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Fasting and Autophagy : Ancient Wisdom and Scientific Research Intersect

A few days back, we were having a conversation at the Heartfulness Meditation Center in New Jersey, USA, about the significance of various rituals and customs that have been observed in society since time immemorial. Many of these rituals are followed with rigor and discipline, which is a good thing. What makes them more joyful and impactful, though, is knowing the true significance of the principles behind them.

Our conversation touched upon various topics, like the reasons for adorning the red pigment, sindoor, as a dot on the forehead of married women in India, praying before eating, and fasting on special occasions. I would like to share with you some of my thoughts on the concept of fasting.

So many traditional rituals are disappearing from modern civilization, but fortunately something is still preserved amongst the innocent people in villages. They may not understand the significance of these rituals, but they have maintained their observance. Among so-called educated people, we have issues when someone asks us why we are doing what we are doing. As a result, when we have no justifiable explanation, we avoid observing rituals for fear of being looked upon as old-fashioned or without real understanding. We need to study and try to find the significance behind most rituals.

Let’s start with the significance of Ekadashi in the Indian culture. Many people observe a fast on Ekadashi days. It is a widely prevalent ritual, but not deeply understood.

Ekadashi is a Sanskrit word for the number 11. It stands for the 11th day of each half of the month in the lunar calendar. So there are two Ekadashi days in each month: one is in the first half of the month when the moon is waxing, and the second is when the moon is waning. These days have a very special significance for health, and the practice has been connected with religion for the sole purpose of health and well-being. Had it not been associated with religion, common people would not have followed such dictums.


Among so-called educated people, we have issues
when someone asks us why we are doing what we are doing.
As a result, when we have no justifiable explanation,
we avoid observing rituals for fear of being looked upon
as old-fashioned or without real understanding.
We need to study and try to find the significance behind most rituals.


It is good to moderate the intake of food on these days so as to counter the impact of the lunar system on the human body, as our body is 60-70% water. You can see the impact of the moon on the water in the oceans. It is significant. On full moon nights there can be tides rising up to 20 or even 30 feet. Similarly, this has an impact on the human system also.

Especially during the full moon, records show criminal activity is greater than usual on these days. The term ‘lunatic’ actually comes from the lunar effect on the human nervous system. Our Elders must have observed this. From the 8th day of the lunar cycle, the effect starts rising and reaches its peak on the 15th day. Midway between these two is the 11th day, Ekadashi. If we moderate our intake on that day, we can neutralize the lunar impact on our system.

Closer to home, the great Masters of Sahaj Marg have suggested fasting on certain special occasions.  One such occasion is the day when a trainer is given permission to start imparting training to others. You may ask why trainers are asked to fast on the day they are given permission to work?

trainerIn Sahaj Marg, the special preparation for training a candidate goes on for days, perhaps even years, before the work is complete. On the day when permission is granted, qualitatively the trainer becomes a spiritual conduit of the divine Transmission, and, on this day, most of the yogic chakras1 of such a person are purified and brought to some sort of opening or blooming.

These chakras are also divinely charged, enabling the trainer to become a conduit for the spiritual work. When this happens, the divine charge remains very active for the next few days. This divine charge is so subtle compared to the energy that we derive from solid food that, if we were to eat, the grosser energy from the food would naturally displace the subtle divine charge. On this day, the idea is to tune in, receive and allow the charge to be completely absorbed. Hence it is recommended to fast on this day. I hope you can appreciate the importance of moderation in food on such an important day.

Earlier this week, I was reading about the fascinating work done by Dr Yoshinori Ohsumi on autophagy, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine this year. Thanks to Dr Ohsumi and others following in his footsteps, we now know that autophagy controls important physiological functions where cellular components need to be degraded and recycled. Autophagy means to ‘self eat’, and is the process by which the body eats its own damaged cells and unused proteins. After an infection, autophagy can eliminate those cells infected by invading intracellular bacteria and viruses. (Read more) Now, interestingly, in Ayurveda there is a saying, “Starve a cold.” I believe the ancients observed these correlations across a physical, emotional and mental spectrum.

