As personal growth becomes an increasing priority for many, let’s look at two habits that could prove invaluable to your health and wellbeing…fasting and meditation.
On this page, we’ll explore how these practices relate to the concept of vipassana and the myriad ways they can bolster your mind, body, and general wellbeing.
You’ll find no pseudoscience here – just some no-nonsense suggestions and an introduction that’s geared towards beginners.
Fasting and meditation – is it safe to do both together?
The short answer to this question is yes – it can be perfectly safe to fast and meditate at the same time, with an important caveat. Certain medical conditions may preclude you from fasting, so be sure to check with your doctor first or if you encounter issues.
With that said, many people believe that the two practices can work synergistically, and I’m one of them!
I personally practice intermittent fasting, whereby I finish my last meal at 8pm in the evening, skip breakfast and don’t eat again until noon.
I then meditate as part of my morning routine, feeling cognitively alert and present, without my body trying to digest a morning meal simultaneously.
If like me, once you’ve adjusted to the sensations of fasting, you may find that your meditation sessions start to have a more profound impact on your mood, focus, and general wellbeing.
Just keep in mind that everyone’s body is different. You may have to deal with a period of adjustment before making progress.
It may also depend on the type of fasting you practice and the time of day you meditate.
I’ve tried different techniques, including one meal day (OMAD) and evening meditation, which I really struggled with.
Now, we’ll explore the topics fasting and meditation separately.
What is fasting?
When we abstain from something, we fast from it.
The periods in between meals, drinks, and snacks are technically all forms of fasting.
Indeed, when looking closely at the word ‘breakfast’, you’re technically ‘breaking’ the ‘fast’.
When people talk about fasting as a technique or practice, they’re usually referring to extended periods where they avoid eating, drinking, or both.
In a contemporary context, ‘digital fasts’ refer to periods of avoiding devices like smartphones and computers.
Fasting has been a part of the human experience for far longer than many people realise.
Food scarcity defined humanity’s relationship with the world for much of prehistory. Voluntary fasting can also be found in accounts from Ancient Greece.
Why, though, would someone in the modern world choose to deny themselves something as essential and joyous as food?
Many people fast as part of their religion, believing it will bring them closer to God. For others, weight loss or improved concentration are the goals.
No matter what someone’s reasons for fasting, there’s a growing body of research that suggests they might be making a smart decision.
Many people choosing to fast for the first time try something called intermittent fasting.
This usually involves choosing a ‘window’ of time each day in which they allow themselves to eat.
One popular version of this approach is the 16:8 ratio – you choose 8 consecutive hours in the day (12-8, for example) where you can eat, and then fast for the following 16 hours.
This guide from Healthline is a fantastic introduction to the approach.
A comprehensive list of fasting’s benefits is beyond the scope of this article. A few highlights can be found below.
1. Weight loss
The most immediate and noticeable effect of fasting for most people is weight loss.
The reduced calorie intake that results from most fasting can help people reach a healthier weight.
2. Cognitive improvements
People have been reporting on the cognitive benefits of fasting for a long time now.
Some initial animal studies are beginning to suggest that they may be on to something.
Some trials in mice appear to have improved both the function and structure of the animals’ brain tissue.
3. Improved overall longevity
One argument made in favour of fasting is that it helps us fight against the process of ageing and live longer lives overall.
It is posited that food scarcity has been a part of the human experience for much longer than the current abundance we enjoy from modern agriculture.
Thus, we have evolved to thrive off periods of fasting.
While more studies and conversations are needed before a conclusion can be reached here, a growing body of research suggests that fasting may indeed increase longevity in human beings.
How to get started
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to fasting.
Your reasons for starting, current eating habits, and personality will all play a huge role in which options will stick for you.
One technique that works for some beginners is to start with a more relaxed eating ‘window’ and then gradually increase the length of fasts over time.
You might start with a 12:12 ratio of eating to fasting, then 14:10, then 16:8, and so on.
See what works for you and remember to pay attention to what your body is telling you.
The first thing to mention here is that this article alone lacks the scope to explain vipassana comprehensively.
In short, however, the Indian term of vipassana means to “see things as they really are”.
It’s often translated into “insight” for English speakers.
The concept is rooted in Buddhism but is considered today as a non-sectarian practice.
In theory, any aspect of your life that leads to a greater sense of awareness and self-understanding could be considered as vipassana.
Meditation is probably the most common technique used by those looking to practice vipassana.
Some people also go through periods of fasting to further enhance the impact of their practice.
What is meditation?
When most people think of meditation, they picture an ascetic monk humming at the top of a mountain.
While this is certainly one form of the practice, it can also be far more straightforward than this.
Meditation is any practice or technique that helps you to train your awareness or attention.
Usually, the goal is to calm the mind; increase awareness of the self and body; and to connect with the world around us.
In many religions, meditation is considered as a practice that brings the user closer to God or enlightenment.
Most meditation or mindfulness techniques involve focusing on one thing in particular for an extended period of time.
This might be the breath, the weight of the body, or the sounds in an environment.
Whenever the attention wanders from this task, it can be gently refocused on its objective.
With the right focus and with consistent practice, meditation can have a profound impact on a person’s mental wellbeing.
How to get started
It’s remarkably easy to get started with meditation.
The internet is full of guided sessions that can introduce you to the practice gently.
Some meditation apps can be found below:
- Waking Up (paid app with guided meditations – I’m a subscriber)
- Headspace (paid app with guided meditations)
- Calm (paid app with guided meditations)
The benefits of meditation
A growing body of research suggests that meditation can be a powerful tool against anxiety, stress, and low mood in general.
Below are just some of the benefits associated with the practice.
1. Stress and anxiety
A consistent meditation habit can dramatically improve instances of anxiety and stress.
2. Better sleep
Not only can specific meditation techniques help people fall asleep more easily, but the practice may also help to improve overall sleep quality.
3. Self-reflection and empathy
Many people who practice meditation report that it significantly boosts their self-awareness, self-confidence, and empathy for others.
Both meditation and fasting have been a part of the human experience for much longer than many people realise.
If you’d like to boost your mood, bolster your health, and “see things as they really are”, you might like to try both simultaneously.