A 9 day-fasting report (25 March - 3 April 2020)
Photo credits: AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh - Navratri Festival, India
Following the Hindu calendar with the many festivals that are often go with short or long periods of fasting, I too went on my first 9 day fast to embrace the Goddess within as a part of Navratri, a 9 day festival celebrated during the change of season. A period where we clean and reset our mind and body for a new diet to come. To know more about the festival you can read in my previous blogpost: "Diving into the nights of feminine mysticism"
There are three different types of fasting being: a full fast (restraining from eating and drinking), a water fast or a fast including some fruit, nuts and seeds. The use of spices or any stimulants (incl sugar, salt) during fasting are absolutely prohibited.
Before I commence I would like to point out that the aim of fasting is not to lose weight. If you which to lose weight I suggest you follow an exercise program along with a specific diet under supervision of a qualified dietician suited for your bodily needs.
As mentioned above, one of the reasons why fasting was integrated in our lifestyle was for a purification ritual. Overall fasting:
Removes all stored toxins and fats from the body
It resets our digestive system and nourishes our liver
Helps us to overcome hunger for which self-discipline is needed
Strengthens our will-power and self-control.
Both through Self-discipline and will-power we gain control of our sensors and thus our mind that is often led and misled by what it perceives through what we experience with our eyes, our ears, our skin, our nose, our tongue, and actions we take.
Self-discipline, self-control and will-power are needed for a Sadhaka (a spiritual aspirant) as it helps us to lift our spiritual being into the higher realms of life. Hence we fast.
Weather conditions: Average day temperature 7-10° / night 2-0°
Fasting history: Not by culture, nor in my family history. Started irregular one day (water) fasting in 2018. Completed first 3 day fast in 2018, Completed first 4 day full fast in October 2019. No fasting between August 2018 – March 2019 due Amoebiasis.
Health condition at start of fast: global COVID-19 outbreak – March ‘20
Since 13 March, I was suffering from “a viral infection” with slow increasing constrained respiratory symptoms, a dry cough, painful lungs and tiredness. Despite not feeling top, I decided to go ahead with my fast anyway but continued to take my natural supplements to keep my immunity system strong to fight against whatever bug was hosting inside me. The following herbal remedies were consumed: Thyme syrup (stopped on day 4), vitamin A, B, D & chlorella (Chlorella is an algae to renew the cells broken down from the virus - stopped on day 7) accompanied with approx. 15gr of Goji berries/ day (detoxification & Zinc intake – stopped on day 7). This accompanied with infuses of fresh Ginger, Black Pepper, Turmeric and Neem leaves with juice of ½ lemon once a day (stopped on day 8). These natural remedies where taken twice daily around the hour of 8am and 11:30am.)
My fasting observation dairy:
DAY 1 ~ "Passing one is easy, how about nine"
I won’t comment much on day one as it is normal to feel hunger and hear your stomach loudly growling. Just ignore and continue, I’ve managed 4 before so I can do 9 days too.
DAY 2 ~ "Lionesses yawns and roars"
An increased feeling of hunger accompanied with cold shivers but feeling energized and light. The lioness in my stomach roars a lot. I also yawn a lot around 13-15 o’clock (yesterday too). Something I usually get around this time of the day when feeling hungry. Decreased symptoms of my viral infection.
Day 3 ~ "Seeing through the eye of an eagle"
Hunger decreases, body keeps cooling down. Increased focus and sharpness of the mind. Sensitivity and consciousness increasing (especially during mantra chanting), practice is more focused, more correct, more awareness of subtle vibrations. Feeling lighter and clearer. Yawning increases around the same time as before. My dry cough is no longer present.
