Fasting: A Spiritual Practice

· November 29, 2016

Fasting is a practice that has been carried out since time immemorial in almost all cultures. At first it was done for sacred reasons. People fasted collectively at certain times in order to pay homage to God or to be granted some grace. Today, that spirit is maintained in practices such as Catholic Lent or Muslim Ramadan.

The truth is that, over time, it has been discovered that fasting can bring great benefits to both the body and the mind. It is approached as an exercise that allows one to detoxify the body and contribute to the healing of different diseases. Likewise, fasting benefits the mind and spirit, in so far as it demands putting into play one’s will and renunciation.

“Stopping to eat and drink is more than a pleasure; It is glory for the soul “

-Leon Tolstoy-

Fasting is an act of voluntary austerity. For this reason, it strengthens the mind and contributes to an increase in concentration. Somehow, it frees the mind so that it can focus on knowledge and self-recognition. It is a test of the will that, in any case, should not be taken to the point of violating the organism or the mind.


Fasting and the power to forgo

Although our society places great emphasis on consuming, the truth is that it’s much more difficult to be able to give up. Some philosophies insist that the more a person has, the less free he is. His mind and heart must deal with these possessions, material and spiritual, and instead of putting them to his service, he is irrevocably bound to them.

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It is said that “rich is not the one who has more, but the one who needs least.” This is true, to the extent that need puts us in a perspective of lacking, of vulnerability. And it is clear that much of what we need responds more to an imposition of the market and of society than to a real lack. However, we forget or ignore this too often and that is why many of us have become “chronically needy.”

Fasting reminds us that we have the power to give up, even something as fundamental as food. Depriving ourselves voluntarily of food allows us to enter into a new perspective. It is a practice that forces us to turn our eyes on ourselves, to perceive with greater clarity the signals that our body sends and to identify the emotions that accompany us. Those who fast ensure that perception and sensitivity increase during periods of abstinence.

The result of such practices, when carried out correctly, is very beneficial to the emotional world. Greater self-control is experienced and this increases confidence and self-esteem. There is a sense of well-being and tolerance for frustration develops. Those who fast are usually quieter, self-controlled, and self-conscious.

Fasting and health

One of the scientists who has investigated in depth about the benefits of fasting is Mark Mattson, head of the UK neuroscience laboratory. His studies have made it possible to conclude that fasting is a healthy practice, which notoriously favors the care of the brain.

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For Mattson, the regular practice of fasting prolongs life expectancy and reduces speed of  degeneration in neurons that occurs in diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. It also reduces the oxidative processes in all organs of the body and delays the onset of chronic diseases related to aging.

But that is not all. Fasting also increases cognitive abilities and promotes the ability of neurons to establish and maintain connections between them. This is reflected in an increase in the ability to learn and in a growth of memory. Mattson says that fasting offers benefits similar to those of physical and mental exercise and that it is advisable to practice it once or twice a week.

Also, researchers at the Heart Institute of Intermountain Medical Center in Utah, United States, have indicated that fasting reduces the risk of heart disease and brings about positive changes in cholesterol levels. In this way, it is clear that fasting benefits you physically and emotionally. However, you should not forget that these practices should be performed under medical supervision, especially if you have an illness.

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