Q&A: Why do people fast?
Why is fasting, abstaining from non vegetarian food, bathing and praying early on few auspicious days important? Is it a way to show penance? I have friends who reluctantly observe fast as they HAVE TO , as per their religion or customs. A few others do it because they’re conscience stricken. Whom are we trying to please and why is it required?
During certain days based on the positions of the planets, the body is weaker than others. Heavy foods, in the order of onion, garlic, fish, poultry, white meats and red meats, are hard for the body to digest. Avoiding these foods on the days when the body is weak is beneficial for health and ensures the body does not get full of ama – disease causing energy brought about by undigested foods or wrong pairing, such as milk with fish.
In general, there are days during the year when the lower chakras are stronger, and days when the upper chakras are stronger. Usually when upper chakras are stronger than the lower ones, this is a good time to fast, because digestion weakens. In Hindu culture, upavas isn’t just about fasting, it means ‘to dwell on’, ‘to give up oneself to’ – so actually what is supposed to happen is that one is supposed to be so lost in spiritual sadhana that food and sometimes water are forgotten. Now it is actually divinty that is forgotten, and people even plan for days in advance about the various foods they will prepare during ‘fasting’ days.
When people eat potato chips while fasting – to me that is the most ridiculous of all. Some fasting was done to force a change in menu, because that enables the body to get a wide variety of nutrients, but that is rarely required today since we already consume quite diverse cuisines.
Religious fasts that involve month-long fasting are of course not based on this principle and are based on, as you say are more for penance, possibly also for supporting intense religious practices during that month.
I’m glad you asked ‘who are we trying to please’, because that is a very pertinent question we need to ask ourselves. If upavas is done willingly and with the right mindset, it can help to uplift and heal an individual. On the other hand when people do it to please family members and to fit in, it creates suppression and further toxins in the body.