(As explained by Swami Sivananda)
For a steady spiritual practice, a sound body and mind are most essential. No spiritual practiced can be continued with an unfit body and mind.
Fasts help a great deal in keeping the body in a perfect state of health. Fasting is recommended by all religions as the medium to the self control and surrender to the divine.
If there is the least symptom of disease in the body, it is a sign to fast for a day or two. Animals which depend only on nature, fast naturally. If it is too difficult to go on complete water fast, take the juice of two of three fruits, mixed with a considerable quantity of water. No solid food or fleshy fruits (such as bananas) should be taken on that day. This kind of fast is good for the preservation of health.
A fast is a quick curing agent for many ailments. It gives rest to the stomach, and also eliminates toxins from the body. It cleanses the body and makes it more energetic.
Much care is required in observing long fasts. They should be observed under the guidance of an expert; otherwise, there is every possibility of more harm than good be done to the system. Two of three day fasts can be observed without guidance, but the daily use of an enema during the fast, and a day or two afterwards, is necessary. A fast of twenty-four hours gives the bowels a chance to have a rest; the mind is free to think of God for many more hours than you may otherwise do. The fast rejuvenates the body and makes the mind concentrated. All your energies are thoroughly recouped. Physically, your system gets an entire overhaul. Mentally, you develop more concentration and resisting capacity to withstand physical disturbances, illness, fatigue, and disease. Although fasting is an excellent remedy, it should not be expected to accomplish the impossible. It cannot cure deficiency diseases that are a result of insufficient nourishment, congenital defects and serious organic troubles. Long fasts are not advisable in wasting diseases like consumption, pernicious anemia, and during pregnancy. Fasting gives clear insight into a subject. A person who genuinely practices fasting at regular intervals, has clear-cut thoughts, an expression all his own and an imagination which others cannot excel. The ego stands nowhere before him. His thoughts are sublime and firm. His actions are diligent. His ideas are rays of light in the darkness of human life.
Fasting is nature's curative agent. It can restore health where everything else has failed. It gives nature a chance to clean the system. A total fast means total abstinence from all food, both liquids and solids. Water is not a food. It does not stimulate the appetite. During a fast, drink plenty of water. This will eliminate weakness. There is a difference between fasting and starving. Fasting is undertaken for religious purposes or to regain bodily health. It is giving up food when there is no real hunger, to eliminate poisons and accumulated toxins from the system, and to allow nature to do its work of healing satisfactorily. Through fasting, you remove diseases and regain bodily health, vigour and vitality. Prana is unified by fasting and the life spark is rekindled. If you have a tendency to vomit while fasting, drink plenty of water. The water can be flavoured with a little lemon juice. Take an enema. If the vomiting persists, break the fast slowly and carefully.
The fast should not be continued when the action of the heart becomes very slow and when you feel very weak. When you fast, do not entertain thoughts of food. You will not derive the benefits of fasting if your mind always dwells on food. Turn your mind towards God. Entertain sublime, divine thoughts. Fast until you feel hungry. The tongue usually becomes clean, the taste in the mouth and the breath pleasant and the complexion clear.
A fast can be broken at any time. But, if you break it before hunger appears naturally, you will not realize the maximum benefits. After the fast is properly broken and also during the breaking period, you may have a tendency toward constipation, but later on this will vanish completely. That is the reason why it is a good idea to adhere to a fruit diet for the first few days after breaking a fast. Fruits digest very easily and stimulate peristalsis.
An abnormal craving to eat more food and all kinds of food may arise after breaking the fast. The tongue and stomach may revolt violently. Be cautious. Control this abnormal appetite.
If the fast is not broken properly, and the stomach is overloaded by eating too much and too heavy foods, you may get bloated. To get rid of this condition, fast again. Take hot baths and one or two enemas daily. When the swelling disappears, break the fast; this time do it more slowly and carefully. You can break your fast with a little vegetable soup, or diluted fruit juice or coconut water. In the case of a long fast, stick to the above diet one-fourth the length of the fast. The digestive power becomes very weak after a long fast. You cannot take heavy foods suddenly. Nature must take her own time, and course to renovate and invigorate. Milk is a heavy food. It is best to not break your fast with milk. You can take it gradually. After a long fast, take half a glass of fruit juice diluted with water. Take this 3-4 times a day on the first day.
Q1. Why is fasting beneficial?
Q2. How often and for how long should one fast?