Achieving Balance With Taoism

Taoism, also spelled Daoism, is a religion and a philosophy from ancient China that has influenced folk and national belief for millennia. Taoism has been connected to the philosopher Lao-Tzu who around 500 B.C.E. is thought to have written the main book of Taoism, the Tao Te Ching. Taoism holds that humans and animals should live in balance with the Tao, or the way of the universe, and that spiritual immortality is where the spirit of the body joins the universe after death. In this blog, we will explore the origins of Taoism and its main concepts, along with the eight immortals of Taoism and a few teachings that can help you navigate life.

Lao-Tzu and the Origins of Taoism


Pictured: Lao-Tzu    Source: Famous Philosophers

The historian Sima Qian (145-86 BCE) told the story of Lao-Tzu, a curator at the Royal Library in the state of Chu, who was a philosopher. Lao-Tzu believed in the harmony of all things and that people could live easily together if they only considered each other’s feelings and recognized that their self-interest was not always in the interest of others. 

Lao-Tzu grew impatient with the corruption he saw within people and in the government, so he decided to go into exile. As Lao-Tzu was leaving China, a gatekeeper, Yin Hsi, recognized him and asked him to write a book before he left. Lao-Tzu sat down on a rock beside the gatekeeper and wrote the Tao Te Ching, which translates to The Book of the Way.

Lao-Tzu stopped writing when he felt he was finished, handed the book to Yin Hsi, and vanished, never to be seen again. The Tao Te Ching is not looked at as scripture in Taoism; instead, it’s seen as a book of poetry presenting the simple way of living life at peace with one’s self, others, and the world of changes. 

While the author is traditionally believed to be Lao-Tzu, some question his hand in the book as there is little evidence that Lao-Tzu existed. Some believe instead that the Tao Te Ching is a gathering of earlier sayings from many authors. However, Lao-Tzu is sometimes understood as the image of the Tao and given legendary status.

Tao Te ChingPictured: Tao Te Ching    Source: The Flerlage Twins

A Breakdown of Taoism

Taoism is a Chinese philosophy that developed from the folk religion of the people primarily in the rural areas of China; it became the official religion of the country under the Tang Dynasty. Taoism is therefore both a philosophy and a religion.

Taoism has provided an alternative to the Confucian tradition in China, coexisting in the country, regions, and even within the same individual. In Taoism, Confucian gods are seen as manifestations of the one Tao, which is not represented as an image or a particular thing.

The concept of a personified deity who created the universe is foreign to Taoists. This results in their form of prayer being different than Christian religions. Instead, they seek answers to life’s problems through inner meditation and outer observation.

Some of the basic tenets of Taoism are the following:

  • Time is cyclical, not linear as in Western thinking.
  • One should plan in advance and consider carefully each action before making it.
  • Taoists follow the art of “wu wei,” which is to let nature take its course. For example, one should allow a river to flow towards the sea unimpeded; do not erect a dam that would interfere with its natural flow.
  • Taoists strongly promote health and vitality.
  • The five main organs and orifices of the body correspond to the five elements: water, fire, wood, metal, and earth.
  • Development of virtue is one’s chief task. The Three Jewels to be sought are compassion, moderation, and humility.

A Look at Wu Wei in Taoism

In Chinese, wu wei translates to “non-doing or doing nothing;” this concept is key to the noblest kind of action, according to the philosophy of Taoism, and is at the heart of what it means to follow the Tao.

According to the Tao Te Ching: “The Tao never acts yet nothing is left undone.” This is the paradox of wu wei; it doesn’t mean not acting, it means “effortless action” or “actionless action.” Simply put, this means being in a state of peace while engaged in even the most frantic task can allow one to carry it out with maximum skill and efficiency.

The meaning of wu wei is captured when we talk of being “in the zone,” or at one with what we are doing and in a state of flow. It’s also closely connected to the Taoist reverence for the natural world, for it means striving to make our behavior as spontaneous and inevitable as certain natural processes. 

Wu wei involves letting go of thoughts or ideals that we may otherwise try to force too violently onto things. Instead, it invites us to respond to the true demands of situations by putting our ego-driven plans aside. What can follow is a loss of self-consciousness; a new unity between the self and its environment. This change in state unleashes energy that’s normally held back by an overly aggressive, willful style of thinking.

