Traditional dietary fasting advice and detox products are easy to find. But what about spiritual fasting? What is spiritual fasting? How does it work?
Finding spiritual fasting resources is not so easy. We are here to help. We will guide you through what spiritual fasting means and some of the spiritual benefits of fasting. Read on to learn all about spiritual fasting and how you can incorporate spiritual fasting as part of your holistic health and wellness practice.
What is Spiritual Fasting?
Spiritual fasting can mean many different things. Some people believe that all fasting is actually spiritual fasting. We also hold this perspective. Our belief in holistic health and wellness means that our bodies are connected with our minds and spirits. As a result, the physical act of fasting does not happen in isolation.
Spiritual fasting is really just a way of describing a purposeful focus on our spiritual health and vigor through the physical act of fasting.
Common Elements of Spiritual Fasting
Because spirituality is deeply personal, there are no “one-size-fits-all” personal spiritual practices. Spiritual fasting is no exception. Outside of religious orthodoxy, acts of faith like spiritual fasting are not something to be prescribed. Only you know what it means for you to be spiritual.
But when it comes to finding some resources or inspiration for your personal spiritual fasting practice, we can help.
Spiritual fasting naturally varies according to your faith, comfort and experience level, and your personal goals. Spiritual fasting is something that can be practiced for general health and wellness or for a specific reason or goal.
Some people find that a spiritual fast is a helpful way to manage a difficult life situation, overcome a test of faith, or to reconnect with nature. Common motivations for spiritual fasting include:
- In mourning
- Seeking redemption
- Renewal of faith
- Seeking a sense of purpose or direction
- Struggling with a major life choice
- Overcoming addiction or a crisis
- Part of a holistic health and wellness practice
So you can choose from common spiritual fasting techniques according to your faith and your goals. Should you decide to pursue spiritual fasting, keep these general ideas about spiritual fasting in mind:
- A spiritual fast is a physical fast
- Spiritual fasting involves focus on your faith
- Spiritual fasting is deeply personal
- A spiritual fast is for health, not harm
- The spiritual benefits of spiritual are interconnected
Fast and Pray: Spiritual Fasting is Physical Fasting
Spiritual fasting is physical. It involves denying your body its basic need of food. This is what makes the practice a fast and not just a practice of spiritual meditation or contemplation.
Denying the basic physical need of food is important. The idea is to deny your body its physical needs in order to move the focus away from your body and toward your faith and spirituality.
The physical act of denial is an act of faith. First, to yourself. Then to your higher power or place within your spiritual paradigm. Fasting is an act of discipline and self-control. It is how you practice your ability to manage the desires of the flesh. Spiritual fasting is how you remove those basic earthly things to create space for your higher power. This basic act of humility is important for the work ahead of you: your faith.
Further, the discipline of fasting is also a path toward improving your body. Fasting can help you lose weight. See our post on periodic fasting to learn how you can use fasting for a period of time to improve your overall health.
Spiritual Fasting is for Focusing on Your Faith
The physical denial aspect of fasting is necessary to clear the way for finding or restoring spiritual clarity. When you are fasting you are not focusing on feeding your body. So you will have more energy to focus on prayer, meditation, or other forms of spiritual contemplation.
Spiritual fasting is not about denying yourself what you need. Instead, it is about managing your needs in order to orient your self toward something greater than yourself. The goal is to focuse on your faith and spiritual health.
Hunger is easily remedied. Your spiritual wellness often requires a longer view. Fasting is a way to open yourself up for introspection.
Spiritual Fasting is Deeply Personal
A spiritual fast is not a public display of your faith, or strength, or fortitude. You do not enter into spiritual fasting by announcing your intent or advertising your journey.
In this era of over-sharing it is tempting to make your spiritual work as public as other parts of your life. But the spiritual benefits of fasting await those who embark on it with humility.
Fasting can be done with close personal friends or family. But what follows the act of physically fasting should be left between you and your higher power. Fasting is about cutting out those things that do not serve your spiritual study. So this includes sharing your spiritual fasting work with others.
When you have completed your spiritual fast, go ahead and share those things you feel are appropriate. It is perfectly fine to encourage others and to be supportive based on your own experience. But during your spiritual fast you should be focused on your own journey.
Spiritual Fasting is For Health, Not Harm
Spiritual fasting is not about self-flagellation. The goal of spiritual fasting is not suffering or pain.
You may experience some physical discomfort when fasting. This is normal. But physical discomfort should not be the focus of your fast. The discomfort created by fasting is part of how we recognize the needs of our body. But those needs are not as dire as they might feel in the moment. This is part of the point of the fast: to recognize that the needs of the flesh are just one part of us.
