October 2014


onto life harmony

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Facts about Ayurveda Fasting

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Replenish Your Body, Mind and soul with Ayurveda Fasting- This Navaratri
Durga mata


India, with its diversity of customs and ethos, is filled with vibrant festivals, and the verve of their celebrations. Navratri, derived from the ancient Sanskrit words 'nine nights', falls this year from Sept. 25 to Oct. 3. Fasting in Navaratri this year is discussed globally as Indian Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi is observing a nine day fast during his official visit to the US!

Many Hindus fast, pray and dance to please the mother goddess during Navratri. Some restrict their diet to fruit and vegetables while spurning meat, onions and garlic.

Fasting can also mean abstaining from certain things, either for religious reason or for the sake of good health. For instance, some people refrain from taking salt on particular days. It is common knowledge that excess salt and sodium causes hypertension or elevation of blood pressure. Another common kind of fast is to forego taking cereals when only fruits are eaten. Such a diet is known as phalahar.

Did you know that the underlying principle behind fasting is laid down in Ayurveda?

Fasting- Upvasa is one among ten types of langhanam( Depleting therapy) in Ayurveda.

Ten types of Langhanam are:
  • 4 types of samshodhana - Deep Cleansing therapies (vamana, virechana, niruha vasti, nauja)
  • Pipasa Nigraha (Controlled drinking water)
  • Maruta (Exposure to open air)
  •  Atapa (Exposure to sun)
  • Pachana (Intake of digestants)
  • Upavasa (Fasting)
  • Vyayama (Exercise)
This ancient Indian medical system sees the primary cause of many diseases as the accumulation of toxins in the digestive system. Regular cleansing of toxins keeps one healthy. By fasting, the digestive organs get rest and all body mechanisms are cleansed and corrected. Ama causes emotional imbalances in the body, making some people tense, irritable and violent. Fasting acts an antidote, for it removes the toxins in the body which helps people to retain their sanity. It also supports in adapting to the bodily changes during ritu sandhi- climatic junction. Sandhi means conjunction. Here Ritu Sandhi is the period of the last 7 days of the present ritu –( season) and the first 7 days of the subsequent ritu (season). Navaratri marks the beginning of the Sharad ritu.
The six ritus and their characteristics as stated in Ayurveda can be summarized in the following table:

Kaala (Semester)Ritu (Season)Maasa (Month)Characteristics of the Season
Aadaana (Uttaraayana) (Northeren Solstice) Sisira Magha and Phalguna (mid January to mid march) Cold and dewy
Vasanta Chaitra and Vaisakha (mid March to mid May) Warm and Windy
Greeshma Jyeshthaa and Aashaadha (mid May to mid July) Hot and Dry
Visarga (Dakshinaayana) (Southern Solstice) Varsha Shravana and Bhadrapada (mid July to mid September) Damp and Humid
Sharad Aashvina and Kartika (mid September to mid November) Damp and Cold
Cold and Dry
Margshirsha and Pausha (mid November to mid January) Winter

In Sharad Ritu, the dry and hot atmosphere resulting from sudden exposure to sunlight after the rains and cool atmosphere increases pitta. Hence in this ritu the recommended diet and lifestyle is as follows

Sharad Ritu (Autumn Season)
1. Ghee processed with bitter herbs can be taken.

2. Bitter, astringent and sweet taste can be included in food.

3. Take easily digestible food like rice, green gram, Aamla ( Indian gooseberry), honey and sugar.

4. Avoid heavy food, curd, oil, strong liquors.
1. Udvartan (Dry powder therapy) with chandan.

2. Bath with warm water.

3. Pearls give soothing effect from aggravated pitta.

4. Avoid breeze, liquor and sleep during day

Hence if we see the rituals followed during Navaratri, they are purely in accordance with the classical Ayurveda principles. But in practice they are not in line with the fundamentals of Ayurveda. The concept of fasting, according to Ayurveda, is not the common practice of going for days and weeks on end without food, or feasting prior to the fasting. This practice is risky, even hazardous, when not done under professional guidance and knowledge

Understanding Classical Upavasa in Ayurveda
Ayurveda classics define fasting as Upavasa. It is defined as abstinence from all the four forms of food: chewing, licking, swallowing, and drinking. The act, however, should be executed in a systematic form, under medical supervision, or by following the guidelines suggested by an expert. Ayurveda recommends regular, short-term fasting. Infrequent long term fasting vitiates doshas and may lead to imbalance in body functions. The fasting method must be decided according to one’s body constitution and status of Agni. The duration of fasting and type of fasting is determined after analysing level of toxin (ama) accumulation, digestive strength, vitiation of doshas and body constitution. Feasting prior to and after fasting is not recommended. The drugs to be administered during fasting should be light for digestion, hot, dry, subtle, fast acting/sharp, and fluid in consistency.

Fasting methods recommended in Ayurveda.

1. Consuming light foods like gruel, khichadi or kanjee.
2. Fasting with fruit juice or vegetable juices
3. Drinking only warm water or herbal teas.
4. Abstaining completely from food and water.