The Tao Te Ching points out that to achieve wu wei we should be like water, which is “submissive and weak and yet which can’t be surpassed for attacking what is hard and strong.” Through gentle persistence and compliance with the specific shape of a problem, an obstacle can be worked around and gradually eroded.

Yin and Yang in Taoism

Taoism’s purpose is to assist individuals in experiencing their essential nature as inseparable from that of the cosmos and to be part of the flow of life. An important first step toward attaining this experience of interconnectedness is by learning to recognize and align ourselves with the movement of life itself, which can be achieved through an understanding of Yin and Yang. 

Yin and Yang, the two essential and interdependent energies of life, describe the underlying unity of life through the interplay of two primal forces. Though opposite in nature, Yin and Yang are not diametrically opposed, but rather complementary and relative to one another. 

Yang is characterized as creative, assertive, and light, while Yin is receptive, yielding, and dark. It’s important to note that these attributes are only descriptive and do not carry any moral value. The interaction between Yin and Yang creates all manifestations, and it’s through them that the Tao reveals itself.

Our entire physical reality is based on the interplay of both Yin and Yang energies. Whether it’s the structure of DNA, with its positive and negative strands, the transmission of neurons in our brains, or the makeup of electricity with its positive and negative currents — all of these processes take place because of these two opposing energies. 

The original meaning of the term “Yin-Yang” signified the dark (Yin) and light (Yang) sides of a mountain. Early in the day, the sun would illuminate one part of the mountain while the other side would remain dark. As the sun moved across the sky, it gradually began to light the opposite side while the earlier sunlit face became dark. Light and dark were not static but interacted with one another, defined one another, and actually assumed each other’s roles in the process of change. This describes the interplay of Yin and Yang within Taoism.


Pictured: Yin and Yang characteristics    Source: The Lazy Taoist

The Eight Immortals Of Taoism

For devout believers, a central tenet of Taoism is the idea that adhering to certain beliefs and practices can potentially lead to immortality. It’s unknown just how many Taoist practitioners have achieved immortality, but the founder of Taoism, Lao-Tzu, is thought to be immortal.

The religious tradition of Taoism venerates a group of eight xian, or immortals, who offer a concrete symbol of this ability to transcend the limitations of ordinary human life through the beliefs and practices of Taoism. They serve as mythological archetypes of immortality achieved through practice.

Here’s a breakdown of the eight immortals of Taoism:

  • He Xian Gu: Often considered the only woman among the Immortals. He Xian Gu is usually depicted carrying a lotus flower, which is said to improve one’s mental and physical health.
  • Cao Guo Jiu: As a member of the royal family in the Song Dynasty, Cao Guo Jiu is often shown dressed in official robes and holding a jade tablet. He’s commonly regarded as the patron of actors and the theater.
  • Lan Caihe: Sometimes depicted as a male but other times as a female. Lan Caihe is often shown carrying a bamboo flower basket and a pair of bamboo castanets. They’re known to be eccentric, serving to symbolize a carefree life devoid of the concerns and responsibilities of ordinary life.
  • Lu Dongbin (also spelled Lu Tung Pin): Believed to be a scholar and poet that lived during the Tang Dynasty. Lu Dongbin’s symbol is a magic sword that dispels evil spirits and provides him with invisibility. He’s regarded as a patron deity for highly literate people; some also see him as a champion of the medical profession.
  • Han Xiang Zi: Thought to be related to a Confucian scholar. Han Xiang Zi is often depicted carrying a flute and is regarded as a patron deity of musicians. 
  • Zhang Guo Lao: Lived from approximately the middle of the 7th century into the 8th century, practicing as a Taoist hermit in the mountains of east-central China. Zhang Guo Lao is typically shown seated on a white mule, often facing backward. For Taoists, he is regarded as a protector of children and a patron of wine and the good life.
  • Zhongli Quan: Usually shown with his chest exposed and holding a fan with which he can resurrect the dead and transform stones into precious metals. Zhongli Quan is usually featured with a long beard and a glass of wine.

Left; Zhongli Quan , Top Right; He Xian Gu , Bottom Right; Lan Caihe

Pictured: Left; Zhongli Quan (Three Stars), Top Right; He Xian Gu (Tsingtao), Bottom Right; Lan Caihe (Ferre Beekeeper)

Teachings of Taoism to Help You Navigate Life

In a modern world that never sleeps, anyone could benefit from the simplicity found in Taoism. You can grasp some of its key concepts with a few quotes from Taoism’s most important book, the Tao Te Ching. This wisdom lays a simple framework for achieving harmony, which may help you navigate life with ease.

