Fasting is considered an important element of ritual adoration, but even more than this, it is really a very important and necessary step towards attainment of perfection in ritual work. During the period of ritual adoration, fasting is helpful in maintaining a due concentration of mind by way of constraints in conduct, and plays an important role in getting rid of mental strain and lethargy, which are believed to be the greatest hurdle for concentration of the mind. It is not only the religious tasks where the importance of fasting is recognized, but it also signifies scientific values based on authentic facts. A big reason of lethargy is understood to be uncontrolled and excessive intake of grainy food items. Intoxicated by grainy food items, different parts of our body acquire laxity. As a result we begin to feel lethargic. But food is still necessary for the supply of energy in our body. No food no life. Food is necessary to maintain the body and its energy level.
It is not just the intake of food that brings in lethargy and mental strain. They also worsen when there is lack of control or lust for food. In simple terms, fasting implies due control on lust for food and restrained intake thereof.
It is not only the religious rites, but observing a fast has always been advised in other religious works too. For example, observing a fast for remorse. Hindu religion prescribes observance of remorse for wrong done either by will or by ignorance. Sense of remorse brings purity in spirit and encourages us to adopt the right actions. Observance of remorse with purity of heart and truthful thoughts really elevates the level of our spirit. Fasting stands as one of the recognized methods of remorse. By observing a fast one tries to bring in purity of mind.
There are various types and methods of fasting. These fasting methods are important not only for religious rites, but they have immense importance for our health matters as well.
Restraint in Intake of Food Items: As we have already discussed, unrestrained intake of food items is a big hurdle in religious adoration. According to mythology, human mind and body take shape according to what one eats. The popular saying goes “Your food habits are a reflection of your mind.” Therefore our mythology gives immense importance to restraining intake of food items. This is also a type of fast.
Puting a hold on taste and lust for delicious food items; always striving for genuine and quality foods will always be helpful in keeping your mind and body free from ailments. Ayurveda speaks about restraint in food habits – half of the stomach should be filled by food, half of the half by water, and the rest should be left for breath.
Eating Small Quantities: Eating small quantities is also a type of fast. Mythology tells us that “living to eat” is not only blasphemous, but it is also unscientific. Excessive intake of foods is injurious to health. One who takes too much food is lazy by appearance and ill by health. For keeping a healthy body and soul together, one should always eat small quantities of food. Don’t over indulge. This habit is particularly most important during religious rites. Eat less than what your hunger demands. This is the toughest type of fast and at the beginning you may have trouble adhering to it. But by continuous practice of this habit, lust for hunger will automatically go away.
Partial Fast: This type of fast is observed on a particular day or for a period of time. This type of fast is popular and recognized in religions throughout the world. It is observed in different religions in different ways. In the Hindu religion, a partial fast is observed when a fast after a particular gap of time is broken to eat certain foods. In Islam, roza in the month of Ramzan is the toughest form of this type. Muslims observing roza do not eat or drink anything from sunrise to sunset. They eat or drink only after the moon rises. In Christianity, forty days of fasting during the pious days of Lent also comes within the partial fast. In Hindu religion, some people keep fasts for fulfillment of a certain goal. This is also a type of partial fast.
Abstaining from Grainy Foods: Abstaining from certain foods and eating only fruits, nuts and roots is also a type of fast. This type of fast is very popular in the Hindu religion and it is usually observed on the occasion of various religious events and festivals. When fruits are eaten, the mind and body remain unaffected by toxins. In ancient times, saints often ate only fruits and nuts to continue their saintly life.
Complete Fast: There are many forms of a complete fast. Exclusive intake of a certain food item for a certain period of time, complete abstinence of all types of food items for a certain period of time, solid or liquid, are different forms of a complete fast. A complete fast is helpful in bringing in purity of spirit and self-confidence. One who observes a complete fast is always full of mental strength and brightness.
Advantages of Fasting
As far as advantages of fasting in adoration are concerned,we have already dealt with it in detail. Fasting not only helps in purification and maintaining soundness of mind, but it also plays a very important role in the successful completion of ritual adoration. Fast or “UPVAS” in Hindi derives from two words i.e. “UP” and “VAS.” Where UP implies “near” and VAS implies “to live.” Thus “UPVAS” or fast simply implies that it is a period when the observer of the fast lives near the Almighty.
But the significance of a fast cannot be confined to spiritualism or spiritual rites only, as it also provides immense advantages to our physical body. These are many reasons why Ayurveda and yoga give immense importance to fasting. Fasting keeps the mind and body in sound health, and it plays an effective role in the treatment of several ailments.
Of course, several ailments in the human body simply occur due to stomach problems and failure of our digestive system. Many ailments like constipation, anemia, fever, indigestion, joint pain, giddiness, uneasiness, sudden pain, swelling, asthma, gout, etc. can be successfully cured by fasting. But proper precautions must be taken before fasting and it is always advised to consult a medical professional before undertaking a fast. Fasting is considered to be a very effective means for the treatment of various ailments, but care should be taken to observe a particular type of fast with prescribed methods in order to get the desired results. For example, it is important to be aware of the type of physical labor allowed during a fast; how to break a fast; etc.
While observance of fasting provides immense advantages, there are several circumstances when this is never advisable. A few serious health problems do not permit fasting as illnesses could get aggravated. For example, fasting is not permitted in patients with tuberculosis.
Fasting is indeed an act of purification of the body and mind. This act of purification helps keep the soundness of both. Fasting keeps the body system healthy and elevates the mind to the heights of spiritualism. Therefore, the significance of fasting is not simply confined to religious obligations, but it also has immense scientific relevance.