“YOU ARE DYING! YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST DRINK WATER, RIGHT NOW! NOW! NOW! NOW! PLEEEEASE DRINK WATER!”
I feel crazed. I’m anxious and unsettled. I don’t know what to do with myself.
I am only 10 hours into a 32-hour dry fast and everything I thought I knew is now being questioned. My fight/flight response has activated and I feel fidgety. The hair on the back of my neck is standing up and my skin feels like it’s crawling. One thing is clear: I do not like this.
Dancing with Death… Again
I’m not entirely new to these sensations, though I’ve only ever experienced this extreme bodily anxiety for the briefest moments before. The earliest examples my mind can find are memories of falling, but the most clarifying experiences with this horrifying and overwhelming body-takeover have happened more recently – in Kundalini.
Kundalini yoga involves a lot of prescriptive breath work, including holding both the inhalations as well as the exhalations at times. Most people have held a big breath in, especially if they’ve ever swam, but personally I had never even tried to hold my breath out until prompted in Kundalini. It isn’t something you soon forget.
Panic, anxiety and the desperation to survive all swell up inside you immediately and you realize that you are dying. The first few times I tried, I was helpless to withstand my body’s automatic responses, gasping dramatically after the briefest moments.
“Why?! WHY? Why are you doing this?! BREATHE! LIVE! YOU MUST SURVIVE!”
But, after breaking through fear for just a moment longer, pushing beyond that automatic response – the peace and bliss that fills your being is indescribable. Overcoming the fear of death, even for the shortest time, is remarkably invigorating and strengthening. I can only imagine how restorative a full day of consciously ignoring my fear-response will be…
Beginning with the Hardest Challenge
A dry fast is not something to be taken lightly. Abstaining from water can kill you in just days and it is commonly the opposite of what’s recommended by health professionals. So why am I dancing with death in this way?
This is all just the start of a 21 day fast. I will conclude my dry fast at 8am tomorrow, beginning a 3-day water fast until 8am Tuesday. Starting Tuesday morning, I will finish out the remaining 17 of the full 21 days with fresh juices.
I am prepared to supplement with nut milks and bone broth should the need arise, but I will be abstaining from solid foods for the entire three weeks. Though, arguably not entirely restful, fasting is restorative. Perhaps others would find feasting relaxing, and I have before myself – but right now, I want to relax on a deeper, metabolic and cellular level.
I’ve been pondering these seemingly foreign concepts for over a week now and I’m realizing that so much of the difficulties in my life are caused by not really, truly just resting and relaxing. I have had disordered evening binging tendencies my entire life, and I’m now seeing for the first time it was never about the food. These kinds of realizations came not as a result of fasting today, I haven’t had any major breakthroughs and am mostly hangry, but they are what lead me to this course of action.
I’m diving in, beyond my fear response, to find out who I am beneath all the comforts and conveniences I have been accustomed to my entire life. If it isn’t the food I am looking for while grazing in the evening or otherwise over-consuming, what is it I’m truly craving?
Enabling Prolonged Endurance
Regardless of the fact that I have been called to do a three week fast, I am also still trying to learn how to apply the Divine commission to “rest, relax, heal and meditate.” So, how does one do a difficult, uncomfortable thing in a relaxing way?
Enter the episodic fast! I begin by facing the fear response caused by my dry tongue today and by tomorrow, water will taste like nectar from the goddesses! I’ve actually already been fantasizing about drinking water in the morning…
By Tuesday? Fresh juices will not only taste Divine, they will be gratefully received by a body that has reprioritized the quality and necessity of each nutrient. I imagine the feeling of nourishment and vitality sure to rush through my veins with the first sip will be sublime.
I can already imagine the involuntary sensuality of reexperiencing the sensations and tastes of each bite in my mouth when I do finally chew food again. Mindful eating will be automatic, no longer just something else I “have to try to do.” I will have reclaimed food for myself entirely.
Committing to the Process
That’s why I’m doing this – because I LOVE food. I do not however, love, like or even enjoy feeling enslaved, crazed and controlled by it.
Eating everything I can in secret like a starved and abused animal is not what I want for myself and my relationship with food anymore. I don’t want to feel ashamed and confused about my love for food ever again. Food is a great comfort, but only if it’s being adequately appreciated – otherwise it’s just another distraction from the truth.
I don’t know what I am going to find on this journey. I have already wanted to quit a half dozen times today and almost “messed up” by force of bad habits a few times too. I have felt desperate, sad, angry, frustrated, tired, lonely and irritable off and on all day and yet, I’m grateful.
Even having the opportunity to choose to fast means I have an abundance of food I can abstain from. When I almost “messed up,” I really caught myself making excuses to break my commitment and was forced to accept the complexities of my conditioning. Feeling angry, sad and tired has given me some perspective about other times I have felt similarly and reminded me of the intensity of emotions a lack of basic necessities can lead to…
I’m already learning so much, just 18 hours in. This is why I’ve stopped myself from chewing gum or going to bed early too – the lessons are in the discomfort.