Simplicity, Compassion, and Patience

“Simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being. Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are. Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.”

The Lesson: Life can get complicated, but sometimes all we need to do is get back to the basics. When feeling overwhelmed, these guidelines present essential rules on how to manage actions, relationships, and self-worth in a few concise sentences.

Letting Go

“If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.”

The Lesson: Many Eastern philosophies remind us of the only true constants in life: change and death. While not an easy thing to do, accepting these facts of life can release you from suffering and bring greater freedom into your life. We must remember to let go, and allow life to take its course.


“Tao engenders One; One engenders Two; Two engenders Three; Three engenders all things. All things carry the Yin (femininity) while embracing the Yang (masculinity). Neutralizing energy brings them into harmony.”

The Lesson: The Chinese concept of Yin and Yang describes nature in dualities with two opposite, complementary, and interdependent forces. In other words, two halves balancing together to make a whole; one aspect increases as the other decreases, and this balance continues as a pattern in nature.

Examining and understanding these patterns in ourselves and around us brings more balance in life. For example, a person that becomes too rigid may break under pressure. Instead, they should try to become softer and more flexible to restore the balance of Yin to Yang.

Going With the Flow

“When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.”

The Lesson: This quote explains the concept of wu wei, uncontrived action or natural non-intervention. In life, rather than fighting against the conditions in our lives, we can allow things to take their natural course. This can also mean that when you don’t know what to do, do nothing. Instead, look inward and outward in your life, ponder the potential courses of action, and only jump at opportunities when you feel ready.

In Conclusion

The Tao Te Ching, a two and half thousand-year text credited to Lao-Tzu and the second most translated book in world literature, forms the basis of Taoism. Gaining knowledge of the main principles of Taoism allows us to cultivate and strengthen our own process of self-exploration, growth, and transformation, and it helps to connect us deeply to our inner nature and to the world around us. 

Which teaching of Taoism resonated the most with you? Let us know in the comments!

The Power of Prayer

Prayer is as fundamental to our inner lives, as breath is to our physical lives; it’s a yearning of the heart, an instinct to reach beyond, and the most fundamental, important language humans speak. The act of prayer is evidenced in written sources as early as 5,000 years ago, however, the ways we pray are just as diverse as we are as humans. In honor of Holy Week, which is April 10th through the 16th, we will explore prayer in different religions and its powerful ability to affect people in positive ways.

A Brief Look at Holy Week

Holy Week, in the Christian church, is celebrated during the week between Palm Sunday and Easter, observed with special solemnity as a time of devotion to the Passion of Jesus Christ. In the Greek and Roman liturgical books, it’s called the Great Week since great deeds were done by God during this week.     

By the later 4th century, Christians began separating various events  and commemorating them on the days of the week on which they occurred:

  • Palm Sunday: Celebrates Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem
  • Maundy Thursday: Commemorates the foot washing and Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles
  • Good Friday: Commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus and his death at Calvary
  • Holy Saturday: Commemorates Jesus’ body resting in the tomb
  • Easter Sunday: Celebrates the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and his victory over sin and death

Prayer Around The World

Prayer is an invocation or act that seeks to activate a rapport with an object of worship through deliberate communication. In the narrow sense, the term refers to an act of supplication or intercession directed towards a deity or a deified ancestor. 

Prayer can also have the purpose of thanksgiving or praise, and in comparative religion is closely associated with more abstract forms of meditation and with charms or spells. Prayer may take the form of a hymn, incantation, formal creedal statement, or a spontaneous utterance by the praying person.

Of the world’s more than 7.7 billion people, around 84% of adults and children practice a religion. With thousands of religions or segments of individual religions to choose from, how they choose to worship and practice varies widely, but one trait that many share is the decision to pray.

Here’s a look at prayer and worship by five of the world’s most prominent religions:

Christianity and Prayer

Christian children praying

Pictured: Christian children praying    Source: Compassion

Over 30% of the world’s population is Christian, making it the most practiced religion in the world. While there are many types of Christianity, most observe similar prayer practices, which is often worship on Saturday or Sunday of every week.

On these days, some Christians choose to attend worship and prayer together, while others may practice at home. More strict followers avoid work or spending money, while others might prioritize spending time with family, giving back to the needy, or enjoying the outdoors.

