For me, this kind of imaginative visualisation is actually a memory. There was a period in my life of about a year and a half where I worked in ashrams as a cook, but ONLY ate one meal a day (at 2pm before cooking for 220 people), month in and month out. This was enough for me. I was living in a pure place, doing a pure thing, imbibing food full of goodness, of prana. It was a regime that saw weight drop off and the mind became immensely calm, and life turned into this graceful song and dance, edged with a deep inner satisfaction and serenity. But karma is karma, and for various reasons I had to reenter the world and WHAM that was hard! At first, all that food did not tempt me. But as fatigue, responsibilities, stress, financial duties, families, all followed, food became a go-to source of comfort. My downfall? Sandwiches, cheese, pickle...
The WallOften when we resolve to practice spiritual discipline, whatever our faith, we run up against what seems to be a giant wall, a barrier to further progress. In Yogic terms we could see the wall as the accumulation of past samskaras, tendencies from impressions accumulated over many lives, turned into what are called vasanas, powerful subconscious urges or mental habits (mental programmes, unhelpful behaviour patterns triggered by particular events) that contract us, defeat us again and again. In the terms of other religions, we could call these sinful tendencies - but one way they manifest in a society where food is all too plentiful is in the tendency to grab, accumulate, and store everything.
When we think about this clearly, it's kind of insane! It is like we have an inner robot dedicated to one programme and one programme only, and that is the command "accumulate and store." often this may be because of scarcity of nourishment at a vital developmental age in infancy, especially at the very early oral stage of development. So that is pre-speech, pre-walking, but absolutely vital and a lack of love or nourishment at that stage has an effect on the rest of our life. I know what I'm talking about because I endured a strange mother, who - an aged aunt only recently revealed to us brothers - used to strap us down, line us up and shovel food in our mouths whether we wanted to eat or not, all at a set time. I'm still scratching my head at the karma of this kind of thing.
But from a Yogic point of view it may too exist as a samskara from a previous lifetime of poverty and deprivation. But this urge to store easily gets translated into "let me store food in my stomach, just in case..." and once this vasana is embedded, the result eventually manifests in piling on weight.
Piling on weight is another sign of unhappiness, too, especially if you are trapped in a relationship which does not meet any need, or you are alone, or lonely, or in a job you hate.
So... the wall. And how to dismantle it? Unfortunately there is really only one way, if you are going to do the job properly: and that is brick by brick. So, it takes time, but do you really want to live your whole spiritual life always feeling excluded, feeling you are not even good enough to feel God, feeling cut off from that burning sun of brilliant light inside you? Of course not! The irony is that too much weight robs you of energy, and you need energy to dismantle the wall.
So... pray! Here's a wonderful verse from the Bhagavad Gita that has inspired me over the years:
Modern food, processed food, is laden with so little nutritional value and so much nastiness, it's no wonder that our societies are plagued by bad health. And all this helps build the wall.
The Fat Sick and Nearly Dead movie
Why do it?
So spiritually you are reconnecting with something very primal.
Medical Check upJoe advises everyone to get a medical check-up before attempting a juice fast. This is sensible. If you are badly anaemic for example, juice fasting may not be for you. Likewise diabetes. But check out the facts and form your own opinion. I would advise you give it a go, if you have the means and the access to fresh fruit and vegetables.
Having said that, I'm a kidney donor so only have one kidney left, but that doesn't stop the juice fast. I have a huge respect for what doctors have decided to label "alternative" medicine and take no pills unless absolutely necessary. And, as you can tell, I have little time for conventional medicine and its judgements on what is right or wrong. Not that long ago the medical establishment struck a perfectly good Doctor from the medical register in the UK for daring to practice Ayurveda, and their case hung on the fact that some Ayurvedic preparations are made with cow's urine (gasp) and thus "quack medicine". Yes, that is Ayurveda practiced since time immemorial. So when Doctors say there are no benefits from juice fasting, I laugh.
Another downside: monotony of taste, and not enough salt. The way I balance this is drink Miso Soup, as the Miso has plenty of salt in it and this also contains seaweed, which contains vital alkyline input to stop stomach from veering to to much acidity.
The DoshasThe principles of Ayurveda and the three Doshas are also something to take into account. There are many ways to test your basic consitutional make-up, but basically our bodies in their natural state are dominated by one of three doshas (or a mix of them):
Vata: equivalent to wind/air
Pitta: equivalent to fire, hot and dry
Kapha: equivalent to earth, cold and moist
But given that most people wanting a prolonged juice fast are overbalanced with Kapha, then a juice fast really helps remove kapha from the system and the Ama, the toxic poisons lurking round the gut.
