MAR 03. 2020
We have spoken a lot about fasting and autophagy in recent years, and the relevance of Ekadashi as a very useful tradition for health and well-being in Indian culture – a tradition that is commonly practised but not deeply understood. Ekadashi is the Sanskrit word for the number 11, and it represents the 11th day of each half of the month in the lunar calendar. Therefore, there are two Ekadashi days in each month: one is in the first half of the month when the moon is waxing, and the second is when the moon is waning. The practice of fasting on these days was linked with religion; had it not been associated with religion, many people would not have practised it.
You can see the impact of the lunar cycle on Nature all around us, including on the water in the oceans. On full moon nights, the high tides can rise by up to 20 or even 30 feet. Similarly, this pull has an impact on the human system also, as our body is made up of around 70% water. When we moderate our intake of food on these Ekadashi days, we neutralize the impact of the lunar system on the human body.
Our Heartfulness Guides have also suggested fasting on other occasions. One such an occasion happens when a Heartfulness trainer is given permission to start training others. Why is this so? It is because on the day when permission is granted, the trainer becomes a spiritual conduit of the divine Transmission, and, on this day, the yogic chakras of the trainer are purified and brought to a state of opening, enabling the trainer to be a conduit. When this happens, the divine charge remains very active for the next few days, and it is much subtler than the energy we derive from solid food. If we were to eat, the heavier energy from the food would naturally displace the subtle charge. So, on this day, trainers are asked to tune in, receive, and allow the charge to be completely absorbed. Hence, they are asked to fast on this day.
We can also explore the fascinating work done by Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi on the body’s process of autophagy, which occurs during fasting and starvation, for which he was awarded the Nobel prize in medicine in 2016. He demonstrated that autophagy is the process by which the body eats damaged cells and unused proteins in the system, controlling important physiological functions that are required for waste to be degraded and recycled. After an infection, for example, autophagy eliminates the cells that were infected by invading intracellular bacteria and viruses. Interestingly, in Ayurveda there is a saying, “Starve a cold.” The ancients must have observed these correlations across a physical, emotional and mental spectrum.
Today, fasting has become somewhat of a craze, with intermittent fasting being particularly fashionable for physical health and well-being. It is important to note, however, that fasting only with the intention of physical well-being is not enough. The attitude with which we fast is extremely very important, and it is not by chance that Ekadashi fasting was associated with religion and worship.
This is beautifully explained in a letter Babuji Maharaj wrote to one of his associates on 17 November 1952. Here is the translation of the relevant excerpt from that letter:
“For those who sleep a lot and have nightmares, it will be very beneficial to have a light dinner. Also, while fasting, it is good to devote time to sadhana, whereas fasting without sadhana is only a compromise at a mental level and nothing more, which can also turn into pure arrogance. May God save those who develop this trait of arrogance.”
जिन शख़्सों को नींद ज़्यादा और ख़राब और जुबूँ (बुरे) ख़्वाबात (सपने) आएँ, उन के लिए शाम का कम खाना बहुत मुफ़ीद (फ़ायदेमंद) रहता है। फ़ाक़ा कशी (उपवास) के दरमियान इबादत (साधना) में ज़्यादा मसरूफ़ियत (व्यस्तता) ख़ालिस फ़ाक़ा कशी से कहीं बेहतर है। मगर फ़ाक़ा कशी करते हुए भी अगर कोई मशगूले- इबादत (साधना में डूबा) न रहे तो महज़ मन का समझौता रहता है और यह चीज़ ख़ालिस अहंकार में तब्दील हो सकती है। ईश्वर बचाये।
Once again, we see the importance of acknowledging all the dimensions of our existence – the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual – in an integrated approach to health and well-being. Given that various types of dis-ease are first seen as blockages or complexities in the pranamaya kosha, the energetic field of the body, before they filter down to affect the physical body, it makes total sense that we would want to purify our subtler emotional and mental states at the same time we look to purifying the physical body.
With very affectionate regards,