Most Christians believe prayer deepens a person’s faith and can help the believer come to a greater understanding of God’s purpose for their lives. The most widespread prayer among Christians is the Lord’s Prayer, which according to the Christian gospels is how Jesus taught his disciples to pray.1

The Lord’s Prayer is a model for prayers of adoration, confession, and petition in Christianity. As with the Lord’s Prayer, the most common way to end a Christian prayer is by saying “Amen” (from a Hebrew adverb usually translated as, “so be it.”)

Christians interpret the response they might get to their prayers in the following ways:

  • God answers prayers, but not always in the way the person wants. When a prayer is not answered, it may be that the person asked for something God thinks would not be good for them, or that their prayer will be answered later.
  • Sometimes Christians believe that God has answered their prayers in spectacular ways, such as with the recovery of a sick person. 
  • For some Christians, meditation or contemplation is a way of trying to reach a higher spiritual level.
  • Others, especially Orthodox Christians, use the Jesus Prayer, which says: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” They may chant this prayer over and over to clear their minds and achieve inner peace.

Some Christians, especially Roman Catholics, use a rosary to meditate on the life of Jesus. Candles, a crucifix, or a cross can also help Christians focus and allow the Holy Spirit to enter their hearts.2

You can read some common Christian prayers here.

Judaism and Prayer

Jewish man praying

Pictured: Jewish man praying    Source: Getty Images

Judaism is another common world religion in which prayer serves an important central purpose. Jews practice their day of prayer each week as Shabbat, which runs from Friday at sundown until Saturday at sundown. On Shabbat, Jews gather to read the Torah, pray together, and enjoy a special meal featuring braided bread, or challah, and grape juice or wine.3

Jews are supposed to pray once in the morning, afternoon, and evening to God, or Yahweh. Prayer is considered a service of the heart and is a Torah-based commandment; it’s not time-dependent and is mandatory for both Jewish men and women.

However, the rabbinic requirement to recite a specific prayer text does differentiate between men and women. Jewish men are obligated to recite three prayers each day within specific time ranges, known as zmanim, while, according to many approaches, women only have to pray once or twice a day, and may not be required to recite a specific text.4

Jews believe that the more you ask for God’s help, the more God loves you. But much of Jewish prayer consists of reciting written prayers aloud in synagogue, as an act of community participation, and as a symbol for putting yourself in the context of other Jews and the Jewish tradition as a whole.

For Jewish individuals, prayer both private and formal:

  • Allows Jews to make a deeper, personal connection with God
  • Allows Jews to ask God for help with personal situations
  • Provides a sense of community
  • Connects them to their history

You can read some common Jewish prayers here.

Buddhism and Prayer

Buddhist men meditating

Pictured: Buddhist monks meditating    Source: iStock Photo

Buddhist prayer is not only an expression of gratitude for precious human life, but it’s also a practice of inner transformation; the creation of a state or condition conducive to the development of compassion, knowledge, and wisdom.5

In Buddhism, prayer can take on many forms depending on sect or region. The most common method of prayer Buddhists practice is meditation. During meditation, a Buddhist may pray for the happiness and well being of all sentient beings or they may focus their attention on one individual.

Other forms of Buddhist prayer include bringing offerings of flowers or incense to temples and shrines, circumambulating holy sites, and chanting verses from ancient texts. Tibetan Buddhists make prayer offerings by creating detailed works of art, called mandalas, out of colored sand, and Zen Buddhists are known for their rock gardens of peace and tranquility.6

For Buddhists, prayer is primarily utilized for its internal purposes. It’s practiced to awaken the practitioner’s inner bodhichitta, or Buddha-nature. This concept can be defined as the fundamental compassionate vital energy; an energy that is as much present in the cosmos as it is within the individual. 

During prayer or meditation, Buddhists may:

  • Use prayer beads, called “malas,” to help them remain focused, they do this by being a tactile reminder of what you are meant to be doing – meditating. Buddhists do not always wear their beads, some actually prefer to use them only for meditation and prayer.7
  • Hang prayer flags, usually covered with auspicious symbols and mantras, in mountain winds that are not intended to carry petitions to gods but to spread blessings and good fortune to all beings.8
  • Spin prayer wheels that are usually covered in written mantras to help them focus on and dedicate the merit of the act to all beings. In this way, the wheel turning is also a kind of meditation.9

You can read some common Buddhist prayers here.

