Oct 20th, 2021, 10:03 AM

Navratri: Nine Nights of Fasting

By Sukhi Borse
Photo credit: Sonika Agarwal/Unsplash
A day-to-day reflection of my personal experience with not eating for nine days

To Preface, I feel I should say that fasting has been part of my life for a long time as I had been growing up in a Hindu family, and I later found myself observing other religious fasts such as Ramadan and Lent for the sake of understanding and participating in other people’s religions. This is to say that fasting has become a familiar friend of mine as I find it to be a very fulfilling experience. However, anyone considering a fast should check with their doctor, and make sure to do the appropriate research beforehand. Everyone responds differently, and while there are great benefits to fasting, it has to be done properly with the right procedures. If at any point you feel you are getting sick then please do not push yourself farther than necessary as fasting is meant to serve as a healing mechanism, not a destructive one.

What is fasting?

In most literal terms, fasting is the practice of abstaining from food, and under certain circumstances from drinking as well. Now of course, with the rise of wellness trends, and just different religious sanctions, fasting can just be abstaining from food for a certain period of time…maybe even refraining from eating certain foods or giving up certain foods or even activities. For example, in the Catholic tradition, during Lent, I have seen many of my friends give up chocolate or give up social media, and that in a way is a sort of cleanse.

Fasting in Different Religions

This brings me to my next point, the purpose of any fast is to purify the body. For physical purposes, fasting helps our body rejuvenate, and get rid of the toxins in our body from all the different food we’ve been digesting, it basically just cleans the digestive system—and depending on the length of the fast this process can be even more evident as your body does experience changes.

Mentally, fasting is a practice of discipline and helps in cleansing. As your body is going through physical changes, your mental state is also as you tend to learn different things during this experience, and often learn something new about yourself. It can be transcendent for some people and that is why many people conduct religious fasts as they feel more connected to their respective creators and/or deities.

For instance, I am about to do a nine-day fast as an observance of Navratri, a Hindu holiday.

What is Navratri?

Navratri in English translates to nine nights; where “nava” is the number nine and “ratri” means night. Navratri honors the deity Durga, goddess of preservation strength, prosperity, and rejuvenation. Navratri tells the story of Durga’s fight against the demon Mahishasura, and during this battle, Durga transformed into 9 avatars of herself to defeat the Mahishasura, symbolizing the victory of light over darkness—good vs evil

The Story Behind Navratri

In observing and celebrating Durga’s victory, people fast for nine days to represent the nine avatars to seek blessings from the goddess in hopes of pleasing her and gaining prosperity for the upcoming year. During this holiday, many Hindus fast by abstaining from eating meat and most food with eggs, garlic, and onions—this is because these foods are tamasic according to the Hindu faith. Tamasic is associated with darkness. This darkness is manifested in human characteristics as materialism, superficiality, vanity, and self-absorbance. Many Hindus believe that fasting is a way of cleansing the soul because self-discipline allows for people to reflect on what really matters to them; it’s a way to reject the materialism of the world.

Why am I fasting?

As I have fasted before for observing different religions, this fast I chose to observe Navratri as I felt I needed to establish a kind of routine or consistency in my life. I originally was not going to participate; however, these past weeks have been quite overwhelming, and my line of thought has been quite scattered, and in the past, fasting has helped me become more focused, and I really feel like that is what I need right now.

In recognizing my need for this fast, like my other fasts, I decided that I would journal my reflections of how I am feeling daily as I find it to be helpful in observing the changes that I feel myself going through emotionally and physically. However, I realized I have never once shared these experiences with others, so I thought now is as good a time as any to give you a sneak peek of my thoughts—raw and uncut regarding this fasting experience.

Day 1: Ordinary

I always find the first day of the fast to be one of the easiest as it’s like starting something new, so in the beginning, it feels all exciting, and I’m still riding that high of embarking on an adventure so to speak. The one thing I notice; however, is the amount of spare time I have as a result of not really eating—this left me to be kind of bored and needing to find something to do. So, I started reading a new book, and I got to be honest, it was a nice and relaxing day. I attended class as usual and didn’t feel anything particularly out of the ordinary.

Day 2: Focused

Okay, so day 2 for many people is said to be one of the hardest days of any fast as your body does start to grumble and many people feel the desire to eat at this point. I, however, don’t really have this issue as I have grown accustomed to fasting perhaps. I will say that I had to keep myself busy just so that I could complete certain tasks, and I was able to do just that. I finished the book I had started on Day 1 of the fast, and I was able to finish homework that had been hanging over my head from the days prior to the fast. It was just one of those days where I was able to check off everything from my to-do list, and I was feeling fine.

Day 3: Tired

So, this is really where I started kind of feeling physically sluggish, but I had also realized that I had not drunk enough water today which can impact a lot. If there is one thing anyone should know about embarking on a fast where you’re not eating anything, make sure you are consuming at least a gallon of water a day… this isn’t an exaggeration; it’s quite important and can greatly affect the trajectory of your fasting experience. I didn’t go to class this day as it was a Saturday, and I just allowed myself to rest as I felt that was what I needed to do to take care of my body and myself.  It made me realize how much I focus on taking care of myself on a fast as opposed to every day which is sad to think about because this is how I should take care of myself regardless of whether I’m putting my body through an “extreme” situation.  Self-care really is an intentional practice that takes a lot of effort: mental and physical.

