Every year Muslims around the world mark Ramadan by fasting between sunrise and sunset. It provides an opportunity to practice compassion, reflect on what is important and good, and help to purify mind, body and soul.
Fasting and Ramadan may be inextricably linked as a way of life, but fasting is also becoming increasingly popular across many other communities, helping individuals achieve both spiritual and physical gains in their overall wellbeing.
The famous poet Rumi said, “Fasting is the first principle of medicine; fast and see the strength of the spirit reveal itself.” The discipline, strength of mind, required to abstain from food and drink becomes a journey of self discovery that is celebrated on an individual level. And then celebrated again as a community during the Festival of Eid, which marks the end of fasting and the end of Ramadan.
Whether fasting for health or for religious reasons, it has been proven to give you the following benefits.
- Better cognitive functioning
Mentally those who fast often cite a clarity of mind and an improved brain function. Studies show how fasting helps the brain reproduce cells and remove old cells, giving the individual better memory, learning ability and cognitive functioning.
- Improved concentration
As well as improved cognition, fasting has also been proven to help concentration. A spike in blood sugar levels can cause concentration to deteriorate. During fasting, blood sugar levels reduce, reversing the deterioration.
- Increased fat burning and improved weight loss
When your body reaches a fasted state (usually after about 12 hours) glycogen levels are depleted. As a result, your body has to find another source of energy. Excess weight, often around the waistline and tummy area, is one of the first places it goes.
Because you are eating within a much smaller window of time, you tend as well to consume less calories. Combined with improved fat burning, weight loss is quicker.
- Slows down aging and fights inflammation
Inflammation is one way the body fights infection, but an excess of food can lead to an excess of inflammation that can lead to various diseases such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel syndrome. Restricted eating can help the body reduce overall inflammation by reducing oxidative stress in cells.
Longer periods of fasting can also induce autophagy – the self-recycling of cellular waste. As we age, autophagy slows down and our ability to recycle cells under stress decreases. Fasting reignites that autophagy, which helps slow the rate of aging.
- Brings communities together
Nothing brings people together more than food and drink. The end of Ramadan and fasting is celebrated during a three day festival called Eid, during which families and communities gather to eat, talk and pray together.
The Muslim community uses this celebration as an opportunity to make a difference to those living in poverty, contributing to ensure everyone can celebrate the end of Ramadan together. The Fitrana is a small donation made by those who have completed their fast. Originally it was made up of a small amount of food – a volume equivalent to how much one can scoop in two hands. Today, donations of about $5 is usual.
Of course, fasting is not easy, and there are times when even the strongest of us risk falling off the wagon. The Muslim community has a solution to this – they impose Kaffarah – a donation that Is made if you deliberately miss or break your Ramadan fast without a valid reason. The Kaffarah contribution is used to feed 60 people living in poverty.