Just take a few minutes of your time to look with me at one single therapy designed by God, applicable in a multitude of diseases, which is just as up to date today as it was 5,000 years ago; just as consistent with life as breathing, and yet free of iatrogenic (doctor caused) complications.
Fasting abstention from food and often drink for a designated period of time, has been practiced for centuries in connection with religious observance. The religions that practice fasting encompass the vast majority of people on the planet: Baha’is, Buddhists, Christians, Confucianists, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Muslims, Native North Americans, and Taoists. You might justifiably conclude that any spiritual practice embraced so universally has to have something going for it. But what, exactly?
In today’s secular society, more people than you might guess engage in rational fasting—so called because it is understood to foster health through purification of the body. Fasting is considered a very rational thinking to do, a kind of body-ecology, one of the ways that we exercise care and respect for ourselves.
When you look at fasting in the different religious traditions of the world, a wider field of values emerges. Not only physical and mental purification are there, but other values, too, such as self-restraint, social solidarity, penance, attunement to God. And it doesn’t take long to see that certain values underlying the practice emerges as commonly acknowledged and shared.
If you are coming new to the subject, allow me, at the outset, to anticipate the slightest twinge of a normal reaction that you may encounter within yourself: “Me fast? I don’t want to die!”
Underlying that understandable reaction is a confusion between fasting and starvation. Let’s dispel that confusion right away. Fasting is a positive, freely chosen action that bestows a number of benefits. Starving, in contrast, is usually an involuntary wasting away through the prolonged unavailability of food or inadequate amounts of food.
The derivations of the words themselves are instructive. The word fast derives from faestan (Old English meaning “to abstain”). The abstention is voluntary and undertaken for good effects. It is life enhancing. The word starvation comes from the Old English sterofan, a derivation of the Teutonic verb sterben, which means “to die”.
When we fast we in effect decide that we are going to take our nourishment from the reserves we have been storing up. Starvation begins when the storage shelves have been emptied, when the body has consumed its spare resources, craves food, and continues to be deprived.
It is essential to clear up straight away the misconception that fasting is the same as starvation. They represent entirely different periods in the process of abstaining from food.
This week marked the beginning of Ramadan 2013.
Ramadan or Ramazan is a Muslim religious observance that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, the month in which the Qur’an was revealed to Angel Gabriel, to deliver it to The Prophet Muhammed (P.B.U.H). It is the Islamic month of fasting (sawm), in which participating Muslims do not eat or drink anything from dawn until sunset.
The underlying significance of the Ramadan tradition of abstaining entails multiple layers of symbolism. At the most basic level, the month is viewed as a time to enact a heightened sense of kindness, an opportunity to shy away from conflict, anger, and criticism, and to ask for forgiveness. It is intended for Muslims to personally experience hunger and thirst, and empathize with those who have insufficient amounts of food or drink. This 9th lunar month is also typically a time when Muslims give significant portions of the required alms, or zakat—2.5% of a person’s total wealth and one of the five pillars of Islam.
One of the major differences between a spiritual or personal fasting and Religious fasting is that, in Religious fasting such as in Islam for example, the roles and format are already set out. In a spiritual or personal fasts – you need to do a bit more research, in order to find a program that works for you.
Fasting for the whole month is something unimaginably difficult thing for anyone, even for believers.
Fasting is never another mystical or magical system of “curing” disease. It is rather a natural physiological approach to the progressive recovery of health by allowing the organism to rest and restore its normal physiological status which is health. This includes its ability to heal and repair but always, within its own limits and tolerances.
Fasting as a religious observance, has long been practiced for the accomplishment of certain goods. Religious fasting is of early origin, antedating recorded history. Partial or entire abstinence from food, or from certain kinds of foods, at stated seasons, prevailed in Assyria, Persia, Babylon, Scythia, Greece, Rome, India, Ninevah, Palestine, China, in northern Europe among the Druids, and in America among the Indians. It was a widely diffused practice, often indulged as a means of penitence, in mourning and as a preparation for participation in religious rites, such as baptism and communion.
