Fasting is really not so bad. Yesterday, as part of my yoga teacher training at Charm City Yoga, I began a voluntary fast. Most of us in the training fasted together. We will break our fast together at some point today. We do not know what time. Preparing food this morning for the communal meal was quite challenging, but this juice fast, for me, is not as uncomfortable as I was expecting.
Sure, I feel hungry every once in a while. The only real problem I experienced was being really, really tired beginning at around 4 pm yesterday. Other than that, I have not suffered that much. My diet is really clean anyway, so I do not have a lot of detoxifying to do. I did not experience a headache, for which I am grateful.
I am using this fast as an opportunity to test my will power, and to honor the people in the world who do not know when their next meal is coming. I would also like to take a moment to share a little yogic philosophy. When it comes to philosophy and religion, I always recommend people to listen and take what they can from it. You may read this and find it silly, but some read it and use it to improve their lives. Yoga is not a religion, but it can be used by the religious or the non-religious to deepen one’s self-awareness.
The Bhagavad Gita is one of the most important texts in yoga. The phrase “Bhagavad Gita” means “Song of God”. It tells the story of Arjuna, who is having a discussion with Krishna on a battlefield right before he goes into battle. Krishna, in this story, is representing God in physical form (keep reading for an explanation of God in yogic terms). The parable poetically describes some of yoga’s deepest philosophies.
There are many translations of the Gita, as it is affectionately called by yogis. The translation that I read is by Sri Swami Satchidananda, entitled The Living Gita. I personally love everything I have read by Satchidananda, because his prose is clear and simple to understand.
In this version of the Gita, Satchidananda explains that in yoga there exists a dichotomy between Prakriti and Purusha, between Nature and Spirit. Prakriti involves all of nature, and it includes the human body, thoughts and emotions. Purusha, on the other hand, is the divine spirit that resides within all living things, or the soul, if you will. Prakriti is needy in that it requires constant food and water, it is temperamental, and it has an affinity for attachment and aversion. Purusha, on the other hand, is pure, it is perfect, and it is complete. According to yogic philosophy, Purusha resides within everything, and it is what yogis call God. In yoga, the divine is within, not without. Yoga teaches you that you posses everything you need inside to become the person you want to be.
Now, if Purusha is whole, it would make sense that Prakriti can be divisible. There are three characteristics of Prakriti in humans. These characteristics are called the gunas, and they are named rajas, tamas, and sattva. One is rajastic when one feels overactive and unable to settle down. One is tamastic when one is lethargic and inert. And finally, when one is in a sattvic state, one is at peace and balanced.
The point of the dichotomy between Prakriti and Purusha is for Purusha to experience self-awareness. Here is a quote from the Gita that delves deeper into this concept:
“When you know who you are, you are enlightened. In that Self-realization, the darkness of ignorance disappears in the light of true knowledge that shines like the sun, revealing the Supreme.” Sloka 5:16
Essentially, the point of life, according to the ancient yogis, is to realize the true you. The true Self, or Atman, is flawless, wise, divine, and important. Everything that happens in Prakriti, in nature, is solely an opportunity for humans to become closer to the Self.
So this weekend I am allowing this fast to bring me closer to the divine spirit that resides within. Throughout this experience, I have experienced states of rajas, tamas, and sattva. On Friday, if I let my mind worry, I was rajastic over the fear of the discomfort. Yesterday, I felt tamastic due to the lack of calories; I was tired and slightly lethargic. But through the use of the breath and the will of Atman, I am bringing into my reality a state of sattva, of balance and peace. I am using my breath to calm my mind, and I am opening my heart a little wider to let my true Self shine.