The First Step: Fasting

Fasting is an important first step in practicing spiritual activities. Jesus began his via crucis with 40 days of fasting in the desert. In the Bible, however, there is no mention of fasting in the way that Jesus saw fit. Many teachings in the life of Jesus are quite different from those in the Old Testaments. However, they are very similar to some Indian practices. Krishnamacharya, for example, was asked by his master to fast for seven days eating only a typical fruit from the Himalayan region before starting the studies and practices of Ashtanga Yoga. In Vaishnavism (known in the West as the Hare Krishna Movement) fasting is a regular practice calculated through the lunar calendar. The fast days are called Ekadashi. Today, for example, is a day of fasting. Unlike the fast practiced by Jesus, during Ekadashi, Vaishnavas stop eating grains (peas, beans, oats, wheat, corn, lentils, etc.). On specific days, you must spend 24 hours without eating or drinking anything. According to Swami Prabhupada, during the years that Jesus disappeared from Israel, he reached India, he even reached the desert of Kashmir.

What are the effects of fasting? Fasting allows the body to eliminate impurities and toxins accumulated over time. In the practice of yoga it is believed that these impurities decrease the flexibility of the body. In addition, for Vaishnavas, not eating meat, fish and eggs facilitates the understanding of philosophical-spiritual concepts. There is yet another line of Indian spiritualists who recommend eating meat to practice tantric activities. In the Vedas (Indian holy scriptures) it is said that in order to drink Soma one must first perform four-monthly penances to become eligible to drink the sacred drink according to Swami Prabhupada. I myself had an experience which confirmed that when the body is intoxicated it becomes more rigid. On the day of delivery of my daughter, who is now 4 years old, I asked to receive epidural anesthesia because I was experiencing very strong and constant pain. About a month after giving birth I tried to practice yoga but I noticed that my body had changed. My arms were weak and postures that were easy for me before became a big challenge. As I was breastfeeding I thought it best not to fast. I managed to recover my flexibility little by little but it’s still not like before.

Krishnamacharya recommends that the practice of Yoga be adapted to each person’s age and physical condition. For him, Yoga has both a physical and a spiritual healing function. For Swami Prabhupada, based on the statements of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Ashtanga Yoga was a valid method in previous eras but that today, due to extreme materialism, this practice would not be enough. For this age he recommends chanting the names of God: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. I particularly enjoy practicing yoga because it’s the only solution I’ve found to relax my body, which easily tenses up in the shoulder and neck area when I’m mentally overloaded. So yoga acts like a self-massage for me. I have no intention of advancing spiritually through the practice of Yoga. Nowadays, for example, I don’t mind practicing the entire primary series or learning the more advanced series. I like the combination between Ayurveda and Yoga the most. I do the asanas that I think are necessary for the day.

What can you eat on Ekadashi? You can eat tubers, such as potatoes and cassava, and also seeds, such as quinoa and amaranth. All vegetables and fruits are allowed. Chestnuts and walnuts are also allowed. To learn more about Ekadashi days and the stories associated with each day you can download an app called Ekadashi Reminder.


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