Saturday, October 4, 2008

Spiritual Fasting

Yom Kippur, one of the Jewish High Holidays, is coming up on October 9th. This is one of the most popular holidays in Judaism. It's a time of cleansing, repenting, asking for forgiveness and starting the new year (Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, began on Sept. 30th) with a clean slate.

Many Jews fast on Yom Kippur. I have made a strange habit of not fasting in years past because it was just too distracting to be overcome with hunger while sitting and standing for several hours.

For me, the problem with fasting on Yom Kippur, at least the way I was told to do it, is that we have a HUGE meal the night before (to "store up" enough food for the next day of fasting), then we eat nothing and barely drink the next day, until the absolute last minute, where we gorge ourselves on tons of carbohydrates and end up stuffed again, but without the headache.

Now that I'm raw, and I've had plenty of experience with fasting, I see the mistakes we've been making so clearly.

In order to really cleanse, eating a huge meal (cooked, no less) the night before, as if we are camels storing up for the long road ahead, is counter-productive. This only increase hunger pangs the next day and gives our body a lot to process.

Also, we don't prepare for the fast very well. It's good to eat lightly for several days BEFORE a water fast (and some people don't even drink water!) so that it is not such a shock to the system.

Eating mostly fruit and veggies 3 days prior, with increasing servings of green smoothies will allow the body to gradually begin cleansing and to get used to the minimal calories. Keeping up the water intake will reduce the headaches (usually from all the toxin release) and keep the toxins flowing right out. The whole point is to cleanse ourselves so that we're "empty" for God, and not to punish ourselves as if we are bad people. Many fasting guides recommend limiting highly interactive and stimulating activity when water fasting. Our senses are heightened and over-stimulation doesn't let us focus on our internal process.

The day of the fast, if you are able, it's good to reduce the amount of stressful activity you engage in. Take the bus to synagogue, forget about work, spend time reflecting or just being with family, etc. Luckily, most folks are in synagogue with cell phones off, and their major activity is rising and being seated for several hours.

It's customary to wear white, refrain from wearing leather (not wanting to inflict harm on animals for fashion's sake), and generally focus on this time in a meditative, repenting manner. I appreciate the focus on simplicity and compassion and believe that goes hand in hand with raw foodism.

I personally recommend drinking water on Yom Kippur. There is no reason we should be lightheaded or faint during this important day. Next year I hope to lead a 2-3 day retreat or at least a Yom Kippur retreat that really focuses on the fasting/cleansing/purifying aspect. I think we lose that along the way.

As the day comes to a close, instead of planning whose house to go to for Break Fast (this is its common name), have another green smoothie or some light soup and break your fast slowly. Eating a huge meal after fasting all day is a recipe for disaster. Stomachaches, indigestion, and overeating are common and to me, it defeats the purpose of cleansing in the first place.

If we are starting the year anew, then fasting and easing back into our lives in a new way makes the most sense. I don't like asking for forgiveness, committing to living more authentically and then turning around and eating exactly what I ate the day before, as if nothing has changed.

Just like fasting for the season change, fasting for religious purpose is a great way to start new.

So, if you're Jewish and raw, and happen to fast this year, consider the deeper meaning of cleansing and purification and safely move into and out of the fast.

If you're not Jewish and get a kick out of fasting, then I recommend reading up on how all the major religions view fasting. It'll give you plenty of year-round fun!

Have a great fast!

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