Water!No juice fast is complete without water, which is absolutely vital and necessary to help shift the weight and help the body break down and flush out the fat. Best way to drink the water is hot... hot water is a brilliant healer. Some alternative health practitioners also swear by distilled water. Of course society tampers with our water supply in so many ways, adding chemicals, transporting through aged toxic pipes etc. Bottled water seems a better option.
The Natural Way
Preyas and SreyasIn Vedic scripture there are two paths, Margas, we can take in most situations. One, Preyas, we could call as the path of instant gratification, the thing that gives you the instant hit but will have less positive long-term consequences. The other, Sreyas, maybe difficult at first, but leads to much greater pleasure in the end. Most of us, for most of the time, opt for the former and indeed our whole modern society is dedicated to the lure of the instant buzz. When this gets translated into food, you can follow the logic... fast food, sweet food, comfort food yields preyas but the consequences pile up in terms of weight and health issues. JUicing seems to me the very essence of Sreyas. It seems difficult at first, it takes definite will-power and endurance in the beginning. But the results are more than worth it.
So: do you have the courage to opt for the path less travelled? To choose the difficult thing, not the immediately easy? Maybe so, maybe this is that precise moment reading these words when you draw the line in the sand and say "Enough is enough!".
The lure of Sugar: the Yogic twistI remember working as a storeman in an ashram in 1976, on a 6 months meditation course for women, which was awkward in itself. I had to be hidden away from view at all times, but even so, a steady stream of women used to come down to the store-room to ask for sugar. In my innonence (I was only 22 at the time) I thought that's what they really wanted, but with the benefit of hindsight I can see that actually they were mostly there to check me out, as there was no other stimulus on the course! Even so, I vividly remember one of the "star" meditators patiently explaining to me that an ingestion of sugar on a long meditation course "would guarantee flashy experiences".
Flash forward 20 years in another ashram, and a side room where meditators with out of control "kriyas" or involuntary de-stressing movements being fed bananas by Swamis until they calmed down - not a bad life.
Sugar is always seen as the ultimate baddie, and the presence of both refined sugar and salt in commercially processed food products is indeed a scandal. Sugar pervades absolutely everything and its presence in our life has an inevitable effect on our blood chemistry and brain functioning. Much of what we might think is normal - lustful urges, tantrums, depression, fatigue, comes from the pervasive impact of too much sugar in our systems.
Nevertheless, there is also a strange link with sugar and the ability to perceive the ananda kosha, one of the subtle sheaths which surround the embodied jiva or soul. The sheath of bliss is, as the title suggests, intensely blissful. I'd be very interested to know if in the future humanity works out just why sugar ingestion on a long meditation course can indeed open a gateway. And why just so many saints are diabetic.
Practical tips from the InternetHere's some tips on juicing someone sent me, not my words so don't shoot the messenger, but they seem eminently sensible to me:
Getting the Most from juicing:
Sip it quickly. Once the fruit or vegetable goes through the juicer, natural enzymes in the food begin to break down the nutrients. Juice loses nutritional value quickly. For Optimal benefits, drinks juices within 30 minutes of making them.
Focus on vegetables. While a tall glass of fruit juice can be a sweet summer treat, it’s better to concentrate on vegetable juices. Fruits juices are too high in sugar and too acidic to drink in large quantities. Vegetable juices are better nutritionally, and they have a higher alkaline (meaning not acidic) content.
Enjoy a variety
For maximum healing benefits, drink juices from a variety of vegetables. The more the variety you can work in your diets, the better. This is easy with juices, because you can combine several vegetables into one drink.
While not all fruits and vegetables require peeling, many do, for a variety of reasons. The skins of oranges and grapefruits, for example, contain chemicals that can be toxic if consumed in large quantities. Waxed produce should be peeled before juicing, as should tropical fruits, which often are grow in countries where the use of pesticides isn’t well regulated.
Remove the pits and seeds
Apple seeds, which contain trace amounts of cyanide, would be removed before juicing. Seeds in melon, lemons, and limes and pits from peaches and plum, and other stone fruits should also be removed. Grape seeds are safe, however, and can be placed in the juicer along with the fruit.
Use the whole vegetable
Most vegetables can be juiced in their entirety-leaves, stems, and all. Two exceptions are rhubarb leaves and carrot tops both contain toxic compounds.