At the very dawn of civilization the Ancient Mysteries, a secret worship or wisdom religion that flourished for thousands of years in Egypt, India, Greece, Persia, Thrace, Scandinavia and the Gothic and Celtic nations, prescribed and practised fasting. The Druidical religion among the Celtic peoples required a long probationary period of fasting and prayer before the candidate could advance. A fast of fifty days was required in the Mithriac religion in Persia. Indeed, fasting was common to all the mysteries, which were all quite similar to the Egyptian mysteries and were probably derived from these. Moses, who was learned in “all the wisdom of Egypt,” is said to have fasted for more than 120 days on Mount Sinai.
Apart from scripture, the earliest records of therapeutic fasting date back to the ancient civilizations of Greece and the Near East. Plato and Socrates fasted for physical and mental efficiency. Pythagoras required his students to fast before entering his classes. Ancient Egyptians resolved syphilis with therapeutic fasting. The renowned Greek physician Hippocrates recognized therapeutic fasting as of primary importance in disease.
Major W. C. Gotschall, M. S., says: “There is nothing new about fasting. Among the ancients it was recognized as a sovereign method of attaining and maintaining marked mental and physical efficiency. Socrates and Plato, two of the greatest of the Greek philosophers and teachers, fasted regularly for a period of ten days at a time. Pythagoras, another of the Greek philosophers, was also a regular faster, and before he took an examination at the University of Alexandria, fasted for forty days. He required his pupils to fast for forty days before they could enter his class.” H. B. Cushman tells us in his History of the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez Indians, that the Choctaw warrior and hunter “often indulged in protracted fasts” to train him to “endure hunger.”
Man is an animal and, as such, is subject to the same laws of existence and the same conditions of living, as are other animals. As a part of the great organic world, he is not a being that is set apart from the ordinary and regular conditions of life, governed by different laws and requirements of existence. It is not surprising, therefore, that we find man not only able to fast for prolonged periods and able to do so with benefit, but also find him fasting under a wide variety of circumstances and for a wide variety of purposes. In the following pages, we shall briefly review the most important of the conditions under which man fasts and the purposes for which he fasts.
Science can sometimes stubbornly cling to its errors and resist all efforts to correct them. Once an alleged fact has been well established, no matter how erroneous it is, all the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Nowhere in this fact so well illustrated as in the history of the efforts to break down the stubborn resistance of science to the idea that the human organism, like the organisms of the lower animals, can safely abstain from food for prolonged periods.
For much of human history, fasting has been guided by intuition and spiritual purpose. Today, our understanding of human physiology confirms the powerful healing effects of fasting.
Historical records tell us that fasting has been used for health recovery for thousands of years. Hippocrates, Socrates, and Plato all recommended fasting for health recovery. The Bible tells us that Moses and Jesus fasted for 40 days for spiritual renewal. Mahatma Gandhi fasted for 21 days to promote respect and compassion between people with different religions.Ramadan 2013 is finally here and fasting is set to start from tomorrow or day after tomorrow in many parts of the world. The fasting is a month of cleaning the life of the world’s Muslims when they cleanse their hearts from the worldly evils that afflicts most of the people in the rest of the world.
No doubt it has been employed from the time man first began to get sick. Fasting was part of the methods of healing practiced in the Ancient Asculapian Temples of Toscurd Guido, 1300 years before the time of Jesus. Hippocrates, the mythical Greek “Father of Physics,” seems to have prescribed total abstinence from food while a “disease” was on the increase, and especially at the critical period, and a spare diet on other occasions.
Tertullian has left us a treatise on fasting written about 200 A.D. Plutarch said: “Instead of using medicine rather fast a day.” Avicenna, the great Arab physician often prescribed fasting for three weeks or more.
Fasting provides a period of concentrated physiological rest during which time the body can devote its self-healing mechanisms to repairing and strengthening damaged organs. The process of fasting also allows the body to cleanse cells of accumulated toxins and waste products.
