Fasting is a common religious practice; whether one grows spiritually by observing fasts is debatable however when done in the proper manner it could yield immense health benefits likeimproving immunity, controlling sugar, detoxifying the body and so on.
“Fasting has been an integral part of Hinduism since time immemorial. Ayurveda considers fasting to be essential for the purification of the body. It is a also a helpful tool for clinical investigations of illnesses” says Ayurvedacharya Dr Partap Chauhan the Director of Jiva Ayurveda. Dr Chauhan explains that the body starts utilizing stored glycogens for energy during a fast this process leads to removal of toxic substances from the body by the action of the liver.
Dr Pallavi Vaishya, Consultant Dietician and Nutritionist at Kailash Hospital, Noida says that fasts are good for health and suggests that these could be undertaken by anyone who is fit enough even if one is not religious. One of the benefits of fasting is that it boosts immunity “Research has proven that the WBC(white blood count) increases due to fasting hence the immunity of an individual gets a boost as well,” asserted Dr Chauhan. Dr. Chauhan explained some of the additional benefits of fasting “Skin problems like pimples, eczema, and psoriasis are reversed due to fasting. Hence an individual can expect glowing skin after the period of fasting”.
Dr Pallavi explains how immunity is boosted due to fasting “During fasting the body can concentrate more keenly on other functions like boosting the immune system as it is not burdened with the job of digestion.”
Should people take rest along with fasting for better results?
· Besides improving immunity fasting can also control skin problems like pimples, eczema, and psoriasis and bring down blood sugar levels
· Fasting should be undertaken after preparation and by keeping one’s health condition in mind
· Both the Navratras fall during the change of season hence during these times one can rid his body of toxins and prepare himself for the coming season
Dr Pallavi does not think so “I don’t think bed rest would be helpful that way people would go on thinking about food even more, it would be much better if people remain engaged in their normal routine. When busy they are less likely to think about food again and again. So it is an important method to avoid thinking about food” she feels.
Neha Upadhyay a Delhi based Macrobiotics coach points out that water only fasting can be useful for cleaning the entire system and having lukewarm water certainly helps create a homeostasis in the body. Dr Pallavi points out that fasting brings down blood sugar levels, toxins stored inside accumulated fat are cleansed body feels lighter as a result of which ‘feel good Hormones’ are released. Neha too points out that controlling ones urges coupled with clean eating, chanting and prayer do generate immense positivity helping both the mind and the body.
Dr Chauhan underlines the importance of preparing oneself before undertaking a fast “More than the physical need to eat during a fast a person has a psychological urge for food as per the set routine so one has to first prepare himself mentally deciding what and when to eat during those days”
Both the Chaitra Navratra as well as the Sharad Navratra come during season change what is the reason behind this?
Dr Vaishya explains the science behind this “Navratra fasts are observed during the season change as these help to detoxify the body and prepare it for the next season. Whatever you accumulate during the winters you are able to cleanse and get ready for the new season. Through this you are giving a chance for the body to reboot and detoxify” she explains.
Neha points out that during change of season certain Doshas prevail “The Basant Navratri comes after Holi when we find several people falling sick due to viral or other infections the Kapha Dosha in people can be high during this period in Macrobiotic terms YIN can be high. Similarly during the Sharad Navratra the Pita Dosha (Bile) can be very high or in macrobiotic terms YANG can be high. Both Navratras occur during season change and have immense Macrobiotic and Ayurvedic significance. Therefore we must cleanse ourselves by adopting a clean diet and lifestyle fasting is a perfect method for that.”
The fact is fasting is not an easy thing to do hence the question arises that who should avoid undertaking these fasts especially for such prolonged period as nine days. Neha points out that traditionally certain individuals have been exempt from fasting on health grounds “Indian Shastras such as Atharva Veda have categorically explained who should fast and who shouldn’t during Navratras. Small children, individuals suffering from illness, people above the age of seventy or those in an emergency situation or causality. For them, the Atharva Veda prescribes fasting in the form of pure thinking (Mansik Kalpana), Meditation (Dhyana), Prayer and Chanting (Mantra Uchharan). Detoxification could be done through one’s thoughts and prayers during the holy period of Navratras” she says.
Dr Pallavi agrees to this “Diabetics and heart patients should do it as it lowers sugar and cholesterol but pregnant ladies, old people and small children should refrain from it.”
Is there an ideal diet pattern which could be adopted during the phase of Navratra fasting?
Dr Chauhan feels that an individualized approach to it needs to be taken and diet should be decided according to the person’s physical and mental strength. “Some people make do with only one serving of easily digestible fruits, some people like light meal once a day then there are a few who can do with juices only. One can take some liquid or other edible items in noon time or before sun set” he suggests.
Dr Pallavi warns that dehydration is a big threat during Navratra fasting hence plenty of liquids ought to be consumed especially natural fluids “Water intake should be very high coconut water, nimbu pani, chanch these natural liquids should be resorted to more often. Fruit juices are not advisable as these raise the sugar level, Chanch is particularly beneficial as it has probiotic properties hence it aids digestion” she explains.
She suggests that if one opts for a meal it ought to be during the afternoon so as to meet the calorie requirements of the person.
Neha advises fresh seasonal fruits and meals that are free of salt during this phase “Phalahara, buckwheat roti, green seasonal veggies, unprocessed and unsalted dried fruits , makhana,
meals ought to be low on sodium salt as that would help stabilize blood pressure and aid weight loss” she explains.
Dr Pallavi feels that Samak ke chawal is a better option than kuttu ka atta as this is easier to digest and ghee and oil must be avoided. Dr Chauhan warned against opting for special ‘Vrat Food’ being aggressively marketed by big companies and opined that light natural, fresh home cooked food is best in any circumstance specially during fasting.