Upvaas (Fasting) and Ayurveda

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Upvaas / Fasting is primarily the act of willingly abstaining from all the four forms of food chewing, licking, swallowing, and drinking, for a period of time. An absolute fast is normally defined as abstinence from all food and liquid for a defined period, usually a single day (24 hours), or several days.

Therapeutic Mechanism Of Upvaas

Let’s understand it in the light of Ayurveda. When we talk about the food then Ayurveda and all the classics tell us that food is responsible for mind as mind is made up of food that we eat. Whatever type of food we eat, same type of mind we’ll have, hence same type of thinking we’ll develop.

According to Acharya Charak Our Body and Mind has three constituents, namely sattva, rajas, and tamas called “GUNA”. All matter and empirical phenomena, including the mind, is matter-manifest in endless combinations of these three gunas. So logically if we are eating Rajasik or Tamasik food we’ll have the thinking of the same kind.

The characteristics associated with these three gunas are mutually different. For instance.

Sattva is characterized by purity, serenity, poise, calmness, discrimination, transparency, compassion, clarity, goodness, altruism, dispassion, contentment, etc.

Rajas is characterized by love of fame, passion, lust, strife, impatience, jealousy, pride, display of power etc.

 Tamas is characterized by anger, greed, ignorance, solidity, resistance, inertia, forgetfulness, confusion, darkness, brutality, etc.

Sattva is the condition of harmony in the human system. Contrary to it Tamas and Rajas are Maanas Doshas (mental impurities). Lust, anger, fear, jealousy, attachment, greed, grief and worry etc. are all the mental disturbances and are caused by the disharmony between Rajas and Tamas.

Any food material that we eat consists of all three Gunas Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Most of the food materials that we consume have high quantity of Tamasik and Rajasik gunas. In normal conditions a person may keep eating the same food without any visible ill effects as his body and mind can cope with the good and bad effects of that. But in case of some illness, it is logical that same food may become dangerous.

For understanding the benefits of fasting it we can see how fasting is explained in Ayurveda medicinal system. The fasting (for a small duration) balances the three doshas in human body i.e., Vata, Pitta and Kapha in human body.

In Ayurveda before a person is given the intensive treatment for complex problems, they made to undergo fasting. Human body is composed of 80% liquid and 20% solid. The gravitational force of the moon affects the saline fluid contents of the body. It causes emotional imbalances in the body, making some people tense, irritable and violent. Fasting acts as antidote, for it lowers the acid and saline content in the body which helps people to retain their sanity.

Now when body and mind have declared that this person does not need any more of Rajas and Tamas but a lot more of Sattva Guna, we need to find some ways to help the body increase it only. There is no harm in letting a person to continue with his desires of not eating (fasting).

And in this fast if we can give him some diet that can increase the Sattva Guna in his body, his recovery will be fast and normal. These things can be fruit juices or vegetable juices. The vegetables and fruits contain higher amount of Sattva Guna and lower amounts of Rajas and Tamas.

The vitiated doshas in the body, particularly the Aamashaya (the digestive viscera) reduce the intensity or impair the digestive fire and cause digestive impairment and produce aama (metabolic toxins), asthe ash particles on fire reduce its intensity and thereby adversely affect the process of cooking, which is the root cause of all diseases.

They together block the minute channels of the body which result in various diseases. Fasting, in the absence of food in the viscera, however, brings about digestion of the metabolic toxins, kindles the digestive fire, removes the blockage in the channels, and thereby aids in minimizing the disease.

Adding to this, Acharya Sushruta explains fasting in the context of indigestion and the diseases due to aama. Fasting is the treatment of choice in diseases of milder intensity.

Ayurveda considers Upavasa also as “aho ratri bhojana abhavaha”, i.e., the state of overnight deprivation of food and there is also mentioning of Upavasa as “sarva bhoga vivarjitaha”, i.e., withdrawal from all worldly pleasures.

The human body seldom cleanses and rejuvenates itself by completing a manifesting every night and eliminating the metabolic wastes the next day. These refer to the physical and mental aspects of fasting, respectively. And also, the Yoga Sutras of sage Patanjali incorporates eight major limbs, of which the fifth limb, Pratyahara, literally means “control of ahara”.

Classics put forth the fact that a clever physician should advice fasting to the subject until niraama lakshanas such as reduction of symptoms, proper  excretion, proper salivation, and lightness of the body and mind appear.

A healthy individual can benefit from fasting to the optimum level by observing it in Shishira Ritu (late winter). This season is also best suited for therapeutic fasting and even in the diseases due to vitiated Vata dosha. Moreover, the time of the day, season, characteristic features of the land, severity of the disease, strength of the patient, and age, are all to be considered while advising fasting.

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