Principles of Fasting
The ash particles on fire reduce its intensity and thereby adversely affect the process of cooking. Similarly, the vitiated doshas in the body, particularly the Aamashaya (the digestive viscera) reduce the intensity or impair the digestive fire cause digestive impairment and produce ama, which is the root cause of all diseases. They together block the micro 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 disease.

Avoid the following acts during fasting

1. Application of oil to the body and scalp
2. Beautifying oneself
3. Day sleep
4. Indulgence in sexual activities
5. Walking long distances
6. Smoking and consumption of alcohol
7. Physical and mental exertion

Check for following signs of appropriate fasting

1. Proper elimination of urine, flatus, and faeces
2. Feeling of lightness in the body
3. Feeling of freshness/purity of heart, throat, and mouth
4. Eructation without a sour taste in the mouth
5. Disappearance of drowsiness and exertion
6. Appearance of sweat
7. Interest in food
8. Feeling of hunger and thirst at the same time
9. Tranquillity of mind
10. Clean tongue and fresh breath indicate completion of detoxification process during fasting.

Signs and symptoms of an inadequate fasting

1. Increased kapha dosha
2. Excessive salivation
3. Frequent expectoration
4. Loss of taste
5. Malaise

Signs and symptoms of excessive fasting

1. Cracking pain in joints
2. Cough, dryness of mouth
3. Anorexia, loss of appetite, excessive thirst, and excessive belching
4. Impairment of the power of hearing and sight
5. Loss of strength, memory

Who should not fast?

1. Patients with diseases of high vata- like insomnia, neurodegenerative problems like loss of memory, Parkinson's disease, etc, gastric problems like hyperacidity, abdominal bloating
2. Patients with excessive hunger and thirst
3. Emaciated-weak patients
4. Children
5. Elderly
6. In Pregnancy
7. Those with excessive anger, jealousy, and such psychological aberrations

Fasting as a choice of treatment

Fasting is indicated in the treatment of diseases such as fever, conjunctivitis, vomiting, cough, diarrhoea, skin diseases, herpes, urinary disorders, obesity, diabetes, abscess, splenic disorders, and disorders of the head and neck. Ayurveda explains fasting in the context of indigestion and the diseases due to ama. Fasting is considered to be the treatment of choice in diseases of milder intensity.
Doctor of the Month
Dr. Meera Belunke, BAMS, PG Diploma in Panchakarma
Physician, AyurVAID Hospital, Domlur, Bangalore
Dr. Meera Belunke, BAMS, PG Diploma in Panchakarma
Dr. Meera Belunke works as a Physician at AyurVAID Hospital, Domlur and brings with her more than six years of experience in Ayurveda. Coming from a family of traditional Ayurveda practitioners, she completed her Bachelors degree in Ayurveda Medicine and Surgery from Ayurveda Mahavidylaya, Hubli and PG Diploma in Panchakarma from Manipal Academy of Higher Education. She is also a certified Herbal Medicine Counselor from Blue Heron Academy of Healing Arts and Science, Complementary and Alternative medicine from NIH, USA and a certified Pranic Healer.

She specializes in holistic medicine and in treating ailments like Obesity, Allergies, Musculo-skeletal disorders, Migraine, Gastrointestinal disorders, Arthritis, Anxiety, Depression, Scizophrenia, Insomnia, Alcohol/Tobacco/Drug addictions and other stress related disorders through effective Panchakarma therapies, diet and lifestyle counselling.

Before joining AyurVAID Dr. Meera worked as a consulting Ayurveda physician and Panchakarma specialist at Ayurveda Institute Vitality, Hemer, Germany. She also was an independent Ayurveda medicine, diet and lifestyle counsellor at Dallas, Texas. She has worked with Kottakkal Aryavaidya Shala and at Ayurveda Research Unit, NIMHANS. She has attended different national and international seminars and conferences and delivered talks and discourses on multiple subjects in different fora in Germany.


AyurVAID in The Guardian, UK

AyurVAID CEO, Rajiv Vasudevan quotes in the article, “today’s “quick fix” society turns too quickly to pills and elective surgery but traditional medicine treats the root-cause. He says that allopathic medicine provides symptomatic treatment that, for example, returns blood pressure back to normal, but ignores the underlying conditions – a person’s constitution, the surrounding environment, diet – that cause the illness in the first place” “In general, Ayurveda can play an effective complementary role to allopathy’s emergency medical care system,” says Mr Rajiv Vasudevan, who believes the lowest economic strata can benefit the most from these choices in treatment.

Ayurveda in the foreseeable/near future shall be universally acknowledged as a mainstream treatment option in the public/community health domain for secondary prevention (nipping diseases in the bud and preventing them from becoming acute-emergency medical condition) and tertiary prevention (rehabilitation and prevention post emergency medical condition).

The WHO's Traditional Medicine Strategy; 2014-23 recognizes this role of time tested systems of medical science such as Ayurveda