Fasting is a powerful therapeutic process that can help people recover from mild to severe health conditions. Some of the most common ones are high blood pressure, asthma, allergies, chronic headaches, inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), irritable bowel syndrome, adult onset diabetes, heart disease, degenerative arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, eczema, acne, uterine fibroids, benign tumours, and systemic lupus erythematosus.
Corrupting our flesh with toxic and poisonous products was never intended by the Sustainer and Provider of Life as a means of maintaining life. This principle applies to believer and non believer alike. Again, the principle is true because God, except in specific intervention, showers his natural blessings equally on both groups. “The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike”. We believers must clearly understand that our body is not spiritual — not yet. Yes it can be dedicated to the spiritual kingdom of God, but even so, our physical bodies still follow all the natural God-designed physical laws of nature and as such can be corrupted or kept healthier by choices.
The physiological effect of fasting includes lower blood sugar, lowering of the cholesterol and lowering of the systolic blood pressure. In fact, Ramadan fasting would be an ideal recommendation for treatment of mild to moderate stable, non-insulin diabetes, diabetes, obesity, and essential hypertension. In 1994 the first International Congress on “Health and Ramadan” held in Casablanca, entered 50 research papers from all over the world from Muslim and Non-Muslim researchers, who had done extensive studies on the medical ethics of fasting.
Improvement in many medical conditions was noted; however, in no way did fasting worsen any patient’s health or baseline medical condition. On the other hand, patients suffering from severe diabetes or coronary artery disease, kidney stones, etc. are exempt from fasting and should not try to fast. This is the only time of the year when digestive tract gets annual holiday vacation of 29 or 30 days. After 15-16 hour fast, taste buds have taken the rest and food may taste more pleasant and enjoyable.
So why is it then that many religions require at least some time spent fasting, or abstaining from food–often for periods of 24 hours or more? How does that make sense to having a healthy and productive outlook?
There is no doubt that you begin to feel light-headed in the first twelve hours: your blood sugar begins to dip and you notice that you cannot stay on task or concentrate. In another five hours, the hunger pangs almost cease, your body resigning itself to the fact that you are not going to feed it yet, and it becomes more difficult to perform physical tasks; your balance, like your head, is not able to come into focus.
By the time you reach 24 full hours with no food, you are sapped of energy, though not completely, and you are almost used to the light-headedness. But you DO feel a survival urge, an instinctive push, to eat–not because you feel terribly hungry anymore, that fades away–but because your body is beginning to tap into your fat stores, and so, you are going into a physical minimalist state.
This is what science and medicine tells us, and it is true. Mentally, or spiritually (whatever you prefer), you begin to feel it much sooner–the “it” I refer to is that minimalism–or what Lacan called the Real. We’re never really so in touch with the Real as when we strip ourselves of the essentials. Our body and mind–the two entangled like the sub-atomic particles in quantum mechanics–are one, indistinguishable from one another during such an entanglement, feeding each other, or, sapping each other’s energy.
According to psycho-onocological studies, cancer patients who feel emotionally supported (and eat well and exercise, of course) live an average of six years longer than those who feel hopeless and helpless.
Stress, caused by an increase in emotional anxiety stemming from certain social situations such as employment, family or friends, releases cortisol into the body. In November 2006, the journal, Cancer Research reported that an increase in cortisol can not only cause cancer, but can help it to grow. Cortisol contains several compounds that both feed cancer cells, and help them to spread or metastasize.
Both physiological and physical rest are absolutely essential to recovery from most serious health problems such as hypertension, congestive heart failure, and arteriosclerosis with angina, just to name a few.
Food is one of the biggest workloads on all systems, but especially so on the heart and circulation. Stopping all food not only puts the entire intestinal tract at rest, but also the heart and most other organs as well. This is physiological rest. Add recumbent bed rest, which is physical rest, to this life support system and we see most serious conditions regenerate to improved health in extended fasts. Without near total physical rest, however, such cases will not experience the regenerative healing anticipated.