Hinduism and Prayer

Hindu woman praying

Pictured: Hindu woman praying    Source: Learn Religions

Much like Buddhism, for those who practice Hinduism, there is no set day of worship each week. Another way that this religion differs from others is that its prayers are far less formal and are often held in temples. Those looking to pray may come and go as they please, without needing to stay for a set service.

Hindu prayer and rituals are commonly performed three times a day. Some Hindus, but not all, worship a personal god or goddess, such as Shiva, Krishna, Lakshmi, or the Supreme Creator, Brahman, with the sacred thread being hung over the left shoulder and hanging to the right hip. This is cotton for the Brahmin (priest), hemp for the Kshatriya (ruler), and wool for the vaishya (merchants).10

In Hinduism, prayer is called Prārthana. Hindu prayers can be broadly classified as Mānasika (mental), Vācika (verbal), and Kāyika (physical). Even a single thought about the Divine can be considered Mānasika. Chanting mantras and requests constitute the Vācika. An offering of oblation to fire, prostrating in front of god, lighting and waving the lamps, offering food to god, and going on a pilgrimage are all Kāyika, or physical Prārthana.11

Hindu prayer can be in the form of a supplication, but traditionally includes the repletion of the names of the divine beings or the repetition of a mantra. It’s also physical and might include bowing or kneeling.

Leaving offerings at the altar is another form of worship, which can include fruit, tokens, flowers, and incense. Hindu altars often include images or other symbols as a way of accessing the gods and providing a focal point for one’s worship.12

The scriptures, known as the Vedas, indicate that there are seven techniques of successful prayer. Here are a few to take note of: 13

  • When you pray, just talk as a child would to a father or mother whom he loves and with whom he feels in harmony. Pray for everything that is on your mind and in your heart.
  • Try helping others with your prayers. Pray for those who are in trouble or are ill. Whether they are your loved ones or your friends or neighbors, your prayer can profoundly affect them.
  • Last but not the least, whatever you do, try not to make prayers into the form of begging. A prayer for thanksgiving is much more powerful. Make your prayer consisting of a listing of all the fine things you possess or all the wonderful things that have happened to you.

You can read some common Hindu prayers here.

Islam and Prayer

Muslim man praying

Pictured: Muslim man praying    Source: iStock Photo

Devout Muslims pray five times a day, every day. Muslims pray to Allah on a set schedule, and in many nations where the Muslim religion is prominent, bells may be used to remind individuals of the time to pray.

Muslims pray:

  • Salat al-fajr: dawn, before sunrise
  • Salat al-zuhr: midday, after the sun passes its highest
  • Salat al-’asr: the late part of the afternoon
  • Salat al-maghrib: just after sunset
  • Salat al-’isha: between sunset and midnight

Practicing this prayer ritual connects each Muslim to Allah, to all others around the world, and to all those who have uttered the same words and made the same movements at different times in Islamic history. The set prayers are not just phrases to be spoken; prayers for Muslims involve uniting the mind, soul, and body in worship.14

Muslims pray as though they are in the presence of Allah, and therefore must be in a state of concentration. While moving into the upright position, Muslims commonly recite “Allah listens to the one who praises Him’” and while in the standing position, “To Allah belongs all praise” is recited.

Muslims make sure that they are in the right frame of mind before they pray; they put aside all everyday cares and thoughts so that they can concentrate exclusively on Allah. If a Muslim prays without the right attitude of mind, it’s as if they hadn’t prayed at all.15

You can read some common Muslim prayers here.

The Benefits of Prayer

According to Dr. Wayne Jonas, surveys indicate that nearly 90% of patients with serious illnesses will engage in prayer for the alleviation of their suffering or disease. Among all forms of complementary medicine, prayer is the single most widely-practiced healing modality.

Additionally, research conducted by Dr. Christina Puchalski, Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health, mentions that prayer is the second most common method of pain management (after oral pain medication), and the most common non-drug method of pain management.

The following explanations have been offered as to how prayer may help improve health:

  • The Relaxation Response: Prayer can elicit the relaxation response, which may lower blood pressure and other factors heightened by stress.
  • Secondary Control: Prayer releases control to something greater than oneself, which can reduce the stress of needing to be in charge.
  • The Placebo Response: Prayer can enhance a person’s hopes and expectations, and that, in turn, may positively impact health.
  • Healing Presence: Prayer can bring a sense of a spiritual or loving presence and alignment with God or an immersion into a universal unconsciousness.
  • Positive Feelings: Prayer can elicit feelings of gratitude, compassion, forgiveness, and hope, all of which are associated with healing and wellness.
  • Mind, Body, Spirit Connection: When prayer uplifts or calms, it can inhibit the release of cortisol and other hormones, thus reducing the negative impact of stress on the immune system and promoting healing.

