they fast (not “if” they choose to). Fasting is also a part of many other religious observances and traditions around the world from ancient times: Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism include fasting, and Muslims observe Ramadan with a thirty-day fast, as ordained in Quran 2:183.
Why do people fast?
For most people, fasting is not an iron-clad law, but choice that is exercised with discretion, and although the fasting process differs from one culture to another, the motivations behind it are a demonstration of faith and desire for spiritual growth.
“The purpose of such abstinence… is to loosen to some degree the ties which bind us to the world of material things and our surroundings as a whole, in order that we may concentrate all our spiritual powers upon the unseen and eternal things.” O. Hallesby.
- Fasting and voluntary self-denial helps us feel compassion for those who regularly experience involuntary hunger.
- Fasting can be used to foster a spirit of devotion and love of God, drawing nearer to Him.
- Fasting helps us experience personal transformation and strengthen our character, by pushing outside our comfort zone.
- Fasting is a great opportunity to practice self-restraint over appetites and passions, so that the spirit can take control over the body, as spiritual needs become priority over our temporal needs.
- Fasting is a source of power as we develop courage and patience to endure hardships, challenges, and trials.
- Fasting creates a connection with our dead, and offers comfort in time of sorrow and mourning.
- Fasting helps us to deflate our ego, indifference, and self-centeredness, and to examine our excesses and to feel an outpouring of appreciation for our comforts, which all results in a humble, contrite heart.
- Fasting has a cleansing and purifying power. It helps filter out impure thoughts, thus allowing loftier thoughts and positive ideas to come through.
- Fasting helps us focus on the unseen and eternal versus the tangible and transient of our daily lives, by rising our consciousness and awareness beyond our limited sensory perception.
- Fasting invites enlightenment because one becomes emotionally and spiritually receptive to receive guidance, insight, and inspiration.
- Fasting can bring great clarity in our lives, helping us take a much needed time to reflect on what truly matters.
What is the proper way to fast?
I think the first step to get started fasting is to understand what you will be doing, and to be in good physical condition to do so. Read, learn, get counsel, and make sure that it won’t turn out to be something unwise or dangerous for you.
There are some important steps to get the most of your fast:
- Prepare your body before you begin. Hydrate, and avoid over-indulging or over-working.
- Set an intention for your fast before you begin. Your motive is the difference between fasting and going hungry.
- Start your fast with an intense private prayer
- Pray, study, and meditate throughout the fasting process
- End your fast with fervent prayer
- Break your fast in a healthy way by eating a light meal and incorporating it slowly
The fact that I fast on the same day I rest (my Sabbath) creates a great setting for my experience. It will be best to keep physical work to a minimum and to abstain from strenuous exercise during your fast. You’ll want to rest as much as you can, so fasting on a major holiday, on a day full of errands, or while traveling may not be conducive to a spiritually enriching experience.
How can people fast cheerfully?
Whether food abstinence is a choice or not, it can definitely bring physical discomforts and affect our mood. When we haven’t nourished our bodies, we are very vulnerable, and can feel weak, and easily frustrated, discouraged, grumpy, and irritable. However, when fasting is done with reverence and a powerful intention, those feelings can be overpowered with an overwhelming sense of being blessed, and uplifted.
- Many people say to fast in secret, which means there is no need to advertise your fast to strangers or casual acquaintances, nor tweet out your fasting experience. However, it is wise to seek support from your loved ones.
- Some people tend to be overly concerned when others fast, even to the point of offering food in a guilt-infusing manner. Even though I am touched that these people wouldn’t want me to engage in something that they feel would be harmful to my body, I make it a point to be only around people who understand the purpose of fasting, and don’t make it hard for me to complete my fast.
- I think that just wanting to have a joyful time makes my fast more joyful. Having a cheerful face, smiling at all times, and feeling gratitude for all I have, makes my heart happy.
Health Benefits Of A Consistent Fasting Practice
Many biochemical adjustments happen in the bloodstream to compensate for the lack of food.
Dr. Siegfried Heyden of Duke University’s Department of Community and Family Medicine says:
“The first thing happening after a 24-hour fast is the breakdown of fat cells. And these fat cells, when they break down, produce ketone bodies, as they are called. And these ketone bodies seem to have an effect on our psyche in that they make us no longer hungry.”
Even though fasting is primarily a spiritual practice, occasional fasting is good for our bodies, too. It can provide exciting physiological, mental, and psychological benefits as a byproduct of the body’s natural process of inner cleansing:
- Fasting promotes detoxification. Any toxins stored in the body’s fat are dissolved and removed from the body.
- Fasting provides a rest to the digestive tract.
- Fasting can boost immunity, and help remove inflammatory diseases and allergies.
- Fasting reduces blood sugar.
- Fasting lowers the systolic blood pressure.
- Fasting increases fat breakdown, lowers lipids, reduces cholesterol.
- Fasting can promote healthy and wise eating habits, reducing cravings for anything impure or unnecessary.
- Fasting can help us overcome addictions and other self-destructive habits, burdens, and personal weaknesses.
- Fasting can help clear up the mind, improve focus, as well as foster intellectual capability, alertness, and improved memory.
- All the benefits above increase longevity and quality of life.
By using this powerful tool, I have come to understand the promise made in Isaiah of having “the power to break every yoke,” because I’ve experienced miraculous results that go beyond any list could contain. The benefits of self-training, self-regulation, and self-mastery will be long lasting, because it is the balance between self-denial and over-indulgence. And BALANCE is what I’m all about!
What about you, have you tried fasting? Ghandi fasted as a non violent means of protest, others fast for weight loss and cleansing, I fast to commune with my Heavenly Father. What are your reasons to fast? What are some things you do to improve the quality of your fast? Share with us!