If your mind is upset, first look at how you are poisoning your brain. Your brain chemistry is designed by God to maintain mental comfort in health. In some physical diseases (often undetected) the brain screams with symptoms. Also, commonly, people consume food additives, drugs, and substances to which they are sensitive or allergic. These may cause brain chemistry alterations with seriously disturbing mental consequences. These sensitizing agents cannot be present in our internal environment if our brain chemistry is to return to and stay normal.
Regarding the usefulness of fasting, there are few diseases where it is not applicable. The quality of experienced, well-trained professional supervision however, remains of paramount importance. This physician must qualify first of all by total dedication to the inherent WISDOM OF DESIGN.
He must shun all forms of toxic assault which are only intended to relieve unpleasant symptoms. Many symptomatic remedies are toxic agents and should only be resorted to where the doctor believes there is a life threatening emergency.
All drugs, homeopathic remedies, and even natural herbal drugs are avoided in the fast. The body best does its own work of defense and repair unhampered by the suppression of its repair activities.
Drugs, along with various toxic remedies, are generally dangerous during a fast. Their dosage could be very fragile. There are very few exceptions. The insulin dependent diabetic may have to be under the care of a diabetologist. Here again, the dosage would have to be adjusted very carefully. While the ocular pressure in glaucoma falls during a fast, to remove medication prematurely and without monitoring could result in blindness. Some drugs, such as steroids, have to be withdrawn gradually.
The one quality of fasting which is genuinely awesome and even miraculous, and yet truly natural to life is the ability of living things including humans to regain youthfulness.
This physiological (scientific) characteristic is called rejuvenescence. There is no other way. Experimental scientists have clearly demonstrated rejuvenescence by fasting lower forms of life. Some of these forms of life live out their entire life cycle in a few days or weeks. They can be easily used for such experimental research.
Whenever food is withheld from consumption beyond the usual period in the case of man or other animals there are certain changes in the function, chemical reactions and life processes of the cells and tissues. It is these changes which give fasting its therapeutic properties. By considering the physiological reactions to fasting we can thus gain an understanding of the reasons which determine its therapeutic value. Of great importance among the physiological effects of fasting is rejuvenation and slowed degradation — the acquiring of fresh vitality and renewal of youthful characteristics to the cells and tissues of the body.
In experiments conducted at the Hull Biological Laboratory of the University of Chicago, both dogs and humans were fasted for extended periods. In fasts of from 30 to 40 days a five to six per cent increase in the metabolic rate was observed. Of course rejuvenation does not occur in man to the extent that it does in the lowest forms of animal life. However, the effects of rejuvenescence are nevertheless very noticeable in the case of human fasting.
Deprived of food, such creatures can be fasted back from the adult to the embryonic stage of life. This is as if they are reborn. The process can be carried on through many generations after their brothers and sisters have died. In some cases certain creatures that normally live and die in a few weeks have been kept alive for several years. This principle does not precisely apply to man. Man cannot be fasted back to the embryonic stage. But man can benefit from the same physiological characteristic present in his tissues.
At the University of Chicago, Carlson and Kunde fasted a 40-year-old male two weeks discovering his cellular physiology was that of a seventeen year old two weeks discovering his cellular physiology was that of a seventeen year old. These benefits are acquired by ridding the cells of toxic metabolic accumulants. One of the characteristic features of youthfulness is seen in the cell to nucleus ratio. Youthful cells have a preponderance of nuclear material, while old and senile cells have a preponderance of cellular material.
During the fast, the body has the opportunity to redistribute its nutritive supplies — the surpluses and non-vital supplies being consumed and utilized first. The absorption of normal muscles and tissues on a fast is readily observable, and the flesh, blood and bone of a tumor, being less important to the needs of the body, are absorbed much more rapidly, with the essential tissues being utilized in nourishment and the remainder permanently removed. On the fast the assimilative powers of the body are increased. This is shown both in the improvement of the blood during the fast and the rapid assimilation of food after the fast.
