Stimulating Agni: Silence and Fasting

Spring is a traditional time for light fasting in Ayurveda. Light fasting healthfully stimulates the digestive fire, called Agni in Sanskrit, which in turn more efficiently burns your body’s fuel, producing less toxic waste, called Ama. Light fasting can also be done other times of the year, depending on your constitutional type (Dosha) and current state of health.

Fundamentals of Health in Ayurveda: Physical and Mental

Good sleep, good digestion, good elimination, good breathing, and good thinking are the fundamentals of good health.

Sleep is essential for restoration and repair of tissues and the mind. Digestion is how we extract nutrients from food. Elimination is vital for clearing the body of toxins. Breathing is how we take in oxygen, a vital building block and source of energy. Thinking and feeling are the basis for the quality of our nervous system and all-important hormonal secretions.

Good thinking is a very large topic, with many different threads; but in essence we know that a genuinely positive mental attitude aids health. It’s sufficient here to say that there is nothing as toxic as our own thoughts! And some times people overdo realistic concerns about toxins in their bodies from food, and miss this part of health. Some people get so anxious or obsessive about bad food or toxins they make themselves sick with tension and worry.

Further, Ayurveda and Asian Philosophy observes hour our minds can create illness or imbalance by producing unnecessary physical tension. People’s bodies never fully relax and their minds never become still. The wheels of thought keep spinning even when neither useful, nor necessary.

Mind here includes feelings and the way our nervous system responds to both things we are averse to and things we are attracted to. So while over-thinking, tension, fear, worry, desire, anger can bound up our energy, causing the imbalance that becomes disease, meditation and awareness can undo this somaticisation process. We can use our minds consciously to relax so that all our organs are nourished and work harmoniously. Meditation and progressive relaxation is to your mind what bathing is to your skin.

Observing Silence

An easy way to cultivate mental stillness is to observe silence.

Try not speaking for 12 hours. 24 are even better. See how you feel. For Yogis this is a regular practice, called Mowna. When practiced regularly,you will see the mental chatter slowly dissipate, your power of hearing and sight, both external and internal, will improve. Silence is fasting for the brain, it has a profoundly restful, cleansing effect, and rekindles mental Agni, the fire of insight and thought. This is especially valuable for Vata types with a lot of nervous energy, Pitta types that are always seeking control, or Kapha types that suffer from sloth.

Fasting in Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine

What kind of food fast should I do people often ask me. Asian medicine does not support extremes. In fact, there appears to be no support for complete fasting at all in Chinese medicine. Chinese medicine sees cleansing the body of toxins as a function of vegetable consumption. The Chinese classics say, “Grains are for energy, meats for strength, and vegetables for keeping the body clean.” So if you want to cleanse yourself of toxins, pushing vegetables is a middle way.

For a week in spring try having your protein at breakfast and lunch, and for dinner having a large plate of mixed steamed veggies. Include various greens–kale, dandelion; some cruciferous veggies–broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage; and something starchy like acorn or butternut squash.

From an Ayurvedic perspective, one should at a minimum modify the above like this: Vata types can add some warming spices and a little oil or avocado, and less bitter and more starchy veggies. Kapha types can add warm spices, but no oil, and have less starch. Pitta types can add some cooling cilantro or coconut with lime juice.

Ayurveda on Fasting: The Mono-diet Cleanse

Fasting is part of Ayurveda. However, Ayurveda prescribes fasting according to one’s Body Mind type, or Dosha. This is a key point. Different constitutional types have different needs.

Vata types, for example, who are naturally thin, dry and cold, don’t usually do well with total fasting. They have lots of air element, and will become too spaced out and weak. A Pitta-Kapha, however, with large bones and flesh, good stamina, and a tendency to weight gain could really tolerate and benefit by aggressive fasting.

Ayurveda in general does not believe in complete fasting for more than a couple of days, except in rare cases. What it does support is regular, brief, partial fasting, even once a week, in which one drinks plenty of salt-free liquids like fresh vegetable juice, water, yogurt mixed with water ginger and cumin powder, raw milk boiled with ginger, and then takes a single light meal, at noon or early evening, of either fruits and boiled raw milk, or rice and yogurt, or rice, veggies and mung dal (lentils) cooked with cumin, ginger, and black pepper. This is referred to as a mono-diet cleanse. It cleanses the digestive tract and rekindles the digestive fire (agni) so that toxins (ama) are consumed.

Besides once-a-week fasting, at the change of seasons or anytime purification is desired, try one of the above mono-diets for 2 to 3 days, even a week if you are strong. Drink lots of room temperature water during this time, too.

One way to think of food is as information for the body. Actually it really is. Food, like all matter, is comprised of atomic particles, organized in a particular pattern. When we eat we take these in, break them down with our agni digestive fire(enzymes, hydrochloric acid, etc), and reassemble them into new cellular structures.

Fasting is reducing the amount of input your digestive system needs to break down and reassemble. The stomach, pancreas, gall bladder, liver, small and large intestines get to rest. A Sabbath for your insides. And rest is restorative. The digestive system becomes stronger. The trick in Ayurveda is to do it right, matched to your unique type.

copyright 2008 eyton shalom, all rights reserved

Eyton J. Shalom, M.S., L.Ac.
Ayurvedic Practitioner and Licensed Acupuncturist
619-296-7591 or