A Yoga Teacher’s Perspective
I never thought in a million years that I would ever embark on a fast. I’d previously placed fasting in the category ‘not for me’, alongside things like marathon running.
It is then a testament to the power of the BBC Horizon programme Eat, Fast and Live Longer presented by Dr Michael Mosley that I was immediately persuaded enough by the health benefits to give it a try.
For any readers curious enough about the programme, it is still available to watch as a series of clips on Youtube. Since it was aired there has been a lot of media coverage including an excellent article in The Sunday Times magazine (behind paywall) and the following article in the The Telegraph by Dr Mosley himself. And since first writing this post Dr Mosley and Mimi Spencer have released a new book and website called The Fast Diet.
The 5/2 diet is essentially an intermittent fasting (IF) routine which means you eat as you normally would for 5 days of the week and for the two other days of the week eat a maximum of 600 calories.
After doing a little more research I settled on Brad Pilon’s version of the diet: Eat, Stop, Eat (ESE). Via this version of IF you consume all 600 calories of your allocated daily allowance in one meal and then go for 24 hours until the next meal. i.e breakfast to breakfast or dinner to dinner. I found his argument to be quite persuasive on physiological grounds as to why this is a more beneficial way of IF, compared to splitting the 600 calories into two meals over the day, but of course it is a matter of personal choice.
After a bit of a false start; I succeeded with the first attempt but folded on the next two attempts, I cracked it. I am now able to do it relatively easily and have been doing it for 3 weeks.
The results have been quite pleasing and surprising. The pleasing aspect is that I have lost 7 lbs and have gone down a good couple of belt notches. I was not exactly porky to begin with, but since ahem turning 40 it is almost like my stomach was waiting for that number to begin noticeably expanding! It is quite amazing how quickly this has been turned around.
There are two things that have surprised me quite a lot. The first is the lack of hunger that I encountered. I imagined that I would be famished and perhaps a bit light headed and wobbly. I have felt hungry, but it passes relatively quickly and herbal teas can be surprisingly filling. The second big surprise is an increase in energy levels. I guess it wasn’t until I tried fasting that I could have experienced just how much energy is expended simply digesting meals. This was a real eye opener.
The most interesting aspect of all though for me, is the spotlight fasting can shine on our conditioned responses surrounding the consumption of food or even walking into the kitchen e.g. if I am not eating today why is this fridge door open again?!
This is where I believe IF becomes an especially interesting practice for those of us interested in yoga.
For me, a fundamental aspect of yoga is to become aware of one’s habitual responses to life, as a stage along the way to hopefully releasing those patterns, or at least having a choice to behave differently. It is in this respect that I find IF a fascinating practice which is ultimately quite empowering.
‘Those in whom Passion is dominant like foods that are bitter, sour, salt, over-hot, pungent, dry and burning. These produce unhappiness, repentance and disease.’
Bhagavad Gita 17:9 [Trans. Shri Purohit Swami]
I dare say most of us know what it feels like to repent after over-consumption. The morning after a big night out is all I need mention for most of us to get the idea. Though perhaps the most significant word from the above paragraph is Passion, or in the original sanskrit Rajas. The above quote might not be so much about the types of food we eat, but rather about our desires and wants.
Rajas is more than just a passion, it is perhaps more of an instinct, it is a strand of our material nature. It is a fact that we all have passion inherent inside us. If we don’t direct it, it might be said to direct us. This movement is constantly at play. It is the force that attracts us to things, things which certainly include food. And perhaps that force behind me walking into the kitchen and opening the fridge door, even when I wasn’t eating. I found myself just looking for a little something to consume. Observing myself in action in this way was the most fascinating aspect of IF.
Lastly, in his commentary on the above quote, in the Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita, Swami Rama points to a modern day obsession with food and how taste has become predominant over nutrition in terms of how are dietary habits have been formed (pg. 406). The food industry and marketing men actively encourage this. Psychologists are employed in choosing which shelf to place certain products on, we get manipulated by Offers which are actually not that Special. And we haven’t even covered advertising and its effect on the mind.
IF gave me some welcome respite. Some time out from my normal food consumption habits and some space to gain a new perspective about my conditioned responses to eating. By simply sacrificing a couple of meals a day light was cast on my habits and something previously unseen became visible. It is for this reason that I found IF to be a very interesting yoga practice and I would recommend almost anyone give it a try (after consulting your GP).