Day 4 ~ It’s perfectly fine to say: “I am not okay”
Negative mind set due to missing to be with my love, this caused a slight increase of mistakes in chanting practice. My mind is here at play and going blunt. For this I give myself the reason: "sugar withdrawal symptoms". As any sweets, milk and especially chocolate are stimulants to suit the mind often associated with longing for love (sweets, chocolate) or for being nurtured (milk = might be a reference to our subconscious mother love needs). Unconsciously many people grasp for sweets without paying any attention as in why they are taking the sweets. And so this day I did too, minor cravings for sugar and sweet were present but I wasn’t feeling hungry. My mindset was fixed after my religious studies and studying my Goddess. Just a small remark sweets also aid with digestion.
Anyhow, from my experience and discussing “purification” topics with others. In any intense fasting or meditative Sadhana (or other spiritual practices) of minimum 10 days, our mind plays tricks mostly on day 4-5. At that time it brings negative thoughts, it’s a part of the detoxification progress and sense withdrawal that takes place. Overcoming these days can be tricky but from then onward it should becomes easy.
Cold increases in the body mainly with shivers in the spine. I find it hard to keep warm throughout the day. Raynaud's syndrome increases daily (death fingers/toes syndrome), significant longer than the other days. So I digged a little into the facts on causes and so on to get a greater understanding of Raynaud’s Syndrome.
In short Raynaud's syndrome causes a hyper activation of the sympathetic nervous system known to cause an extreme narrowing of the blood vessels, “vasoconstriction”. Due to this blood vessels narrow and almost completely shut down. Fingers or toes turn from white to blue and, then, as the blood returns, they flush red which could be a painful experience. (Reference: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/176713)
So understanding this medical fact makes totally sense as the sympathetic nervous system prepares your body for physical and mental activity. It makes your heart beat faster and stronger, opens your airways so you can breathe more easily, and inhibits digestion. And I am exactly doing the opposite. During these 9 days I am shutting down my mental activity by meditating (lowers the blood pressure and heart rate significantly) and am seizing the activity of my digestive system which adds fuel is to burn my internal fire. As a result of this a daily drop in body temperature and hyper activation of the sympathetic nervous system. Reynaud, you win!
At last, my skin has become softer and eyes brighter. Feeling more at peace. Yawning decreases. I now not longer have any symptoms of the viral infection. If persist I decided to terminate my natural medicine on day 7 for the final 3 days.
When retiring to bed, practicing Yoga Nidra, I felt the intensity of my heartbeat pump into my throat and stomach.
In the middle of the night, I woke up feeling very bright and not tiered, if it wasn't for the cold feeling that kept me under my woolen blanket I would have sat up and kept meditating.
Day 5 ~ "Freezing cold super power"
Today, I started performing my Homa/Havan (sacred fire rituals) outdoors due to my house companions that were a little agitated by the smoke. With outdoor temperatures around 0°, my body was feeling cold, all the time and having death fingers didn't help me to hold my malla (prayer beats) to count my 108 beats. A new disturbance of my meditative practice.
At one point during the day, I was also thinking of cooking and questioned myself what I would first eat after these 9 days have past. After reflecting on the idea of eating it actually didn't bother me anymore. I searched in my archive for what I was really missing and craving, my favourite fruits: apples, mango, ... or vegetables: pumpkin, carrot, spinach ... Also the occasional roaring stomach is no longer an issue for me.
Only the smell of fresh cooked food from my housemates occasionally triggered my sensors. At ease I ignored the smell of their delicious food, the sensations. (feeling proud)
So what bothered me now the most was the feeling of being cold all the time, day and night. I need to come up with a solution for this ... (move countries to continue my practice?). Hot toddy (hot water bottle) isn't working and the heaters full blast neither.
Day 6 ~ "How did they survive in the Ice age?"
Again I woke up with a clear mind, feeling very fresh and active from the moment I opened my eyes. I noticed that my awareness is rising high. The sky had become clearer and I finally felt connected again with the universe a feeling I hadn't had since months.
Still the cold hands and sensation remains an unresolved interference and in fact has become a major distraction to my sadhana (practice). The cold draft running up and down my spine is constant and took over the awareness of the subtle pranic (energy) flow in my body that I now longer feel. Nevertheless, I had a very interesting meditation session as well as yajña (fire-ritual), of this the secrets remains with me.
