Spiritual Benefits of Fasting: The physical benefits of fasting have vehemently swept the health industry over the past few years. This ancient ritual has been revived thanks to the modern scientific backing and an ever-increasing awareness of terms like autophagy and cellular healing. Today we explore fasting from another angle: the spirit.
Spiritual Benefits of Fasting: The History of Fasting
Fasting is truly a fascinating act that has been used by humans for an array of purposes for thousands of years. It is used in healthcare, both in ancient times and in modern times, for physical and for mental health. Fasting has been used to enforce a political stance as a tool for protest. Fasting has also been used in religious context across every religion across the globe, for as long as faith has been alive on earth.
Fasting is one of the oldest therapies in medicine, used both preventatively and retroactively in healing the human body. It was used therapeutically in the 5th Century BCE during the ancient Greek era of Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine. He advocated fasting as a way of self-purification and healing. Another founding father of medicine, Paracelsus, referred to fasting as “the greatest remedy–the physician within.” 
Fasting is a very natural occurrence when the body is sick due to loss of appetite. Animals naturally fast when they are ill or injured, allowing the body to focus all its energy on repair and rebuilding, and this wisdom has permeated various types of healthcare both ancient and modern. Fasting is used therapeutically in one of the oldest Eastern healing modalities out of India, known as Ayurveda.  But even in modern Western medical medicine, fasting is used methodologically like prior to surgeries or blood tests.
Fasting is also used in functional medicine clinics, commonly in Europe, as a tool to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western medicine. Clinics in Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, and Russia use clinically supervised fasting as a healing modality for detox, health, cancer treatments, and general rejuvenation.
Fasting has taken a front seat in the modern health and wellness scene, with various studies highlighting the benefits it can have on cellular renewal, autophagy, stem cell production, immune system boosting, brain health, and weight loss. [3-5] These studies explore an array of different ways to fast, including intermittent fasting, alternate-day fasting, and prolonged fasting. Fasting encompasses various styles too, including juice fasts, mono-fasts, and water-only fasts.
Although fasting and physical health go hand in hand, the benefits also extend themselves to spiritual health and exploration. In fact, the roots of fasting may actually be in spiritual growth, since the pursuit of fasting and religion go back.
The Spiritual Benefits of Fasting
Nearly all the religions of the world use fasting as a tool for spiritual enlightenment, connection with the divine, as well as a tool for penitence, and self-control. Roman Catholics and Eastern orthodoxy take on a 40 day fast during Lent to mimic the period where Christ fasted for 40 days and nights in the desert. Judaism incorporates several yearly fasts including Yom Kippur and the Day of Atonement. Muslims fast during the holy month of Ramadan, Buddhist monks and nuns follow Vinya rules whereby they do not eat after noon, and Hindus have fasting deeply imbedded in spiritual practice as they fast for holy days, religious festivals, and in honor of their favorite deities. [6-9]
Understanding the benefits of spiritual growth when it comes to fasting is ultimately a highly individual experience since spirituality is an internal world. Physical benefits are measured, tested, compared in a lab, but spiritual growth is something only you can experience. Having an awareness of some of the commonly shared benefits of spiritual growth and fasting may help you connect dots between your own experience.
1. A Surrender to the Higher Power
Modern society revolves around food, and the mentality that we must eat three meals per day is a commonly held belief. When one breaks free from this construct, it requires a large degree of surrender to the unknown. This type of surrender is the same devotional surrender that occurs in spirituality; an acknowledgment of the unknown, to a higher power.
2. A Sensitivity to the SuperNatural
Anyone who has participated in a prolonged water fast can attest to the incredible sensitivity that increases for all the senses. Sight, touch, smell, sound: all the ways in which we interact with the world become heightened when we stop consuming food. Upon reintroducing food, taste as well takes on a completely new meaning. Foods taste more vibrant, more alive. We reset our tastebuds to truly experience flavor in a totally renewed way.
This sensitivity extends itself to our spiritual awareness too. Our connection to God, to the divine, to spirit, becomes much more sensitive. A clear mind and body, brought on by a fasting period, help us become much more in tune with the messages coming through us from above. We are able to trust our knowledge in a much deeper way. Many people express high degrees of clarity, even regarding issues that have previously brought them much confusion and pain.
3. A Renewed Appreciation for the Subtle Beauty of Life
Heightened senses also enable us to see life for the wonder that it is. Colors become brighter, smells become stronger. Many people report more sensitive touch to their skin and even a heightened awareness of other people’s energy. When we take a minute to slow down and abstain from food, clarity comes through in ways that aren’t comprehensible with a logical mind.
Appreciation for the creation is an appreciation for the creator: for they are one and the same. Simply to praise the creator (God, spirit, the universe, whatever you want to call it), fails to acknowledge that the creation is an extension of the creator. When we have a renewed sense of appreciation for the world, our relationship with God is strengthened too.
4. Creating Space for Miracles
When we live life at high speed, it can be difficult to see the magic in the mundane. In a materialist modern world, many people focus their day’s on generating income, and/ or what they will spend their money on. When we fast, everything slows down. Taking an extended water fasting period to just rest and be can create a powerful space in which you can learn to observe the miracles that are happening every day around you.
We have gotten accustomed to nature, for example, to the point where we don’t stop to smell the roses. Trees, grass, birds, and animals all become just another part of life. This often changes while you fast, because slowing down creates space for awareness, which enables us to see life for the miracle that it is. It enables us to see the extraordinary nature of this human existence, that too often we are rushing past without a second glance.
5. Heightened Intuition
When we surrender to a fasting period, we let go of our mental constructs and let the wisdom of our bodies take over. This is the place where intuition is born: inside of you. Intuition is an intrinsic knowing, that occurs without a rational explanation of the mind. In today’s highly scientific world, it can be scary to make decisions based simply on a “knowing”, but this faith-based way of making choices is indeed what humans relied on for centuries before modern institutions of knowledge were propagated.
When you fast, you trust the body’s wisdom. This is especially true during longer fasts when a deep surrender must occur. Many old habits and patterns must be dropped, like the tendency to over-exercise, in favor of rest. We must let go of our long-held beliefs about what our bodies ‘need’, and just let it be. This process of fasting increases our sensitivity to the messages being communicated from within called intuition.
6. Humility and Kindness
Longer fasts are a highly humbling experience, as we get to witness how soft and vulnerable we can be as humans. For people who rely heavily on a go-go-go mentality of achievement, and usually over-caffeinating, over-exercising, over-thinking: taking a break from it all to rest is incredibly humbling.
Watching the body experience ebbs and flows of energy, weakness, and an array of emotions can be a gateway for compassion towards others. Seeing yourself in such a vulnerable state, with lots of time for self-reflection, can be a powerful reminder about how precious life is, and how important it is to be kind and compassionate with all beings on the earth.
Spiritual Benefits of Fasting: Summary
The benefits of fasting extend themselves far past physical health. Although they may be more difficult to measure in any scientific method, the spiritual benefits of fasting are profound. Fasting has been used in nearly every religion on the planet as a way to purify the mind and get closer to God, and indeed fasting can encourage an array of spiritual benefits including humility, kindness, heightened intuition, creating space for miracles, a sensitivity to the supernatural, and a renewed appreciation for the beauty of life.
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- Dugan, Kathleen M. “Fasting For Life: The Place of Fasting in the Christian Tradition.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, LXIII, no. 3, 1995, pp. 539–548., doi:10.1093/jaarel/lxiii.3.539.