The above examples about Ekadashi and the preparatory work of a trainer in Sahaj Marg illustrate that autophagy may have a role to play also in our emotional and mental well-being, beyond just the physical body. I look forward to further pioneering work by scientists to validate the new frontiers in this field of research.

Send me your thoughts on this topic at daaji@heartfulness.org and I look forward to engaging with you all in a dialogue to go deeper into the subject.

 

REFERENCES:

[1] Most people have heard of chakras or points, which can be described as centres of concentrated divine energy located at different places within the human system. Commonly it is understood that there are seven chakras from the base of the spine to the crown chakra, but the reality is more intricate and vast than that.

Associated with each of the points are subpoints, and in the intervening space between the points is a network interwoven by numerous intricate fibres. As we proceed along, we pass through these intervening layers. All this together forms a network that can be described as the spiritual anatomy of a human being.

There are thirteen main points from the heart up to the back of the head. These thirteen points are depicted in a diagram in the book, Towards Infinity, by the great 20th century Master, Shri Ram Chandra of Shahjahanpur. This diagram can be found on page 16 of the book at the following link:

https://www.scribd.com/document/14844134/Towards-Infinity#download&from_embed

 

 

 

  • Oodit Jethwa

    Thanks Daaji for explaining it so wonderfully, always had this doubt of why these people fast.

    October 12, 2016 at 6:59 am Reply
  • Asoke sengupta

    Highlight on Autophagy & fasting inspired me to share that, this fasting habit was not only in man but it is very much existing in animal world also. Various types of animals take fast in different different occasions, such as during mating season, or while suffering from some diseases. Some animal give fast while become angry . There are birds, who go on long period of Fasting as the studies have shown ( Book : Hygenic system of animals Vol-III ). I think this fasting habit is a God gifted thing to human being and as well as to the animal, birds, fish, mamals etc.

    Regards

    October 14, 2016 at 7:38 am Reply
  • Om Shankar Mishra

    Very beautiful and realistic article.

    October 21, 2016 at 12:27 am Reply
  • madhuramakrishnan

    It was a nice explanation about ekadashi fasting

    October 21, 2016 at 2:24 am Reply
  • mme pinhede magali

    thank you very much magali

    October 21, 2016 at 3:43 am Reply
  • Leela patwal

    Wonderful explaination why do we keep fast on Ekadashi .

    October 21, 2016 at 9:20 am Reply
  • Saroja sampath

    Yes.after reading this fasting for health ,I started thanks to Daaji.taking liquid,like kanji on poornima,and Ekadashi days.

    October 21, 2016 at 9:40 am Reply
  • Kinjal Desai

    Some awe-inspiring revelations…..

    October 21, 2016 at 3:30 pm Reply
  • P.Gopala Krishna

    Pranams Daaji! This article inspired me and now onwards I too follow fasting on ekadashi day.

    October 22, 2016 at 9:37 am Reply
  • Shyamalanarayan

    Thank you Beloved Daaji for initiating the scientific approach for our ancient traditions which are so useful to all mankind. So from now on each of us need to be research minded before discarding them & make use of it to carryon for future generations
    .

    October 23, 2016 at 10:27 am Reply
  • Harish

    Now, I have good reason to fast… Thanks Daaji

    October 24, 2016 at 7:35 pm Reply
  • Milkhi Raj Arora

    Very true Animals like dog etc also fast on some fixed days only. We obseved this in our pet dog who uded to fast on thursdays till his death.

    October 27, 2016 at 11:52 am Reply
  • Rajalakshmi

    Thanks Daaji for d detailed explanation

    November 1, 2016 at 12:42 pm Reply
  • Srinadh Karumuri

    I used to think that I was harming myself when I skip a meal. Now, I am happier and observing myself when I skip a meal. It feels healthier.

    Thank you for deciphering the ancient wisdom in such a simple words.

    November 2, 2016 at 6:43 am Reply
  • Chandrkanth Kamath

    Daaji, Thank you for the wonderful feedback about fasting. &It’s relative connection with Sahajmarg trainers.Also for the knowledge it is connected with science and spirituality.
    With love.

    November 3, 2016 at 10:47 am Reply

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