Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Fasting for the Body and Soul!!

For Illustrative Purpose Only
ON October 3, the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Yoshinori Ohsumi for his discovery of mechanisms for autophagy. The word auto means self and phagein means to eat, essentially self-eating.

The human body is made up of billions of cells. And each cell has certain components including the nuclei, various organelles, proteins and cell membranes and walls. Over time the overall cell might be good but certain components of it may not work at hundred percent. Just like in a car, sometimes the batteries fail or the tires wear out. In such times you service the car and replace the battery or change the tires. Similarly at a cellular level the body identifies such broken audience or cell components and actually does its own servicing.

For a car it’s a mechanic, but for your body it is a highly specialized organelle containing enzymes that degrades proteins called as a lysosome. This lysosome will actually convert the dead components into cell waste and send it for recycling. The cell makes a new component with the nutrients supplied to it by the blood.

It’s a beautiful system, whatever is old and useless is removed and a chance is given for the new to grow and regenerate. It seems that some how your own body treats those components which are no longer working fine. But that is what life is. A philosophical outlook towards autophagy may be the best outlook. Autophagy actually ensures that you have a healthy and essentially a younger body at cellular level without redundant components. It is the body’s healing touch for itself.

Now we come to a question, What kicks off autophagy? Research shows that it is a hormone called glucagon. When the level of glucagon goes up in the body the body starts to kick off the autoclean cycle. Autophagy is activated and cell damage is repaired. What is the key driver of glucagon production? It is nutrient deprivation. In simple terms, fasting!! Depriving your body of essential nutrients actually can ensure that autophagy can take place. The best way to do it is intermittent fasting. Fasting actually has the dual effect of autophagy and of stimulating the growth hormone. You are not only getting rid of the old parts but also ensuring the body makes some new ones! There cannot be a better deal than this.

The beneficial effects of fasting was surely a part of the ancient knowledge, that not only Indians but all civilizations understood it in some form or the other. All religions have got fasting as a feature of the religious beliefs and tenants. Islam has the month of Ramadan in which the devout are encouraged to fast from dawn to dusk. Christianity also has fasting days and days of renunciation. Fasts are kept on certain days like on the birthdays of saints and feasts happen after the midnight mass. Fasts in these religions are not only an obligation. It is also regarded as a means of getting closer to god and being more spiritual.

The most abundant use of fasting would be in Hindu traditions. In earlier times fasts are common, people used to pick a day of the week and fast. Additionally, there were fasts on various religious occasions. Every 11th day of the lunar calendar was also considered to be a good day for fasting. Fasting in Sanskrit is called upavaasa. Upa means “near” and vaasa means “to stay”. Upavaasa therefore means staying near (the Lord), meaning the attainment of close mental proximity with the Lord. The theory as per ancient texts being that deprivation of the nutrients has a beneficial effect on digestion as well as gives more time for contemplation of God.

Unfortunately, all fasts in modern days have left their ancient roots and have become mere rituals. From the eating heaps of food that is permitted during fasting like sago and fruits, to the meat and oil laden feats at sunset and midnight after the days fasts. All religions, have lost the spiritual component at a certain level.

Perhaps it is instructive to read this verse from the Bhagwat Gita, one of the key religious texts of Hinduism.

नात्यश्नतस्तुयोगोऽस्तिनचैकान्तमनश्नत: |
नचातिस्वप्नशीलस्यजाग्रतोनैवचार्जुन ||

The meaning is “O Arjuna, the science of uniting ones consciousness with that of the supreme consciousness is not for one who eats too much or for one who eats too little or for one who sleeps too little or one who sleeps too much.

Moderation is the key. What this years Nobel prize has done is that it has shine a light on the benefits of fasting and re-validated the ancient wisdom of the ages.

Sadly, the most ancient wisdom of the Indian subcontinent, may be lost to us forever. The ancient secret sciences that were hidden from humanity for its own benefit may have many good things along with destructive ones. To know more about the secret sciences, Why they may have been lost? Why do ancient temples still hold such a collective sway in the conscience of the people? Why the times of Chandragupta  Maurya and Chanakya may have been our last shot at knowing the ancient sciences? read “The Indus Challenge”, a historical fiction coming soon to bookstores near you and available  for pre-order on

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