During a fast, when the body’s energy is not used in the work of digestion and assimilation, the need for minerals is lowered. The reserves of these elements in the body are sufficient to meet all needs. It is for this reason that no deficiency diseases, including dental decay, occur on the fast, though they often follow a diet of refined foods. Man can live much longer on water alone than he can on a diet of white flour and water simply because use of the flour increases the need for other elements to enable the body to digest, assimilate and metabolize the flour. Deficiency diseases frequently even recover on the fast, due to better assimilation of elements already stored in the body.
Fasting begins with the omission of the first meal and ends with the exhaustion of all food reserves. When the food reserves of the body have been consumed, certain symptoms occur which indicate the end of the fasting period. There is invariably a return of hunger and a removal of coating from the tongue. The edges and tip of the tongue clear first, with the rest quickly following. The bad taste in the mouth and the offensive breath likewise disappear at this time.
The pulse and temperature, which may have been abnormal, become normal. The eyes frequently brighten, salivary secretion is normalized, and the urine, which may have been discolored, becomes clear. Of these symptoms, the return of hunger and clearing of the tongue are the most important, and are regarded by some as the only certain and unmistakable signs which denote the completion of the fast.
Rejuvenation rather than degeneration is the result.
Fasting involves a continual physiological change in the body. Rejuvenescence, autolysis, increased assimilation, elimination and other processes are taking place. Under these conditions it is to be expected that there will be outward manifestations of the changes occurring in the body. Such manifestations may be either pleasant or discomforting, more often the latter, and, though in no sense a cause for concern, they should be understood and expected.
During a fast, you are forced to consider what is truly important in your life, what needs improvement, and how to implement (once you’re eating again) strategies to make it all happen. Fasting encourages deep introspection–something western society sorely lacks in the midst of digital cable, internet, jobs, sports, malls, restaurants, movies, plays, and the list goes on and on and on….
Fasting is meant to give a human being the opportunity to grow–you are no longer restricted by your body’s needs and can better immerse yourself in the needs of the mind, or, if you will, the spirit.
Fasting, though, should be limited to not more than once or twice a year–it does take a toll on the body, which we know then takes a toll on the mind as well. However, when we do fast, we should use it for its intended purpose, breaking down the drudgery of daily life and seeking ways to change for the better, thereby improving all of society.
There is a theological metaphor about how each person who lives represents a strand of webbing, all interconnected, like a spider’s web. When one strand is damaged, the integrity of the web as a whole is affected.
Humans require companionship–it’s hard-wired, and is the basis for all civilizations. If we all know this, as acknowledged by the many countries, cities, towns, all over Earth, how is it then that we continue to disrupt the human web? As an individual, it can feel rather hopeless to try to affect change, to help others see that there are no boundaries, cultural, theological, geographical, visual, physical, or otherwise, in this, our human equation. Helplessness follows, and then, we seek to fill that emotional gap however we can–leading to further our social estrangement in a slow decay.
If we could each take a day to refocus ourselves, to truly examine who we are, not just as individuals, but in the scope of our global society, perhaps that sense of hopelessness and helplessness would get a bit better, sending a positive ripple throughout each person’s life, the world over. Our society, like the cancer patients in the psycho-onocological studies, will “live” longer….
Parmenides, a holistic Greek philosopher (circa 500 AD) said, “All is one. Nor is it divisible, wherefore, it is wholly continuous.”
It is the 21st century. As a society, we need to catch up to Parmenides from the past. We are all one, part of a social entanglement; there are perceived divisions but we can just as easily un-perceive those separations. We will not continue as a society, as a global community, unless more time is spent on considering what is truly Real.
Breaking out of the rut of poor health, addiction, or any other unhealthy lifestyle pattern, be it at the mind, body, or spiritual level, can be quite daunting when all else remains the same.
Ramadan’s radical shift in routine sets the terrain for change.
Live and Learn. We All Do.
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