Photo credit:Lux Graves/Unsplash 

Day 4: Reflective 

At this point, my body has acclimatized to the fasted state, and physically, I feel quite energized physically, and mentally—well, it was an interesting day. I found myself thinking a lot about unresolved conflicts in my life whether it be with my family members or even with myself. Like I came to terms with some of the feelings that I had been trying to ignore in the past month, and it ended up being quite an emotionally exhaustive day, but I think it was necessary as this fast made me slow down and really focus on my needs emotionally which is always a good thing. It’s all learning, and while it didn’t feel good at the moment, I was able to confront these issues rather than avoid them which is typically in the right direction for resolution.

Day 5: Bored

Okay, well at this moment I basked in the fact just how social, food has become in our lives. I got asked for dinner like three or four times this past week, and then I was also asked today, and I had to refuse because I am fasting, and so I didn’t get to spend time with some of these people, and that is probably one of the more difficult parts of fasting… not necessarily that it is lonely, but you end up having spare time when you would be eating and I don’t know; I don’t do well with spare time as I usually just waste it or let myself have those uncomfortable conversations in my head, and it can become very messy quite quickly.

Day 6: Anxious

So today was not a fun day. It was one of those days where my anxiety was generally high, and I caught myself getting massive headaches, as a result, I took some salt and electrolytes in my water to perhaps help the situation. The good thing was that it was not a super busy day at school; I only had two classes, but I ended up only going to one as my anxiety was getting the best of me. Once I had left for the day, I just decided to lay in bed with the windows open to let some sunlight in while watching a movie for class, so that was the gist of my day today. As far as the fast goes, I’m happy with where I’m at as I feel like I can continue this to completion and be happy that I did.

Photo credit: Christopher Ott/Unsplash 

Day 7:  Energetic

 I don’t know if I was falling off my anxiety high, however, I was just very jittery and energetic this entire day; my body and my mind were for once actually kind of in-sync with one another regarding being energetic which was a nice change from the usual where my they usually are lacking coherency with one another. Rather, I think the best way to put it is that they were in sync to benefit my overall productivity during the day, and I found myself to be in much more light-hearted spirits than I typically am which felt well just nice. 

Day 8: Preoccupied  

I recognized that my fast was coming to an end soon, and usually, at the end of these fasts, there is a huge celebration where people have a big festival and feast and socialize with loved ones. Following in tradition, I had planned to host a dinner at my apartment in the next few days to break fast with them, so I was preoccupied with getting ready to make that meal. All the grocery shopping and cooking I had decided that I would do myself, and so I ran myself quite thin in making sure I was getting everything I needed to prepare and I didn’t really focus too much on the fact that I was still fasting or if my body was tired as I was preoccupied with planning this meal.

Photo credit: Alyson Mcphee/Unsplash 

Day 9: Accomplished

Today, not only did I complete my fast, but I was able to prepare the meal that I had intended on making for my guests, and it felt good to be able to accomplish these things as I feel like recently, I have not been able to do as much as I would like, and I haven’t been satisfied with my overall pace in productivity. The day was stressful as I was making sure I was on schedule for all the food to be done as the dinner party is tomorrow, and there were still things to be made, so I really felt like I needed to be on top of it. Was it exhausting? Sure, but it was an exhausting experience that gave me great reward and satisfaction in the end. I would have to say the same for this fast; it was not a super difficult fast, but it did make for some uncomfortable days emotionally, but I am glad I did it as I gained consistency with something that I hadn’t been having for the past two months or since starting back classes really.

Day 10: Breaking the Fast with Friends and my overall reflection

If I am being entirely honest, this was one of the better days I have had in a while. I just woke up really feeling glad that I had achieved what I set out to do when it came to cooking and when it came to the fast… for the way I was entering into this fast, I didn’t know how I would feel going through it, but it showed me that I was capable if I had the willpower to just keep going. I also think that I had the willpower, though, because I was listening way more to my body and my needs during this week than I felt I was doing any of the weeks prior to this fast. It is so easy for me to get caught up in all the chaos and mess of just life happenings, but today I was just grateful for myself and for the people I have.

Photo credit:Lai Yu Ching/Unsplash

 

I had this wonderful dinner which made me realize how many fast friends I have made here in Paris during these last two months, and that also means a lot as coming into a new environment where you know no one can be intimidating… I mean there is also excitement in that as you get to be whoever you want, but it’s just been great to make solid connections and be able to let these people into a little bit of my life. Yeah, I guess at the end of this whole nine days, is that it was worthwhile. I realized where I am emotionally and physically at this point, and I found myself starting to listen to my needs and taking care of myself. I learned a lot during these nine days, and I am just grateful to have been able to do it to fruition and reap the benefits.