Last week I did a 5 Day Smoothie and Juice fast during what was a particularly cold and miserable August week here in Sydney. Having done many fasts over the years though I’ve become very accepting of the process so despite the weather I completed my fast without a hitch. Nonetheless, many would question the timing of my fast, as after all consuming cold smoothies and juices when it’s already cold would tend to be imbalancing and therefore may make our immune system more vulnerable. Wouldn’t it make more sense to be consuming nourishing, warming, heavier foods at this time?
I pondered over these questions myself a bit last week, along with others related to the above which come up as questions / objections I sometimes get to fasting . As I often do though I look at the wisdom of Ayurveda for answers..
What is Ayurveda?
In Ayurveda, fasting is a means of detoxification and a primary means to facilitate healing. There are five types of Ayurvedic fasts; water-only fasting, dry fasting, juice fasting, broth fasting, and water fasting with herbal teas.
In order to understand how fasting fits in within Ayurvedic medicine, it is useful first to have a basic understanding of the Vedic classifications of body type (doshas);
In Ayurveda, each person’s body-mind constitution (Prakruti) is made up for one or a combination of the three dosha‘s; Vata, Pitta and Kapha. The doshas are derived from the five elements: earth, water, fire, air and ether.
Vata is the kinetic energy in the body that controls the nervous system, bodily movements, and the processes of elimination. Vata is a combination of the elements of air and water.
Pitta dosha is primarily associated with digestion, metabolism and energy production and is a mixture of the elements of fire and water.
Kapha governs the structure of the body, holds the cells together and forms the muscles, fat, bones and connective tissue. Kapha is a blend of water and earth elements.
The theory of Ayurveda is that health exists when there is balance between the doshas. In essense though what your Prakruti tells you is which dosha(s) is/are most likely to go out of balance. In my case I am vata -pitta with their expression being I heavily suspect equally present. So in other words my vata makeup is just as likely to go out of whack just as much as my pitta. I’ll come back to how this relates to my fasting experience but for now I’ll quickly overview the relationship that each dosha typically has with food and fasting;
Vata’s generally have difficulty tolerating long term fasting because they lack the stamina, making juice fasts far more preferable than the others (water, dry, broth, herbal)
Pitta’s have strong digestive fire so tend to eat more, often making fasting more challenging for them, so again juice fasting is likely best.
Kapha’s are the most capable of fasting, primarily because they have the most moderate desire for food. Because Kapha’s have a tendency towards obesity and mucous retention, water and dry fasts are more appropriate.
Putting this all together
With some basic orientation behind us now, I’ll explain how as a “vata-pitta” this played out for me during my 5 Day Smoothie & Juice Fast last week.
Firstly, it’s worth mentioning that the seasons themselves each have a dominant element associated with it. Winter is the Vatic season (cold and dry), Spring is Kaphic (moist / water), Summer is Pittic (fire) and Autumn is Vattic (wind, dryness).
So with it being Winter, Vatic tendencies are more likely to be aggravated and on top of this, Vata being from air and ether is the most volatile, easily disturbed of the dosha’s so it is always vata which goes out of balance first. For this reason in winter someone with a high vatic prakruti needs to be especially careful to counter it’s cold and dry tendencies.
In my case, last week whilst on my smoothie and juice fast, naturally the program was very hydrating which helped pacify my vatic tendencies towards dryness, so no problems there. Getting warm I achieved through lots of hot herbal tea throughout the day using warming ingredients such as cinnamon, ginger and cardomon ( I especially like this herbal Bengal Spice Tea). For my evening juice I made up a recipe (“Liver Cleanser”) from my book which includes turmeric, ginger and cayenne pepper (all of which stimulate the liver and have heating qualities).
* When I’m coaching someone through a fast who is very Vatic (and especially during Winter) I’ll often recommend that if they’re feeling the cold in the evening that they have a hot soup broth and possibly even warm up their Breakfast Smoothie.
As for my pittic (fire element) expression, which as mentioned above presents as strongly as my vatic, an obvious challenge is dealing with the pittic tendency towards strong appetite. For me though my 5 Day Smoothie & Juice Fasting program gives very good nutritional support through the superfood supplements. In addition, because the supplements help maintain stable blood sugars and hasten the move into restoring efficient fat burning capacity, they ease the burden of hunger because as soon as you begin burning stored fat you experience a steady, calm energy (which is particularly soothing for pittic types).
So there it is, a quick overview and example of how Ayurveda can be used to help success through a fasting program, even in winter. In the weeks ahead I’ll have some more to say about a new 1 month program I’ll be starting where I’ll be supporting clients incorporating all of this.
Next week marks the beginning of Spring, which in Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine is the perfect season for cleansing. I’ll write some more on that next week. In the meantime if anyone has any questions related to this post, or wants to relate their own recent fasting / detoxing experience, I’d love to hear from you.
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Aaron Travers is author of “The Boda Fast – a three step plan to lower inflammation, maximise fat burning and restore vitality”. Aaron writes at www.thebodacleanse.com.au and shares his ideas and experiences on health and wellbeing from his personal life and through working with clients clinically and those doing his “supported fasting” programs. Every Friday he sends out his newsletter, click below to subscribe.
Svoboda, Robert Dr – Prakruti. Sadhana Publications. Bellingham 1998
Coyle-Demetriou & Demetriou. Integrating complementary and conventional medicine. New York. 2007