We also believe that fasting should always include water. In addition, you don’t have to go without food entirely to perform an effective fast. (See Hildegard’s Spiritual Fast, below). If you have other health issues such as diabetes, a carefully monitored moderate fast is probably a good option.
Spiritual fasting is a way to find spiritual health as part of overall health and wellness. As such, harming your body not how you get there.
The Spiritual Benefits of Fasting
Spiritual fasting can produce a number of benefits for your body, mind, and soul.
While the goal of a spiritual fast is usually focused on your faith, this doesn’t mean you won’t also experience other benefits. The practice of spiritual fasting involves your whole being. So it makes sense that as you bring your being back into balance, you will feel energized in other areas.
Next we will explore in more detail just what kinds of benefits you can expect when practicing your spiritual fast.
The Spiritual Benefits of Fasting: What to Expect from your fast.
It is cliche, but: what your put into your spiritual fast is what you will get out of it.
Your faith and your goals instruct your practice. As a result, the spiritual benefits of fasting are also personal. But we’ve gathered some universal spiritual benefits of fasting that should give you a good idea of what to expect from your fast. In general, spiritual fasting can offer you the following:
- Spiritual clarity
- Cleansing of your soul
- Renewed faith
- More energy
- Better attuned to the world around you
- Transcendent Empowerment
Spiritual fasting is a path of self-knowledge. After a spiritual fast you will have a greater sense of where you stand with your faith and spirituality. You should view this reckoning with your faith as not a “good” or “bad” thing, but rather as clarity. The reward of your work is truth. Truth is a big part of how you become closer to god. Even if that truth might be a bit uncomfortable. Conversely, you may find that clarity to be incredibly empowering. One of the spiritual benefits of fasting is finding out where you stand with your faith. Increased clarity is also a powerful tool for making important decisions.
The goal of spiritual fasting is not to find all of the answers, but to clear the way for you to live the truth. Or as Rilke said in his Letters to a Young Poet, “…live the questions…”
A Soul Cleanse
Spiritual benefits of spiritual fasting are often similar to those of regular dietary fasting. Abstaining from food and taking a break from digestion allows your body to rest and heal. When you allow for this break, your soul is also cleansed. A spiritual fast will remind you of the connection between the vessel of your body and your soul.
Without the distraction of your physical needs, your soul will benefit from the increased focus. You will be able to purge the unhealthy things you carry. You can empty the burdensome thoughts and those things that have been weighing down your soul.
Spiritual fasting is a way to renew your faith. It can re-ignite your desire to live according to your faith, to align your life with your beliefs. Fasting opens up space for your relationship with your higher power to grow stronger. When you are fasting you will discover new – or reinforced, ways that you can better live your faith through your physical actions.
When your body isn’t working to digest food or remind you of hunger, you will use that energy to focus on other things. During spiritual fasting, you will use your newfound energy to explore your faith and spirituality. One of the benefits of spiritual fasting is that this new energy remains even after your are done fasting.
The spiritual growth you cultivate through spiritual fasting will be reflected in your physical life. The mind, body, spirit connection flows both ways. So if your spirituality is stronger, so goes your mind and body. You will feel energized.
Better Attuned to the World
The practice of spiritual fasting builds focus and awareness. As such, the spiritual benefits of fasting include a stronger sense of your connection with the universe. Spiritual fasting makes you less self-centered. It is a way to free yourself from the confines of what you want or think you need.
Instead, spiritual fasting uses your inward spiritual focus to turn your awareness toward something greater. Your fleeting physical wants and needs will be less likely to weigh you down. You will feel more aware of those around you. Your perspective will be that of connectivity.
You will be more focused on how to serve your higher power, your purpose, and the needs of others.
One of the greatest spiritual benefits of fasting is that it helps you transcend the need and wants of the flesh. We shouldn’t ignore the needs of our bodies or overlook how important physical health is to overall health. But spiritual fasting will help you remember the fact that your body is temporary but your soul is eternal.
Spiritual fasting hones your ability to find empowerment in those things that reside beyond your physical body. You will learn how to find deep satisfaction in things other than your physical needs and wants. You will build a stronger connection with your spiritual existence. In doing so, you will be able to transcend those fleeting physical desires.
Hunger comes and goes, but the benefit of spiritual empowerment is a gift of a lifetime.
The Ancient Practice of Fasting
Most versions of modern fasting originated as a religious practice. Cultures from around the world have historically practiced fasting as a traditional cultural or religious ritual.
