By Hare Krsna Das 

Yoga is the process of linking our consciousness with the super-consciousness, or more simply put connecting the soul with Ishvara. The Ashtanga system of Yoga prescribes eight limbs or steps leading to complete absorption of consciousness and awareness in loving relationship with the Supreme. The first five steps – yama, niyama, asana, pranayama & pratyahara – set the stage for internalizing the awareness from external phantasmagoria to inner light.

Intermittent fasting, one form of fasting from food consumption for periods of time while consuming the meals in a certain time-window, is very popular today and related to the fifth step of the Ashtanga Yoga system – pratyahara. Intermittent fasting has gained popularity in the modern times through scientific backup, but it has its roots it the yogic science and in the ancient texts on Yoga, such as Hatha Yoga Pradipika. All the yogis throughout times have eaten an early dinner and late breakfast (or only once a day in more advanced stage), giving the different functions of the body a proper rest in between.

Pratyahara, that fifth step, means withdrawal of the senses from objects. In conditioned state, the senses and sense objects have intimate connection when the awareness is invested in the third of these principles, in the act of gratification. This indulgence is but a fickle shadow of Samadhi, the full absorption. However, this act of gratification, also called ahara, cannot be realized as Samadhi because of the inevitable disruption, as neither the senses nor the objects of senses have endurance.

The process of Pratyahara helps to pull the awareness, chitta, from the senses and sense objects and in purified state reinvest the awareness in Ishvara. Of the many practices of Pratyahara for different senses, the practice of fasting or monitored starvation from food and drink (ahara for tongue and belly) is the most basic yet considered very important. In India, which is the seat of Vedic or Yogic culture, since ages the yogis as well as ordinary people have practiced different types of fasting and one of them is Ekadashi, which is observed on the eleventh day of each lunar cycle of waxing and waning moon.

Ekadashi fast entails restraining from eating food grains (like wheat, rice etc.), beans, lentils and obviously all kinds of animal products (except dairy, unless you are a vegan ) The practitioner usually accepts fruits, nuts, milk, juice, water etc. to keep the body energetic for carrying out the daily routine activities. The Bhakti Yogis additionally invest their saved up time in chanting japa, performing kirtan, self-study, performing seva by which the awareness can be effectively reinvested in the Supreme consciousness, which is the real purpose of Pratyahara.

Recent medical science studies also reveal that intermittent fasting can help reduce risks of many life threatening diseases like cancer and foster better health and longevity.

Fasting, especially on these days know as Ekadashis, is a good opportunity for you to not only experience better health but also embark on your Samadhi journey through practice of Pratyahara!

Happy Fasting!

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