Fasting in Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine

Ayurveda on Fasting

Ayurveda believes that light fasting can greatly benefit the way you feel. 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 in Sanskrit).

Good sleep, good digestion, and good elimination equals good health. You cannot attain good health if one of the fundamentals is missing.

* Good sleep is essential for restoration and repair of tissues and the mind.
* Good digestion is how we extract nutrients from food.
* Good elimination is vital for both the immune system and for clearing
the body of toxic waste.

You could add to this good breathing and good thinking. The breath is how we take in vital oxygen which is transferred from the lungs into the blood and transported though the body by the pumping action of the heart. Many of us are shallow breathers. When you breathe well, you enrich your blood.

Fasting in Chinese Medicine

People often ask me, "What kind of food fast should I do?" 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 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 the middle way.

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

Ayurveda on Fasting: The Mono-diet Cleanse

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

Looking at this from an Ayurvedic perspective:

* Vatta 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.

Vatta 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, tons of energy and 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 you drink plenty of salt-free liquids, such as fresh vegetable juice, water, yogurt mixed with water and cumin powder, or raw milk boiled with ginger. This would be followed by a single light meal at noon or early evening, of either fruits and boiled raw milk, rice and yogurt, or rice, veggies, and mung dal 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 any time purification is desired, try one of the above mono-diets for 2 to 5 days, even a week if you can handle it. Also drink lots of water during this time.

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 reduces the amount of input your digestive system needs to break down and reassemble. The stomach, pancreas, gall bladder, liver, and 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.

Mental Hygiene: Free Drugs!

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

Asian philosophy observes that our minds make us ill by creating unnecessary physical tension. Many people's bodies never fully relax and their minds never get calm. Thinking, thinking, thinking, even when it is neither useful nor necessary. Chinese medicine says “the mind leads the Qi.” (Qi or chi is a generic Asian term for energy.)

The mind here includes feelings. That means that while emotions like fear, worry, and anger can bind up the Qi,causing all kinds of diseases; meditation and conscious mind can undo this somaticization process. We can consciously use our minds to relax the Qi so that all our organs are nourished and work harmoniously. Meditation is to your mind what bathing is to your skin.

Observing Silence

An easy way to experience mental stillness is to observe silence. Try not speaking for 12 hours. Even better, try 24 hours. See how you feel. For yogis this is a regular practice called Mowna. You will see the mental chatter slowly dissipate, and your power of hearing and sight, both external and internal, will improve. Silence is fasting for the brain; it has a cleansing effect. This is especially valuable for Vatta types with a lot of nervous energy, and Pitta types that are always seeking control.

Try the Ayurvedia way of fasting for your body and brain today!

Ayurveda, Acupuncture, and Chinese Medicine in San Diego


Fe said…
Really appreciate your article, helpful to have an understanding on fasting from TCM perspective, as it is very popular to fast these days, its also hard to decide if it is right or not for me. However, since I am slightly on the thin side I now feel I have a better understanding of what is right for me. Thanks from down under, NZ, ps I see a TCM herbalist and acupuncturist :).