For my act of worship, I took my hot toddy under my blanket to keep my hands warm and performed half of my worship indoors and half outside. But it felt completely wrong to shift my temporarily temple from spot as I basically had to ask my “special guests from above to move seats”. The flow was lost …
During the day I went to the supermarket to purchase flowers and was curious about my sensory respond when confronted with food, lots of food and other things. In this moment I asked myself again the question of what I would love to eat first when coming out of this fast … kitcheree (Indian rice and lentil porridge) with spinach and a dash of lemon juice? Sounds like heaven on earth to me. Yes my body needs some kind of green leave vegetable, I can see darkness (blueish skin) appearing under my eyes which is usually an indication of being low on iron.
Nevertheless after contemplating on the idea of eating, I actually don’t feel to eat anymore. I feel good without food, so why still have it? Already the result of 6 days are paying off towards my focus, awareness and concentration. I feel healthy, light, energized … and never tired. Besides this I don't have to spend time on cooking which leaves me with more time for studies, meditation and performing tapas (austerities). On top of all this I can safe lots of money. (smile)
Perhaps I should stay on water … I think it can be easily done … except for two things I need to resolve:
One being my menstruation … Last Navratri my menstruation came in the evening of day 4, which made me extremely lightheaded, weak and physically exhausted the next day. For this reasons I terminated my fast. However, when last year, I was sick with a parasite for 6 months my body had shut down my production system as it needed all it the vital sources to keep my body healthy. After having attained this knowledge from observing my female system I know my body would naturally end my periods when going on a permanent water fast as lots of substances and energy are needed to produce a healthy egg. If I direct this energy towards other aims in life and let my body life on the minimum needs I know for sure my motherhood production would stop. Issue 1 resolved.
Secondly, how to manage with this cold is now my major questions? How do Sadhu’s sit for hours naked meditating in the Himalaya’s with temperatures below -7° to -45°? How did Akka Mahadevi (Indian Śaranas Saint) conquer this quest?
Ps. I seized a part of my supplements.
Day 7 ~ "Why such sacrifice?"
This morning I opened my eyes before my alarm went, but felt asleep again (restless night) later I woke up too late (6:30am) feeling extremely hot! When I rose from the bed I felt drowsy, unbalanced in my body and weak.
When I looked in the mirror I saw my tongue had turned completely white. This means that I had accumulated debris (bacteria, fungi, dirt, food, or dead cells) overnight which could either be a symptom of illness or mild dehydration (dry mouth). Dehydration was for sure the answer as I felt too thirsty and immediately started drinking as soon as I arose. Water is thus the key drink enough fluids when doing this fast even when you continuously have to run to the toilet.
Throughout the day I felt very physically very weak, while at the same time I was energized. My body was a drag here, pure physically. My stomach cramped at times a little painful not the usual hunger pain one gets but slightly different. I felt to feed my body to stop the suffering but resisted. If I can manage 6, I can manage 3 more days.
My body temperature is slightly going back up as the cold hands and Reynaud Syndrome symptoms have reduced.
As I chant my mantras I now experience the constant flow of cold in my spinal cord, it dances along with the sound, just as the fire does during my worship.
Day 8 ~ "The rise of the great conqueress"
I had very little sleep last night, other then my neighbours kids playing till 2:30 am in the morning something else is keeping me from sleeping. It must be the Goddesses telling me to stay alert, after all it is Navratri (9 nights of the Divine Goddesses.
Today, I managed the outdoor temperature (with hot toddy) during my puja and never felt so fit and healthy. I feel extremely energized, forceful and mighty as I could conquer the entire world. I believe my body is adapting and starts to live of the universal sources.
Day 9 ~ “To win or to loose”
Of course after a rise, a tumble comes and so today I sunk. I felt so weak, my tongue had become white again and after talking a little my mouth became so dry (I broke my silence as I had invited my housemates to join the ritual they wanted to take part in). This also made me realise how much energy we consume when one speaks. This is one of the reason why ascetics don’t talk or talk very little (selective / conscious discussions).
