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Fasting, common in many religious, is good for body and for mind

by Team@Lotus
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While its health benefits are well known, a new study has found fasting increases mindfulness and well-being.

With Ramadan ongoing you hear about an entire month of fasting by Muslims. But fasting – from one day to over one month – is common to many traditions since ancient times and as played a central role in many cultures and religions.

Our ancestors knew the all-round benefits of fasting. Saint Augustine (4th-5th century) summed it up, “Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, and scatters the clouds of concupiscence”.

Current medical understanding is that fasting, done right, may provide several health benefits, including weight loss, improved blood sugar control, and decreased inflammation.

Now, a study by the Germany National Institute of Health published last year even found fasting impacting behavioral changes. The study focused on Baha’is who participated in their annual fast, and found “an increase in mindfulness and well-being, which were accompanied by behavioral changes and experiences of self-efficacy and inner freedom”. Still better, mindfulness remained elevated even three months after the fast.
The Baha’i month of Ala is a time of fasting in their faith, a month which this year began on March 2 and ended March 20, just prior to the Baha’i New Year (Naw-Ruz).

This year Ramadan (month of fasting to commemorate first revelation of the Qur’an to Muhammad) began on March 22 and was to end on Eid al-Fitr on April 21. 

Both Baha’i and Muslim traditions consider these periods of fasting to be spiritually potent.  
The Connecticut Council of Interreligious Understanding (CCIU) has compiled information on fasting in various religions.  

For many Christian denominations fasting is a part of Lent, and signifies the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert preparing for his public ministry, as well as the period prior to the crucifixion.  This period begins on Ash Wednesday, which in 2023 was commemorated on February 22nd

In Judaism, the commemoration of Yom Kippur (‘Day of Atonement’) is considered the holiest day of the year in which fasting is performed.  In 2023, Yom Kippur begins on September 24th
There are many fasting days in Hinduism. Nine-day Navratri (that falls twice a year – in spring and autumn) is the best known. Many Hindus, particularly women, also fast on Ekadashi, it comes twice in a month as per the lunar calendar – on the eleventh day of each ascending and descending moon.

For Jains, fasting is also part of religious festivals, the most prominent being Paryushan (‘Abiding and Coming Together’). This is also a period of asking for forgiveness for past offenses.  In 2023, this period will last from September 11-18.

Buddhism also has different fasting days depending on its sect you are talking about. Nyungné is a fasting ritual of the 1000-armed Avalokiteshvara belonging to the Kriya Tantra tradition. Its purpose is to purify negative karma in a short time and to develop great compassion. For two days, monks, nuns or lay practitioners gather at auspicious days in the Tibetan calendar at a monastery, nunnery, or shrine at a Buddhist center. 

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