I have been guiding people through various liquid fasts for the last 5 years and I am still continually inspired and delighted by the way people respond to fasting. Here is a direct copy from one of the participants during the fasting period of my 7-day home detox programme.
“I’ve never felt better and super focused – totally cleared out my 3 years blocked up email inbox, I GOT SO MUCH DONE YESTERDAY. I’ve been suffering from fatigue for a year and it feels cleared, I actually feel high, like I’m on plant drugs, I’m literally in 8th gear but also feel really grounded…”
I have repeatedly witnessed such experiences with my clients during the fasting days of the programme. Now obviously, the issue of physical hunger does arise during a fast and yes, it can be a force to be reckoned with. However, hunger is significantly less of an issue than people fear it will be. In fact, it is the fear of being “starving” that is the biggest block for people wanting to experience a fast.
But here’s the thing, the experience of hunger (as with almost anything we fear or don’t like) when viewed with the appropriate mindset, can provide a wide array of opportunities for personal growth. By leaning into the experience of hunger as opposed to trying to remedy it, by examining it and even appreciating it, I have found that the act of fasting, beyond its multitude of physical benefits, also provides an exceptional platform for developing an accelerated mindfulness practice, in under 24-hours.
Just to clarify, fasting is an effective and safe method of detoxifying the body. More specifically, fasting is an effective and safe method for accelerating the detoxification processes already happening in the body, and which the body is designed to do. There are hundreds of scientific and independent studies on the practice of fasting as a way of healing the body and as a way to fight off illness and other degenerative diseases (and there would be thousands, even tens of thousands of scientific and independent studies on the practice of fasting if there were money to be made from it). Fasting provides a period of concentrated physiological rest during which time the body can devote all self-healing mechanisms to repairing and strengthening biological functions and damaged organs. Fasting accelerates and supports the body’s natural process of cleansing the cells of accumulated toxins and waste products. A fast can be anything from 1-10 days and beyond. A person can fast on one specific food type or liquid or a combination or simply water intake.
“Fasting is the world’s most ancient and natural healing mechanism. Fasting triggers a truly wondrous cleansing process that reaches right down to each and every cell and tissue in the body.”- Evart Loomis M.D.
MINDFULNESS: BY DEFINITION
I learned from Forbes that in 2016 more than 677 papers on mindfulness were published in scientific journals (up from 47 published a decade earlier) which has led to a $4-billion-dollar industry so it’s clearly something the collective is benefiting from. Ironic seeing that it’s about as basic in origin and practice as a trend can be. Here are some of the best definitions of Mindfulness I could gather up:
“Mindfulness is the act of being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling at every moment – without interpretation or judgment.” -Mayo Clinic
“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment.” Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley
“The practice of maintaining a non-judgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”- Merriam-Webster Dictionary
“Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” Mindful.org
“Mindfulness shows us what is happening in our bodies, our emotions, our minds, and in the world. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and others.” Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh
“Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training.”
“Mindfulness isn’t just about knowing that you’re hearing something, seeing something, or even observing that you’re having a particular feeling. It’s about doing so in a certain way – with balance and equanimity, and without judgment. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in a way that creates space for insight.” World-renowned meditation teacher and author, Sharon Salzberg
Okay, so point being, mindfulness is BEING IN IT. Not fixing it, not remedying it, not distracting it, not hiding it, just being aware of what IS.
For many years, during the fasting periods of my programmes, I would provide tips and hacks to help participants not feel hungry. Luckily, much less than expected to everyone’s delight, but I still wanted to provide all the tools possible to prevent my clients from feeling something they didn’t want to feel. And then it hit me, maybe they should also know that they can choose to just BE HUNGRY when they are hungry. Just be in it, really in it. The following are some of the ways I now offer to my clients to embrace the mindfulness approach to fasting; to just be, hungry. The following are three different approaches to fasting with intention, with presence and mindfulness.
FIRST AND FOREMOST you can be extremely grateful that your experience of hunger is BY CHOICE and that this is a process you are willingly participating in for the purpose of your enhanced health and wellbeing. You can be extremely grateful that you are not actually “starving”, a verb that means suffering or dying from hunger/lack of nutrition, but more accurately temporarily experiencing the feeling of hunger. You can then go even deeper and feel the feeling of hunger as perceived by millions of our global citizens every day and at this very moment. This includes people of all ages and all countries, even people in your own country, your own community and maybe even just around the corner from you (this can be quite a revolutionary consciousness pivot and humbling to boot). Sit quietly for 5-10 minutes and allow this shared present-moment experience to ignite compassion within your entire body, reaching down into all your cells and give deep thanks for the impermanence of this feeling in your body and in your life experience.
2. EXAMINE IT, UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
Physically, when your body is expecting food and the digestive enzymes are active in your gut, it will send hunger messages to the brain. One needs to be fasting for approximately 3 days before these signals slow right down and then finally stop altogether. You will hear from people who have fasted for 7-10 days that it gets easier and easier as the ‘hunger’ feeling subsides. So if we have the mechanism in place to eventually ‘override’ the hunger feelings, can we be more engaged with them when they are active? On an emotional level, not eating can bring up many responses. the most common emotional responses are anger (“hangry”) and sadness. It is not surprising we so often eat to satiate these unwanted feelings. So what is it, this hunger? A burning? An ache? A cramp? Is it as bad as a headache? Worse? Have a good look at it objectively. What emotions are they provoking and are they even real? Recently, when in this practice myself, I tried to really dial into where the hunger is physically in my body. Expecting to locate a feeling in my gut, I found it immediately in my head! It’s a though FAR MORE than a physical sensation, it’s really a thought, it’s in the mind. That was just my experience at that moment. So if normally hunger is a call to action, what is it now? Can you disassociate this present moment with the physical experience? Sit quietly for 5-10 minutes and travel inside your body or follow the script of a mindfulness body scan and feel it all out.
3. SECONDARY NUTRITION
We can be “fed” in so many ways. This means we can also feel satiated through means other than food. I strongly encourage the exploration of this concept while we explore the experience of hunger (and potentially even our relationship with food) more closely when on retreat, but this can also be done anytime anywhere. The expansion into this awareness of Secondary Nutrition is extremely enjoyable and fun to explore. So what is there that is accessible to me during this fasting period that could feed me? A sunset? An art gallery? A song? A conversation? Play with the concept and search for nourishment outside the kitchen, just for now. Here is one of my favourite quotes on the topic:
“Diet is defined through Ayurveda as something you take in from any field of perception, from any mode of intellect. What this simply means, is that when you are looking at your food, you are looking at 1/5th of your diet. You take in what you touch, what you smell what you feel, what you hear and what you think. Everything that goes in becomes a part of your nutrition”. Dr. E Svboda
The way fasting protocols enriches the work I do just seems to keep getting broader and more dynamic. I am continually finding more and more benefits to fasting and how it can be used to support the healing process. It’s a practice that I love guiding people though and I hope the mindfulness approach will be yet another benefit to highlight.
If you would like to fast with me, either at home or away, please drop me a line so I can send you info on upcoming programmes or retreats.