The Science behind Fasting

People used to say fasting is all related to religion and its done for the Lord. But is that so?

Fasting has been incorporated into religious activities but do you know that religion, especially Hinduism is all about incorporating Science into our daily lives. Every single activity in Hinduism has scientific reason behind it. Same goes for fasting as well.

Do you know that fasting has been scientifically proven can make the mind calm & serene. This is called as Sattvic and during this Sattvic/Fasting period, scriptures advises us to worship God as the mind will be more receptive.

When the positive aspects of a particular God is being concentrated on, those qualities are ultimately evoked in the individual. The deities are not actually separate beings; they are aspects of the dormant mind waiting to be awakened and utilized in man’s consciousness. Worship can arouse these potential faculties so that the low, sensual consciousness can be elevated to super-consciousness.

Coming to the internal body part of a fasting people, epinephrine and cortisone hormones mix into the bloodstream more easily. These hormones have effects also on cancerous cells. They serve as a shield against cancer; that is, they prevent the growth of cancer cells. Indeed, the body of a fasting person is in maintenance mode. The fat that surrounds internal organs melts away. The body becomes invigorated and gathers physical strength with an increased level of resistance to diabetes as well as stomach, kidney, heart, and liver diseases.

The liver takes a rest for 3-5 hours during fasting, thereby stopping storage of food substances for a while. In the mean time, it prepares globulins, which will boost the immune system. Muscles in the stomach and cells that release secretions, too, have a rest for some time during fasting hours. As the volume of blood circulating in the body decreases and consequently blood pressure drops, the heart relaxes.

If waste materials from food are not burned thoroughly, they impair arteries. Unburned fats make arteries narrower and cause the disease called arteriosclerosis. [During the practice of fasting], nearly no substance is left in the body towards sunset. That is, all substances are metabolized. Hence, fasting is beneficial for some diseases, especially for arteriosclerosis sufferers. Other body organs, too, get a chance to rest. Eating less and fasting are of vital importance for body health.

The systems propounded in the Vedas and Shastras coordinate man’s biological rhythms with the cycles of nature. One of nature’s most fundamental rhythms can be observed in the phases of the moon. Scientifically it is known that the tides of the ocean rise during full moon and by dark moon they have completely ebbed. These phases must therefore affect the human body, considering it is approximately between 50-65% of water. The systems of fasting are based on the different stages of the moon’s waxing and waning. The cycles of the moon influence women in particular through the menstrual cycle, so fasting is practised more extensively by women.

There are two phases in the moon’s monthly cycle. The first part consisting of fifteen days as the moon waxes, is known as Shuklapaksh or the white fortnight. On the fifteenth day, Poornima or full moon occurs. Then the second half begins as the moon wanes. The next fifteen days are referred to as Krishnapaksh. By the fifteenth day, or Amavasya, it is completely dark. The days specified for fasting are calculated according to the intensity of the moon’s influence during these two phases. Fasting can be done on the fourth days of either fortnight.

Ekadasi is a Sanskrit word, which means ‘the eleventh’. It refers to the eleventh day of a fortnight belonging to a lunar month. There are two fortnights in a lunar month—the poornima and amavasya. So, Ekadasi occurs twice in a month. The special feature of Ekadasi, as most people know it, is a fast, abstinence from diet. According to scientific research, it is known that the air pressure on the earth varies to extreme limits on both the new moon (Amavasya) and the full moon (Purnima) day. This is because of the orbital path combination of the sun, moon and earth.

This can be observed by the change in the nature of the tidal waves on the new moon and full moon days. The waves are very high and rough, but from the next day onwards, the waves become calm, an indication that the pressure has also receded. Now, based on this fact, the significance of Ekadasi fasting can be explained in 2 ways:

It takes about 3-4 days for the food that we eat today to reach our brain (for the brain to understand the food intake). Now, if we eat light/fast on Ekadasi days, that intake will reach the brain correspondingly on the New moon/full moon day. On both of these days, the earth pressure is at its maximum, thus leading to imbalance in everything, including ones thought process. So, if the input to the brain is at a minimum, the chances of the brain indulging in any wayward activity due to the high pressure imbalance also becomes minimum. People in asylums behave weirdly during ekadashis due to this same lunar activity.

Another explanation for Ekadasi fasting is that compared to any other day of the moon cycle, atmospheric pressure is lowest on Ekadasi days. Thus, this is the best time to fast and cleanse the bowel system. If we fast on any other day, the high pressure/strain may damage our system. Thus, it is advisable that after fasting on Ekadasi, on the immediate next day (Dwadasi)

As per both the above theories, the fasting practice on Ekadasi days has a strong scientific base. People who observe the fast are asked to stay away from all types of grains, and to have a light diet of nuts, milk, fruits, etc. This is of most relevance during Chaturmas, the three months of monsoon. At this time maximum fasting is done because the weather is not conducive to digestion and the quality of available food also degenerates as a result of the climate. From the first Ekadasi, Harishayani Ekadasi, in Ashada, July-August, up till the eleventh day in Kartik, November-December, some people eat only once a day. Nirjala Ekadasi is observed in Jyestha. As the name indicates, no water is to be drunk on this day.

The most relevant and popular periods for fasting are Poornima, full moon, and Amavasya, no moon. On these days, the earth pressure is at its maximum, thus leading to imbalance in everything, including ones thought process. So, if the input to the brain is at a minimum, the chances of the brain indulging in any wayward activity due to the high pressure imbalance also becomes minimum.

On various fasting days different types of fasts are specified. When one meal is taken in the afternoon this is called Eka Bhukta. Eating once at night is called Nakta Vrat. To fast completely or take only a little fruit is Upavas.

Fasting are done to induce a state of non-violence, ahimsa in all acts. By fasting, the aim is to rise above the influence of the five senses. We too can adopt these systems of fasting to help us in our daily lives no matter what our profession is, where we live, or which religion we have faith or no faith in. These systems were formulated and recorded to enable all people to go beyond individual consciousness and experience the real essence of life. Fasting is systematically advocated in the scriptures in order to align the physical and subtle bodies with the whole cosmos, enabling sustained equilibrium in every aspect of life.