Ramadan is just around the corner and I, like many others, have started planning ahead to be able to keep up my physical yoga practice while fasting for several hours a day! I often get asked if I continue my regular yoga practice while fasting? If I continue to teach during Ramadan? What kind of asanas do I practice and how do I keep up with the regular routine?
My answer is Yes! I practice and I teach Yoga during Ramadan. I also modify my practice and make adjustments accordingly. I am happy to share my thoughts on the practice of yoga while fasting, relevance of fasting in yoga, and how you can adapt your practice accordingly.
If you have fasted before, you have probably experienced some of the overall health benefits of fasting, such as improved cardiovascular health, weight management, decrease in blood sugar, boost in immune system, etc. But if you are new to yoga then you are probably wondering whether continuing to practice on a completely empty stomach is safe or risky!
“The goal of fasting is inner unity.” Thomas Merton
As you may already be aware, fasting is an age-old concept and is common in many cultural and religious traditions, including the yogic culture. It is one of many forms of tapasya and is known to bring physical, mental and spiritual renewal. Regardless of which type of fasting you may choose, the practice of abstaining from the material consumption of food or drink, for a certain period of time, can purify your body and mind. Thus its an integral part of all major religions of the world, such as Ramadan in Islam, Navratri in Hinduism, and Lent in Christianity, among many more.
One thing that all these different types of fasting have in common is that their goal is not just the act of refraining from food and materialistic pleasures, but to help you achieve a pure state of consciousness. Such practices help promote sattva (purity) and reduce rajas (passion, confusion) and tamas (darkness, chaos). Therefore, fasting may include but not be limited to actions such as keeping one’s body and surroundings clean, abstaining from acts like gossiping or lying, and making special efforts to control our negative emotions such as a cranky mood or anger.
Yogic fastings can be of different types, including juice fasts, water fasts, or more severe types of fasting in which the practitioner abstains from the intake of both food and fluids. Fasting can also last anywhere from several hours a day to many days. Generally, anybody in good health can safely do a juice or water fast for 3-5 days without supervision. Longer or more extreme types of fasting may require supervision and I wouldn’t advise undertaking one without consulting your practitioner and making the necessary preparations to ensure that you stay healthy throughout the process.
“In yoga, the ideal break between one meal and the next meal is eight hours. You can manage these kinds of meals even when you are working outside. But a minimum of five hours is a must for everybody. This is because only when your stomach is empty, your excretory system functions properly.” – Sadhguru
Fasting promotes the process of autolysis, which usually begins 24 to 48 hours after you start the fast, and consists of self-digestion and getting rid of diseased, damaged, dead, and dying cells.
Fasting promotes the elimination of toxins from the body, and also provides your digestive system with much needed rest, freeing up the energy that usually goes into the digestion process and redirecting it towards other purposes. Because of this, many people who initially think of fasting as an extenuating ordeal, soon realize that after a while, they feel more energetic than usual.
From a spiritual point of view, fasting can increase your awareness, making it easier to focus and enter a meditative state .
Fasting may also help you develop your willpower; you learn to resist bodily urges, and develop the ability to complete a self-imposed task. When you learn to distance yourself from food and look at it as a mere object, without giving in to your body’s craving for sensory pleasures, you start to realize that you are not this body.
Fasting may also help you gain sensitivity and intuition.
“Fasting is the first principle of medicine; fast and see the strength of the spirit reveal itself.” Rumi
All of the above create the perfect bodily environment for an enhanced yoga practice. You may enjoy more energy than the usual, and also be able to get deeper into some poses (or to perform poses you had never managed before) because your gut is empty. Likewise, your concentration may be improved, helping you turn your attention inward as you breathe in awareness.
Below I have compiled a few tips on how to maintain a satisfactory yoga practice while fasting:
Be mindful of what you eat and drink when you break your fast
While this is probably common sense, it’s not always easy to make a healthy decision when you have been fasting the whole day and are already daydreaming about sunset just so you can break your fast and take a full meal. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to not break the fast with a full meal, instead have a glass of water and perhaps light snacks or fruits. When you do have your main meal, stick to healthy recipes, include plenty of fruits and vegetables, and try to avoid fried foods or sugary sweets. They may taste delicious but they lack essential nutrients and can also make you excessively thirsty. Remember to keep yourself hydrated through the day by drinking water while allowed (especially if your fast is time-restricted, like in Ramadan.)
Asana is not everything
Yoga is not all about physical postures and fasting is a good time to remind yourself that you can practice yoga even without asana practice. While it’s definitely better to keep the body active throughout your fast, there may be times when this is not possible or when you are just not feeling it Depending on how your body is responding, you may choose to keep your asana practice to a minimum while you fast. Instead you can undertake other practices, such as pranayama, seva (selfless service), meditation, or delving deeper in your study of yoga philosophy. This is the perfect time to look inward and build a deeper connection with your spiritual self.
Find a time that works for you
If you’re practicing asana, find a time that works for you. When you fast, your energy levels will vary through the day. Practice when you feel the energy level is high. You may also want to save some energy in the morning, and dive into a more vigorous practice later in the day, when you’ll have less hours left until you can break your fast.
Personally, during Ramadan, I often prefer to start a little later than I usually would, and I also change my teaching schedule, which goes down from 6 classes a week to just 3, which I hold in the late afternoon, so by the time the class is over people have just about a couple of hours to go home and get ready to break their fast.
Modify your practice
Because my personal yoga practice is not excessively dynamic, I don’t usually feel the need to modify it during Ramadan. My practice is heavily inspired by the Sivananda sequence, and depending on how I’m feeling, I usually add several more advanced poses. During Ramadan, I stick to the basic sequence, or take it a little further, always with awareness. I have also recently started learning the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Primary Series, which I practice once a week at the moment, but I am unsure if I’ll keep this one up while fasting, as it’s more dynamic than my usual Hatha Yoga practice.
Here are a few suggestions:
A couple of Pranayama (breathing exercises) that you can easily perform while fasting are Diaphragmatic Breathing (Yogic Breathing) to calm your mind whenever you’re feeling scattered or distracted, and Bhramari Pranayama (Bee Breath) if you’re looking to deepen your concentration and prepare for meditation.
If you feel like skipping your regular asana practice, you can go for the short sequence below, which focuses on poses that will promote digestion and help your body detox, complementing your fasting experience. Be sure to hold each pose for at least a few breaths for maximum benefits.
- A few rounds of the sun salutation helps tone and loosen up the whole body, You can do just 4-5 rounds followed by a deep and relaxing Savasana, and finish with meditation if you wish. If you still have energy after some sun salutations, you can practice a few more poses.
- Setu Bandhasana (Bridge pose)
- Paschimottanasana (Seated forward fold)
- Bhujangasana (Cobra pose)
- Balasana (Child’s pose)
- Ardha matsyendrasana (Seated spinal twist)
- Shavasana (Corpse pose – relaxation)
I hope that the keys above will help you sustain your practice while you fast and make the most out of the it — happy fasting!
by Lara Fernández
IG handle: @mintyogini