The openings of most juicers are quite small, so you should cut your produce into manageable pieces. Also, small chunks put less strain on the motor, which will help your juicer last longer.
Bland your bananas
When juicing with fruits that contain little water, like bananas and avocados, it’s helpful to juice the other items first, then add their drier produce to produce a thick, smooth drink.
Drink it quickly
Just as juice gives up their nutritional benefits soon after they are made, their flavour is also fleeting. Some juice, such as cabbage, becomes rancid in a few hours. Sot it’s a good idea to make only as much as you plan to drink right away.
Or freeze it
Carrot, apple, and orange juice are quite hardy and will keep for three to four weeks when frozen in a sealed plastic container.
There’s virtually no limit to the tastes and textures that you can create by mixing a variety of fruits and vegetables in your juicer. Here are a few simple combinations you may want to try.
Carrots and celery
Which often combined, are considered universal mixers, which means that they combine well with other vegetable. Try juicing three carrots for every stalk of celery.
Combining the juice
From a couple of tomatoes with juice from few slices of sweet green peppers make a refreshing, sodium-free alternative to salt-laden store bought tomato juice.
For a surprisingly refreshing drink,
Combine one large peeled cucumber and a small onion. Using different varieties of onions, from sweet to hot whites, will create a range of interesting flavours.
THE RAMA REBOOT
MY OWN JUICE FAST (begun March 28 2014)
Just before the juice fast, on business in Geneva
Had a few headaches on day 4, but they cleared up with morning recitation of the Sandhya Vandanam.
The week has ended with no real practical problems at work in terms of juicing. Not sleeping too well, but each morning seems to be just that tad brighter and lighter. Lots of bodily things that maybe only I can notice. Some practicalities, too: too much juicing of fruits ends up with too much sugar, not enough salt. The key to juicing is persistence and if you are doing it in a Yogic way, it's reverence.
Now this sounds a bit sappy, but preparing the vegetables and juicing them allows you very directly to actually interact with the plant kingdom, to extract the liquid light, and to pause while you juice to reflect on the thousand different steps which have brought this apple, this celery stalk to your table. We are so divorced from the growing and harvesting of food, we take it for granted that we pay X in cash and get Y in food as a right... but in Vedic terms, food is the gift of Annapurna, the Great Shakti, our Divine Mother. Food depends on harvests, and food is a gift, a miracle, a wonder. I think this week I reminded myself of this simple truth: the Mother of us all feeds us all.
Week 2The main challenge for this week was how to cope with a business trip, 3 days to St Petersburg, Russia. The flight itself was tiring, just the traipsing round airports, rushes to gates, waiting in line... the kind of thing my day job involves a lot of. In Russia, a problem: no juice beyond commercially sugar laden lifeless orange juice! And also business cocktail parties (I had to give a speech there as well as chair sessions in the conference) and lunches with colleagues. In the end I did the sensible thing and stuck to soup as a form of hot juice.
On return to UK, back to the juice fasting, gardening and juice fasting again. One thing I would recommend if your budget is up to it is not just a juicer but a blender too, which gets you the soft fruits like bananas and strawberries.
Weight loss? I'm not going to weigh myself until a month is done, but my waist size has shrunk by at least 4-5 inches and that cumbersome, heavy, sheen of tiredness is hugely reduced. I can move easier, life is very much cleaner and clearer and abundant energy is returning... and it's spring.
My spiritual intent: summed up in something I say a lot inwardly to Divine Mother: "For Thee Alone by Me Alone." And thus the long days pass...
Week 3&4Juicing has become a habit, but I added a blender as well, to be able to use soft fruit as the weather got warmer.... and meanwhile foreign business travel continued to pile up. Had a weekend off as I was on holiday, and then slipped back into the groove again. Also found that hot soups were needed to counteract a certain spaciness. Weight loss slowed, and that burst of sattva and determination at the start slightly eased. But still going...
After a monthI had lost about 4 inches round the waste, and about a stone in weight, but as a spiritual practice the juice fast had immeasurable benefits in terms of increased clarity, inner brightness and equipoise... a sense of the system being indeed rebooted and reset, in a simple but beautiful way. The kicker for me was how to deal with extensive business trips, most of which involved lunches or dinners with clients, and this proved a serious challenge.
I'm going to continue as far as I can, buit also using soups to heat up the system and provide a little bit of extra nourishment, as juices alone make it hard to face the difficulties of travel - the airport waits, the long walks to planes, the meetings etc etc. My karma unfortunately. But, a noble endeavour and I have really enjoyed the process!