Anyhow my body was weak, a walk to the park next door was already a big effort. The same counted for my focus, my mantra practice had decreased in value. I couldn’t function not even my pranayama (breathing practices), it was too exhausting. As for worship, prayers, meditation, studying and writing I had to make great effort, I lacked on concentration and just wanted to lie down to feel my heart pump …
Other observations I made throughout the day were: my hunger feeling had gone, the slight increase of body temperature except for fingers and toes (mainly hands) and rejecting all taste senses other than water.
Day 10 ~ Chinnamasta’s Victory*
With the help of Goddess Chinnamasta I victoriously closed my first 9 days of fasting. The Goddess Chinnamasta acts through our mind (the 11 sensor in Vedanta Philosophy) to help us succeed in mastering our 5 senses of perception (Jñanendriya) and 5 faculties of action (Karmendriya) (details are noted in the footnote below)
I feel blessed with this achievement and know more are now to come … this is only the start towards a more divine path …
Despite my horrendous day yesterday I felt extremely energised again, as well as optimistic, alive and reborn. As if my body had a reset button and it did. I wasn’t feeling hungry at all but yes my mind slept at the time of 7:30 when I knew I could break my fast.
As much dryness I felt and thirsty as I was my body absolutely rejected water this morning. I tried drinking but the immortal nectar of the Gods didn’t went down. My body refused it wanted something different. So I gave her what she needed. A hot cup of spinach flavored water.
So this answers the question of what I was going to eat when breaking my fast, indeed palak (spinach) kitcheree (Indian porridge made of Urdu lentils and rice, a common after fasting food) a fresh salad with seeds and my Prasad (food offers to God), was waiting on the menu for me today …
I have no words to describe, to say how blessed we are with what mother Earth is giving us daily to nurture our body, mind and soul.
Wow what a revelation when I eat that little string of purslane …
photo credits: Demeter Gärtnerei Sannmann
Our energy body (spirit/soul) is androgynous (neither man nor woman). It doesn’t know our body of which they are a host. For this our being needs to be in tune with our body and mind.
A woman should take care with all Vedic and yogic practices and rituals noted in the Vedas. The Vedas and Sastra’s were in fact written by man for man. Only a few woman managed to be recognised and were accepted by their male opponents to contribute to the scriptures later.
For people whom where not raised with fasting by their family tradition, when you decide to start any of these practices I advise you do them under the guidance of a proper guru (hard to find nowadays), unless you are really in tune with your own body and Self. Then this report might be off help.
Remember your inner intuition never fails but don’t let the intuition be misled by mental and physical cravings.
As for this fast, I do not recommend long(er), multiple (short behind each other) periods of water fasting for woman in general. As long as our productive system is in full operation or body demands a proper diet. Unless you really don’t care about childbirth, since multiple long fasting periods may result in halting the productivity and seize our fertility.
I would certainly not recommend this 9 day fast while menstruating, this of course depending on your own flow. When you are menstruating during the fast, you can always continue the fast on fruits and plain cook vegetables only (no spices added) – perhaps one meal a day. This during the days when you’re flow is the heaviest. You may than again continue with water fast after. But as said before, all depends on your own body’s response. In my case, it wasn’t working.
*Chinnamasta’s Victory (the 11 senses):
The Five Faculties of Perception (Jñanendriya):
srotra-tattva: hearing (ears)
tvak-tattva: touching (skin)
chakshu-tattva: seeing (eyes)
rasana-tattva: tasting (tongue)
ghrana-tattva: smelling (nose)
The Five Faculties of Action (Karmendriya):
vak-tattva: speech (voice)
pani-tattva: grasping (hands)
pada-tattva: walking (feet)
payu-tattva: excretion (anus)
upastha-tattva: procreation (genitals)
The eleventh is the mind, acting upon our 5 faculties of perception.