Today is Ekādashi – the 11th day of a fortnight in a lunar month, as per the Hindu calendar.
Since there are two fortnights, Ekādashi is celebrated twice a month. It is typically characterized by observance of a fast.
And the fast can be of many types. From Nirjala Ekādashi – where one does not even touch a drop of water, to days when you can have light fruits and water. As with everything Hindu, rules vary depending on the region, belief and parampara of the household.
I keep a simple fast from daybreak, till the next morning, when I wake early, cook a light meal and eat it just after sunrise. It was a bit tough when it started, but now, I actually look forward to Ekādashi, because I get a chance to reset my digestive system.
Oddly enough, I have more energy and get more done during this day, maybe because digestion does not take up any resources on Ekādashi.
A person like me, who is a stickler for time, even in food (7.30 am/12.30 pm/7.30 pm), I don’t feel hungry at all. Not at those regular food times, not anytime else as well. The fruits supported the body, but I guess the meditation and japa calm the mind.
This day is also an opportunity to clear the mind. Like the body, the mind too accumulates a lot over a period of time, and general housekeeping is of the essence. Meditation helps a lot, but occasionally…once a fortnight for example, a mind-body cleanse can invigorate you.
Fasting does that to you. We tend to overeat, thinking that we are feeding ourselves well, but the fact of the matter is that we can do with much lesser food than we imagine. No, I don’t mean that one should follow this all the year round, but instead of going crash diets and superfood fads, just try to reduce your food intake by a small percentage, say 20% for starters. You may find no noticeable drop in energy.
In fact, you may find an increase in energy. I am not a doctor, but logically, the body learns to adapt to lesser food, and makes better use of it. Lower inputs, higher efficiency (yes, I am an engineer).
And when you manage to hit the sweet spot, where more reduction would result in a dip in energy and weakness, stop there. And don’t go back to where you started. That’s it. A simple dietary mechanism, to help you reduce weight and keep fit.
The West is just waking up to the benefits of intermittent fasting, but back home, we knew about it, and observed it since ages. As with all things in the West, the concept of intermittent fasting strips the mental component off, and instead makes it a diet-based convenience.
Personally, I would not recommend intermittent fasting in it’s prescribed form. In fact, Ekādashi can be fun to observe, given that there are 24 types of Ekadashi in a year, all associated with various incarnations of Sri Vishnu. Each accompanies certain food rules during fast, which must be followed to direct the mental energy in the right direction.
I would not give you a laundry list of the dos and dont’s on each. I don’t follow them to the T myself, and it is difficult enough to convince you to have the discipline to fast regularly in the first place. Baby steps, as they say.
Yes, today’s world is all about “xyz-as-a-servce”. There is SaaS, PaaS, GaaS (no, just kidding), and a lot more acronyms that end up charging you every month, little-by-little, so that you don’t notice the damage over a period of time.
Ekādashi is FaaS – fasting as a service. But with a difference. No charge, absolutely free, with mind and body benefits to boot. No login and downloads required, just dedication and commitment to the cause. No fancy spa package, nor retreat…just awareness and tranquility. If only it could be monetised!
And so if you are not convinced, try it out for yourself. But try it for at least 2 months (4 fasts). The first three are tough, in decreasing order. The fourth, may just end up convincing you:)
Will leave you with food for thought (I recognize the pun). If the whole process is to slow down one’s metabolism and step away from the crazy pace of life, to reflect and introspect…then why is it called FASTing? SLOWing would be a better word, wouldn’t it? But then, English isn’t a very scientific language, so expecting a deeper thought from such a rudimentary means of communication would be asking for too much.
So instead, let us instead call it व्रत – vrata – the Sanskrit equivalent, which means vow, resolve or devotion, and is derived from the root ‘vr’ (will, rule, restrain, conduct). The Saurapurāṇa prescribes ten virtues which must be cultivated as common to all the vratas.
These are forbearance, truthfulness, compassion, charity, purity of body and mind, curbing the sense organs, worship, offering into fire, satisfaction and not depriving another of his possession. That’s a whole lot more than not having food for a few days. That is a whole lot more to observe, and work on.
And so, next Ekādashi, don’t fast. Observe a vrata instead.
See you tomorrow!