Festive fasting: Mind-Body benefits

I remember when I was a child, my mother used to put the song Mohe panghat pe nand lal chhed gayo re from Mughal-e-Azam (she was a diehard Dilip Kumar fan) and I had just begun learning Kathak (Indian classical dance form). So every Janmashtami, this song would be in my head and I would fast. We would put this song and I would dance to it. We would end the fast with a Meetha Parantha, the true highlight of my pre-puberty and teenage life! Today, on Janmashtami, those memories of joy and fasting together fills my heart with nostalgic love.

Fasting is good for us. Many studies have told us that, I don’t need to remind you. It is the way the body takes a break once in a while and the digestive system relaxes and cleanses out all the toxins. Some people do this habitually, once a week fasting becomes a way of life. But for those who look at fasting on Janmashtami, during Ramadan, for Navratras, for Lent, fasting becomes more like a community activity and benefits are holistic. Why? It’s because when people fast together, they create their little communities where they encourage the fasting, distract themselves from the need for food or water and instead of crawling towards the time when they can finally eat, they prepare for the feast with delight and playfulness, and enjoy with each other’s camaraderie in the process. So more than just benefits for the body, fasting has amazing emotional benefits because we are doing it with our loved ones. Many researches have demonstrated the benefits of community living, eating and festivities.

So if you want to fast, how do you fast? Today is Janmashtami, then we are going to have Ganpati and the Navratris coming up so lots of occasions to fast. Do you blindly follow religion and say you will not even have water and then you will completely binge? Slow down. You can enjoy the benefits of fasting and still remain within your religious boundaries. These benefits will only kick in when done right. I am putting down some tips for the lovers of fasting so that they can enjoy this beautiful detoxification process combined with the feeling of togetherness with your loved ones:

  1. Find your purpose. If detoxification is the purpose along with shraddha, the presence of water and fruits is required through the day for fasting. We are giving our gut a break, but a portion of an apple or papaya will accelerate the detoxification process through the day. Too much fruit on an empty stomach and raise sugar levels and cause an inflammatory response so avoid doing that. Just a small portion is good. Drinking a glass of water every couple of hours will accelerate the detox process.
  2. Don’t eat fruits like bananas. Because then you are defeating the purpose of fasting. Banana is a meal, it fills us up. You need to stay hungry. So choose a light fruit that is easily digested and only eat two fruits through the day.
  3. Choose the fasting food options. There is a reason that wheat is not part of our traditional Indian fasting. When you have not eaten throughout the day, wheat can be heavy on your gut. Buckwheat or Kuttu on the other hand is lighter. So breaking your fast with a buckwheat roti along with some yummy lightly tempered potatoes helps your gut stay relaxed even after long hours of fasting and fills up your potassium levels that got depleted through the day. Low potassium levels can make us feel weak, give us muscle cramps, higher fatigue, irregular heartbeat, tingling or numbness, constipation and in severe cases, mental confusion. We definitely don’t want that. Eating just a small portion of potatoes can fix it.
  4. Make it joyous. Don’t look at fasting as a chore. Get dressed for it, decorate your dinner table, light some incense, put on some lilting music. Whatever music works for you is good – music is therapy has been clinically evidenced to calm the mind and gut. It could be some memorable movie songs or religious music or just some soothing meditative music that fills the air with positive vibes. Create an activity around the time that you are going to break your fast. Pre-plan to doing something together. Remember in Navratras, we will dance together. Doing such creative activities together can make the process of fasting easier as well as imprint our brains with joyous memories of fasting.
  5. And finally, try not to binge. I know it is difficult when you haven’t eaten throughout the day to stop yourself. But remember, tomorrow morning is going to be a normal day. You are still going to get food. Your body is going to get all the nutrition it needs. It is only today that you are giving it a break physically, emotionally and spiritually. So eat a small quantity and don’t gorge. Focus on the fragrance of the incense, the lilting music and twinkling eyes of your loved ones around you, and the heaps of food in front of you will start seeming small.

As for me, today I am going to remember mom with her Dilip Kumar songs and maybe wear some festive wear to celebrate her spirit on Janmashtami. It is Lord Krishna’s happy birthday, my favourite God because of his mischief, flirtatious nature and amazing wisdom. In the spirit of his birthday, let’s rejoice. As he says in the Bhagwat Gita, “The spirit is beyond destruction. No one can bring an end to spirit which is everlasting.” With this spirit, like all happy birthdays have to be celebrated with pomp and happiness, let’s make it a celebratory day with our loved ones. Happy birthday Krishnaji!

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