Starve the Cold and the Fever

Swami Vicharananda Saraswati

Most people who follow a yogic lifestyle soon arrive at a relatively disease-free state, where they are no longer troubled by chronic physical complaints. Nevertheless, there are times in everyone's life when extra demands are made on one's physical, emotional or mental resources. Often these periods of high stress precipitate a sudden disruption of physical health. These acute episodes of sickness are often referred to as healing crises. They should not be considered as disease states; in fact they are an expression of the body's healthy response to stress and overwork. The most important thing to remember at these times is to heed the message of the body, which is frantically signalling the need for a complete rest.

Most natural healers agree that these states of physical reaction can be traced to a high level of toxicity in the body. This occurs when the tissues are overloading the body with more waste materials than can be handled by the standard processes of elimination. Toxins can build up after long periods of overeating, eating the wrong foods, living in polluted environments, or as a result of mental or physical overwork. They affect the mucus membranes of the hollow organs of the body, such as the lining of the throat, nose and sinuses, the gastrointestinal tract and the urogenital tract. These mucus membranes become inflamed and provide excellent sites for infection.

The exact location of an illness depends on many factors. Each individual has a unique pattern of illness which will determine which organs or systems will be primarily affected by systemic toxemia. Genetic predisposition, residual pranic weakness from previous illnesses, environmental factors such as pollution and climate, and psychological factors all help determine the exact form a healing crisis may take. Nevertheless, it should always be kept in mind that no disease can be isolated to just one specific part of the body. All states of physical unrest reflect a generalized imbalance in the body-mind complex as a whole, and must be treated in as holistic a manner as possible.

Symptoms of the healing crisis typically include physical tiredness, loss of appetite, and a general loss of motivation and interest in life. When the respiratory system is the focus of the reaction, the commonplace infections of the nose, throat, sinuses and lungs occur as responses to the overall physical toxemia. The organs of the gastrointestinal tract are also highly susceptible, and when they are affected cramps, gastritis, diarrhoea and other digestive problems result. When the urogenital system is at risk, non-specific infections of the bladder, urethra and vagina may develop. Boils, eruptions and skin disorders are yet another way in which the body responds to high levels of toxicity. Any of these symptoms may be accompanied by fever, which reflects that the heart and the immune system are working overtime to rid the body of its excess of poisons.

The proper functioning of the body is based on a complex system of interaction and feedback which is controlled by the central actions of the nervous system and hormones. Therefore, when one system of the body is malfunctioning, it usually has multiple, harmful repercussions on other systems as well. Any of the primary symptoms mentioned above can generate many secondary symptoms. For example, a problem with the digestive system may affect the circulation, and lead to disorders of the teeth and gums, joints and connective tissues, and the skin. Infections which initially take hold in localized areas are spread by the lymphatic fluid and blood to all areas of the body. And various forms of physical discomfort, even if they do not originate in the mind, can act as powerful triggers which bring up all kinds of negativity to the surface of the mind, thus effecting a mental, as well as physical purification.

For this reason, fasting, in conjunction with other forms of yogic therapy, is an ideal method of dealing with the acute infectious disease. It has a dual action, benefiting the mind, which must be seen as the underlying cause of all disease, as well as the body. Seen in this light, short periods of sickness can become extremely useful and even welcome opportunities for self-exploration. If, at the first sign of physical breakdown, we relieve our minds of the pressures of the external world by retreating into solitude and quiet, and we relieve our bodies of the pressures of digestion and assimilation, we can learn to really appreciate being sick. By following these recommendations, it is possible to develop an increased sensitivity and understanding of the physical and mental factors contributing to the illness, and a clear insight into the lifestyle changes which must be made in order to avoid recurrence of symptoms.

On the physical level, a fast of three or four days, accompanied by plenty of fresh water, rest, and peace and quiet, allows the body to proceed with its self-healing with maximum efficiency. The elimination of toxins can take place without the extra burden imposed by poorly digested food which ferments in the digestive system and adds even more toxic wastes into the blood. The extra energy which is freed during a fast can be redirected in catabolizing, or breaking down, old, diseased or useless tissues, so that their usable components can be recycled and the rubbish thrown out. The blood and lymphatic fluid are purified, the affected organs are restored to normal functioning, and the entire body is rested and relieved of heavy work.

We have all been conditioned to believe that it is best to eat three square meals a day, in sickness or in health. This habit has robbed us of the intuitive awareness of our own bodies. It must be broken if we want to become more receptive to our actual physical requirements. When fasting is undertaken during acute physical disease, the demands of the body become especially strong and clear, and it is possible to achieve a much greater level of awareness. It is surely worth the effort of breaking a few old patterns in order to attain this new, expanded level of integration and harmony between mind and body.