Fast in Navratri
My father chose my name, Aparna, which is one of Goddess Parvati’s names. It’s funny whenever I am asked the meaning of my name because I have to reply “without a leaf”. Literally, that is the meaning of A-parna. ‘A’ means without in Sanskrit and ‘parna’ means leaf. But of course like it is with most Indian godly names, there is a story behind the odd meaning to give it a special significance. When Goddess Parvati failed to elicit Lord Shiva’s interest when she tried to woo him in the regular ways, she decided to impress him by undertaking austerities which matched his asceticism. She went to live in the mountains like her beloved, practiced yoga, and severe tapas. She fasted without eating even a single leaf until Shiva began to pay attention to her and was won over. And she earned the name Aparna.
That’s Goddess Parvati for you, but this Aparna has definitely done nothing to earn her name. Now I really don’t know if my Dad had any expectation that I should turn out to be like Goddess Parvati in terms of her fasting prowess. But if so, then I have been failing at this spectacularly all my life. Not that I have tried very often to fast…but that’s just it. I know that it’s something I simply cannot do! I have never even tried to keep a Vat Savitri or a Karva Chauth fast. Compulsive eating comes a lot easier to me than the opposite.
How to Keep Fast in Navratri ?
In my 20s my parents begged me to take on a fast for a certain number of Tuesdays. I agreed during a moment of weakness and then lived to regret it every time Tuesday arrived. This is despite the fact that I was allowed to eat some chickoos during the day and then late at night I was allowed to eat some plain roti with jaggery. I didn’t like chickoos too much so I couldn’t eat too many during the day, despite my hunger. I used to spend the whole daydreaming of those rotis as though they were royal delicacies.
After this, I have gone on some really weird diets from time to time in an attempt to lose weight but always I picked ones where you were allowed to eat some limited things or on occasion even unlimited quantities of really bland and boring food.
But never has it been a complete fast – a fast being an extended period of time where no food passes into the mouth, (a period longer than the number of hours you are asleep at night). I used to watch my mom fast. Her fasts omitted certain foods such as grains, lentils, and regular, heavy food, but fruits and milk were allowed. But she was able to resist all temptations that came in front of her on those days when the rest of us were not fasting.
What to Eat in Fast in Navratri ?
In recent years I have watched my mum in law Fast in Navratri – the nine nights (and days) of worship dedicated to the Divine Mother. She also, like my mom ate fruit and had milk. She also had tea and she would have a simple soupy meal in the evening made of small chunks of potato mixed with buckwheat flour. But over the years she has brought this down significantly and now she only eats a few fruits during the day and rarely adds something more substantial.
In total contrast to this, for many people fasting days turn into feasting days. Many restaurants offer special menus for Fast in Navratri and these are popular with the hungry, fasting hordes.
This year, in the weeks leading up to the Navratri festival, I kept feeling an inner nudge towards doing some kind of Fast in Navratri this time. In the last decade or so since I have been practicing yoga regularly and visiting the ashram at least once a year, I have become comfortable with keeping an ashram dinner timing of 6 pm for myself even when I am at home. At the ashram there are only two main meals – a big brunch which is just like a generous lunch at 10 am and then dinner is at 6 pm. In between at 1.30 we get a cup of tea and occasionally a small snack with it.
This sounds very tough to those who are used to three main meals and snacks thrown in to sustain you in between. But once you are in the ashram swing of things, you get used to eating less very quickly and it begins to feel very good.
How to Eat in Fast in Navratri ?
The ashram system follows an ancient way of life which is guided by the rhythms of nature. And incidentally, it is just like intermittent fasting – a system of regulating when you eat which has become extremely fashionable in recent times especially in the Western world. Both systems keep one fast of 16 hours where the body gets a rest from being fed and therefore can use the time to digest and assimilate well. And in the remaining 8 hours, two meals are the recommended number for optimizing your health.
Though I manage really well on this schedule when I am visiting the ashram, at home I find it difficult to eat only twice. So I revert to the three meals plus snacks format, but I have dinner early. I used to manage to not eat anything after dinner and go to bed early too, but that habit broke in the past year and I found myself eating dinner early, and then getting hungry a few hours later and eating again, and on some nights, yet again.
Eating late into the night really takes a toll on the body and the digestive system. I was feeling bloated, I had a tender and painful abdomen on most days, I felt sluggish, tired, and without much energy in the mornings. Yet I was stuck with the new bad habit and couldn’t shake it off. So when the idea of the Navratri fast began stirring within, on the one hand, I felt hopeless because I was so addicted to food, but on the other, I felt maybe this was a chance to overcome an unhealthy pattern I was stuck in.
How to Make Diet ?
About a week before Navratri I was chatting with my brother Sandeep, who has been following intermittent fasting for almost two years. During this period he has successfully overcome various ailments such as hypothyroidism, hypertension, and insulin resistance and he has also lost 24 kg. We spoke in some detail about his eating pattern. I learned that he keeps at least a 16 hour fast, and sometimes longer. The remaining window is for eating one or two meals, and if you feel hungry in between, you can drink certain things such as green tea, buttermilk, or coconut water, but not eat anything.
He said whenever I am ready to try it, he would help me figure it out, but it needs a strong commitment because one has to be patient and stick to it for about six months before you see good results. I said I don’t know if I can do it, but I would like to try for a few days, and then if I find it too difficult, I would stop.
And so, just like that, even before Navratri started, I found myself fasting in this way. Overnight I just stopped my mindless snacking, my compulsive eating behavior, and using food as an emotional security blanket. I don’t think I just suddenly grew a great deal of will power but certainly, certain stars aligned and the universe answered an old prayer for help. I was amazed at how easily I was handling eating early, and not eating again even if I did stay up late – like right now, I am burning the midnight oil trying to finish this blog before going to bed and I ate at 6 pm but feel just fine. I know I will not be making my way to the fridge tonight.
Fasting For Navratri
By the time Navratri started, I felt well established in my new eating pattern and since there was already a fasting element, I did not try to change anything by trying to attempt a more traditional fast where I would have to eat only fruit and so on. I did not want to push my luck. Tonight is the last of the nine special nights, and tomorrow is Vijayadashami, the day of victory over one’s lower nature or inadequacies or bad habits that one has tried to overcome with the help of the Goddess.
I feel so blessed that I have turned over a new leaf. Yes, it’s still true that I have not become like my namesake and managed a true ‘A-parna’ fast without a leaf, but I have started a new relationship with food and fasting.
The bloated feeling has disappeared. The abdominal pain has gone and I feel wide awake when I wake up and a greater level of energy throughout the day. And the best part is I have already gone beyond nine days.
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Illustration : Ekta Singh