The Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts today, and having lived in Egypt for almost ten years and watched and admired the commitment and resolve of so many of my friends fasting for this month, I am a little ashamed to admit that I have never joined them. This month, that changes!
As a yogini I have done many yogic fasts over the years and always found them to be times of introspection, clarity and transformation. While food is an essential form of nutrition and energy for us - mind, body and spirit - it is also for many of us a tool through which we numb our emotions, deaden our senses and retreat from unpleasant feelings and sensations. Whether we are aware of this or not!
Think about all the reasons you eat and drink (and yes, this includes alcohol and caffeine) (or also DON'T eat or drink - anorexia and bulimia are of course well-recognised ways of controlling or denying unpleasant emotions) - boredom, social convention and/or pressure, depression, happiness, nerves and anxiety, stress, sadness, discomfort… Hunger or thirst? Yes, occasionally, but you will probably find that it comes pretty far down the list of reasons you ACTUALLY open the fridge/go to the corner shop/pop out for a coffee, crack open a bottle of wine...
Fasting is one of the tools in the yogis toolbox to help us raise our awareness and expand our consciousness. When we fast, we restrict our intake of food (it is not starving!) to certain times and also certain types of food. In Kundalini Yoga we have some great mono-diets, where we eat only one food type for the full 40-days. For example, the Green Food Diet (yes, you eat only green foods - get creative with pistachios, apples, melons, leafy greens and a whole range of veggies you may never have tried before), or the Kitcheree Diet. Not only are these fasts ultra-cleansing for the physical body, allowing our system to release many of the toxins built up over time, but they also enable the body to function without the additional strain of having to process toxins - you may find, that despite the restricted intake of food, that you actually have MORE ENERGY!
However, this isn't the only reason we fast. We fast to allow us to release our emotional toxins - attachments to comfort foods and addictions to toxins such as caffeine and alcohol. When we restrict our food intake to a more pure, plant-based diet we notice how strongly our addictions really are - and this is a chance to observe where those addictions come from. What emotions arise when you start craving chocolate or coffee? Can you sit with them and allow them to surface without running to the fridge or shop to dull and numb them once more? Once we have the courage to release and face these uncomfortable emotions, we find that we are freed from them, and our load is lightened from that point onwards. A very powerful emotional detox.
Of course expanding your consciousness in this way comes with challenges in itself. Once you realise how much you hide from your emotions behind food and drink, do you really want to return to your old ways? How can you integrate this new way of eating into a daily routine? Are you ready to shop and eat more consciously, with all the social inconveniences that that brings with it? Are you ready to be more organised with your food planning so that you aren't forced to snack on processed foods in an emergency, but have healthy, balanced, nutritious meals planned out and ready for every day of the week?
If you have never fasted before I invite you to try a short fast - perhaps a weekend - where you limit your intake to only plant-based foods and water and herbal teas. Notice how you feel physically and emotionally - you may be surprised by how a short fast can bring things up for you. During your fast be gentle with yourself. Take the weekend off social engagements, sports training and other energetic 'outward' pursuits, and allow yourself to stay at home, read inspiring books and poetry, and meditate and practice yoga. Perhaps you can invite a friend to join you on the fast and you can share the experience together, preparing and sharing your food and eating consciously, in silence, really allowing yourself to taste and savour eat mouthful.
My fast will be a simple breakfast of fruit blended with super-food greens, fruit again for lunch and rice and mung beans (starting basic, but probably building up to a full kitcheree over the later stages of the fast) for dinner, no later than 6pm. I have also just started a new 120 day meditation with which I will start every day and I am excited about the opportunity to spend some quiet time at home, going inwards and reflecting on the recent changes in my life and allowing myself to open up to all the possibilities that lie ahead, without needing to control or manipulate the outcome.
Please share your experiences of your fast here, or on my .Facebook Page. Or you can Tweet me also to let me know how you're finding it. We are all here to support each other, and I greatly appreciate you all sending me messages of motivation to see me through my 40-days! Thanks to you all, sending you love and infinite ocean hugs,