Christian fasting is a Biblical tradition. There are numerous examples of fasting in both the Old and New Testament of the Bible. Some notable passages include:
- Moses fasted 40 days on behalf of Israel’s sin (Deuteronomy 9:9, 18, 25-29; 10:10)
- Ahab fasted and humbled himself before God (1 Kings 21:27-29)
- David fasted and mourned the death of his child (2 Samuel 12:16)
- The disciples of John the Baptist fasted (Matthew 9:14-15)
- Jesus fasted for 40 days before his temptation (Matthew 4:1-11)
You can practice spiritual fasting (and receive the benefits) whether you are a Christian or not. Many people enjoy the benefits of spiritual fasting without practicing according to any specific or formal religious doctrine.
Because of the Christian roots of spiritual fasting and that of our namesake, Hildegard of Bingen, we tend to view spiritual fasting through that lens. But we serve many different belief systems here at Healthy Hildegard. So our focus is on how we can incorporate Hildegard’s wisdom in ways that best serve our modern lives.
How to Do a Spiritual Fast: Hildegard’s Spiritual Fast
“Some people are greedy and do not abstain from abundant food. Thus forms in them toxic, tough, dry […]. ” – Hildegard of Bingen
Hildegard was a firm believer in moderation. Much of her work in natural herbal medicine as well as theology sought to unify her belief that we are interconnected. Man is connected with the natural environment and all is connected with the divine. For Hildegard, nature was a means for the divine to be not just reflected but also to be physically connected to man.
As a benedictine nun, fasting was just a part of life for Hildegard. But she also saw it as an important practice for everyone. For Hildegard, fasting was how we maintain balance and moderation in the face of abundance and our natural weakness for excess.
Discipline was a central theme for her. So the discipline required to fast was an essential strength to develop in order to ward off temptation, imbalance, and thus ill-health.
Hildegard also believed that when people “are quick-tempered and peevish,” it leads to the formation of toxins in their bodies. She saw our physical health as a function of both our spiritual and mental disposition – and vice versa.
With that in mind, we thought we’d share some of Hildegard’s spiritual fast as inspiration for you.
Why You Need a Spiritual Fast: the Impact of Modern Living
Today it seems we have more than just toxic food stressing our system. Modern living means nail polish, lotions, shampoos, soap and countless other personal care products applied directly to our largest organ: our skin.
Through our respiratory system, we inhale a multitude of toxins, whether we live in an urban or rural environment. And how does our body react to the plethora of wireless signals abound in the atmosphere from wi-fi signals, cordless phones, radio, satellite and who knows what else?
Time may tell, but for now we can still do a lot to relieve the burdens of modern living from our bodies. Even temporarily abstaining from the modern diet can be helpful as long-term benefits of the occasional spiritual fast and cleanse are well established.
Modern living affects more than just our bodies. The stress, information overload, and hurried pace of modern life is harming our minds as well. We are overwhelmed with digital stimulation. We don’t get enough time in quiet contemplation or even sleep, see our post on digital detox. And our free time is often filled with more distraction and noise.
All of this can lead up to serious imbalances in our lives. Because the physical results of these imbalances are easiest to see, we often overlook other aspects of our being. Namely, our spiritual health.
Hildegard’s Spiritual Fast
A spiritual fast is a conscious decisions to abstain from the modern diet. The benefit of this is that it can help rid your body of toxins. But it’s not just about avoiding toxins. The benefits of spiritual fasting are a result of building awareness of our relationships. We do this in order to deepen and strengthen our spirituality.
As Hildegard believed, our relationships are interconnected with our environment, our bodies, and our souls. So when practicing a spiritual fast, you should consider all of the dimensions of your life. To this end, we’ve gathered some of Hildegard’s wisdom to help you on your way. Here are some tips for a successful spiritual fast:
- Allow yourself plenty of rest and relaxation.
- Include reading, meditating, and increased sleep time into your practice
- Dedicate some time to explore your spirituality
- Seek out moments of peace and solitude
- Spend some time in nature
- Don’t be afraid to write-down or journal your goals, thoughts, and feelings
Spiritual fasting recommended by Hildegard of Bingen is considered a “mild” fasting regimen. It allows for limited foods, primarily soup and some fruits and vegetables. You can taper-off as you progress through the program, or not, depending on your preferences.
Hildegard’s fasting guidelines build on what she called the “two columns of liquid” or water and fennel and soup. You can also consume fruit and vegetables in the first phase, eventually tapering to only liquids in the second phase.
After a spiritual fast your motivation and general well-being will be significantly increased. Be sure to gradually re-introduce solid food over time. Hopefully, your experience with spiritual fasting will leave you with renewed sense of vitality and energy.
See our post, Hildegard’s Guide to Fasting and Health for more information on Hildegard’s spiritual fasting techniques.
If modern living is taking its toll on you, take a look at our post on the Digital Detox. Your spiritual fast will benefit if you include a digital detox.