Settling in for Restorative Healing
Now, just because I’m doing the hard things doesn’t mean I am punishing myself. Quite the opposite. In ways, eating excessively without pleasure or necessity because of a fear of discomfort was much more punishing.
I heard a definition of Sacrifice this week that resonates: “to make sacred.” That’s precisely what I’m doing with water and food right now. I am sacrificing these things so that I can make these things sacred to myself.
That’s why I can salivate at the thought of a drop of water today and yet last night, no amount of snacking was satisfying at all. I am learning to truly appreciate my blessings – as they say, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
Still, despite not wallowing in the potential misery of my situation, I am making allowances for some appropriate considerations. I am not exerting myself; I’m abstaining from caffeine, supplements and other stimulants; I am moving slower, being gentler with myself and others – noticing, listening and observing more. It’s all quite relaxing actually.
Tears stream down my face as I sit cross legged and cross eyed in a room full of others doing the same. We’re all dressed in white and we’ve been doing Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training all day for the past three days. This is our last exercise for the weekend before a monthlong break.
It’s a short, “sweet” exercise my trainer smiles, radiating with an intoxicating yet unassuming grace. She guides us gently through the whole process, watching over us as she speaks: “begin in your most beautiful and regal meditation posture.”
Precise and Prescriptive
We sit patiently as she explains an exacting series of mental, third eye focuses and the silent mantra that we will be repeating throughout the meditation. “Now, draw your eyes down to 1/10th open, your gaze is on the tip of your nose.”
Most meditations and even exercises in Kundalini are done with the eyes completely closed, but as I’ve progressed to training I’ve come to enjoy this one. It has a remarkable disarming and balancing effect, allowing for a lot of clearing – and that’s just what I’ve come to know through my own, very brief experiences so far.
“The eyes focused at the tip of the nose causes the optic nerves to cross at the third eye. Thus it is easier to bring your mental focus to the Third Eye while the eyes are directed at the tip of the nose. Both the pineal and the pituitary glands and the area between them are stimulated by this eye posture, which has the effect of breaking old habits and creating new ones.”
I get excited as I feel my mental defenses begin to shut down.
She then leads us through some corresponding Third Eye excercises, how they will be interspersed with breathwork and finally begins the meditation prompts. “Deep breath in, suspend the breath and bring to mind an encounter or incident that happened to you.”
My mind immediately rushes to one of my earliest traumas, something that has impacted my life greatly and haunts me daily. A memory I don’t care to think about that has also somehow still weaved itself into the very fabric of my heart and mind.
“Really?!” I hear a desperate whisper from somewhere inside of me but there is no stopping to listen, I’m locked into the meditation. The rhythms of the practice’s mantra and Third Eye patterns, the enchanting drishti (eye gaze) and my trainer’s reassuring voice all working together to help me unlock these very deep pains that just minutes before I had no awareness of.
Trusting the Process
We repeat the sequence. That’s when the tears start, flowing uninhibited from my eyes – yet somehow my gaze remains fixed and strong. I’m sweating, profusely, but I’m trembling like I am cold. I can’t even think much about these things though – my entire mental plane is consumed by the prompting of my trainer.
“Visualize and re-live the actual feeling of the encounter.” More tears, more sweat, more trembling. Repeat.
We are lead on a powerful journey, step by step. Switching roles with the Other in our encounter and remembering the experience from their perspective.
Rediscovering the Past
It was a shock. I wasn’t experiencing my expectations or assumptions about my Other’s perspective at all, I was experiencing their stress, their distractions and their fear. They had no awareness of how their pain was affecting me in the memory at all.
We complete the meditation by repeating the internal codes of sacred geometry and vibrations in silence again before we continue on to forgiving the Other and our Self. The cycling finally ending with our focus on “letting go of the incident and releasing it to the universe.”
We then go through the steps of closing out our practice for the day, but I’m still crying. I get a picture of the meditation from my trainer and thank her for the impactful weekend, she asks if I’m okay and I smile, still crying as I nod and say “yeah, just -” while motioning erratically around my head. She nods back silently and I am comforted to know she too has experienced the rewriting of her own history.
Healing with Patience and Joy
I sit on my mat, and cry some more. Another student comes up to ask me something and then realizes I’m processing and respectfully tells me we can talk another time. I smile genuinely at her too, as tears still fall from my eyes.
I returned to my regal posture as the room buzzed around me with everyone preparing to leave. Breathing long and deep I set my intention to clear the rest of my process so I can actually get home and another meditation we learned this weekend comes to mind.
This meditation incorporates celestial movements, mudras and arm movements in specific patterns, with a mantra that you recite outloud. It takes me an instant to decide to do it mentally so I don’t call attention to myself.
It’s a fun meditation for children to do in stressful times. Within maybe a just a few brief minutes I was beaming again, the tears completely gone.
“The mind become a monster when it becomes your master. The mind is an angel when it is your servant.”