In Conclusion

Prayer has a very personal meaning arising from an individual’s religious background or spiritual practice. For some, it can mean specific sacred words; for others, it may be a more informal talking or listening to God or a higher power. Prayer is universal and there’s no wrong way to do it.

The act of praying can help you find your path in life, cope with negative feelings, and if you believe in one, feel closer to your higher power. Whether it’s through meditation, speaking, dancing, drawing, or anything else, prayer can immensely impact your life for the better.

Do you have any personal rituals or preferred ways that you like to pray? Let us know in the comments below.

References:′,deliver%20us%20from%20evil.’%22 [1] [2] [3],and%20may%20not%20be%20required [4]

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The Ritual of Fasting

Why do people fast? Why is intermittent fasting so popular? Here’s a bit of history, mystery, and wellness rationale on the human practice of fasting.

Intermittent fasting involves alternating cycles of fasting and eating. Rather than dictating what to eat, it instead informs when to eat. Aside from religious traditions of fasting as an expression of sanctity and sacrifice, studies also suggest that fasting may support weight loss, protect against disease, improve metabolic health, and perhaps help prolong life.1

Fasting Throughout Time and Religion

Fasting for religious and spiritual reasons has been a part of human custom for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the Old Testament and New Testament of the Bible, the Qur’an, the Mahabharata, and the Upanishads. Fasting is particularly important for Christians during Lent and for Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan. In many religions, fasting is a way to cultivate mental discipline. When combined with prayer and meditation, it is used to exercise control of the physical body.2


Fasting for Buddhists is a form of asceticism, which is a life characterized by abstinence from worldly pleasures.3 Theravada monks and nuns, who follow the Vinaya monastic rules, do not eat each day after their noon meal. However, they consider this to be a disciplined regime aiding in meditation, not just a fast.4

Nyungne, which translates to “abiding by the fast,” is practiced by Tibetan monks and can be effective in the healing of illnesses, the nurturing of compassion, and the purification of negative karma.5 While partaking in Nyungne, a person follows the eight precepts on the first day and refrains from water and food on the second day.


Fasting is practiced in several Christian denominations. Lent, for example, is a fast that is observed in Anglicanism. It is a 40-day partial fast to commemorate the fast of Christ during his temptation in the desert.

Biblical accounts of fasting include:

  • Moses fasted for 40 days and 40 nights while on the mountain with God. (Exodus 34:28)
  • The prophet Joel called for a fast to avert the judgment of God.
  • Jesus said: “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:21)
  • Isaiah 58:3-7 describes fasting as a means to abstain from hunger, thirst, or any lustful needs we may yearn for.
  • Jesus told his followers to fast in private and not to gain favor from men. (Matthew 6:16-Matthew 6:18)


Fasting is integral to the Hindu religion, but many individuals observe different kinds of fasts based on personal beliefs and local customs. Some Hindus fast on certain days of the week, such as Ekadasi or Purnima.6 Thursdays, however, is a very common day to fast among the Hindus of northern India.

Methods of fasting vary between Hindus, but if followed strictly, no food nor water is consumed from sunset until 48 minutes after the following day’s sunrise.7 Fasting may also require avoidance of certain types of food or limiting oneself to 1 meal a day.


Fasting is the most important practice during the month of Ramadan, from fajr (dawn) to maghrib (sunset). During this time, Muslims are to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, and engaging in sexual intercourse. During the month of Ramadan, fasting is one of the Pillars of Islam, making it one of the most important acts of worship.

The Qur’an mentions that fasting was prescribed for those before them (Jews and Muslims) and that by fasting, a Muslim gains taqwa. Taqwa can be described as the care taken by a person to do everything God has commanded and to keep away from everything He has forbidden.8 Essentially, fasting helps prevent sin while also instilling a sense of fraternity and solidarity.

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is different from religious fasting, yet it still has ties to humanity’s past. Ancient hunter-gatherers did not have supermarkets, refrigerators, or sustenance readily available. As a result, humans evolved to be able to function without food for extended periods of time. The act of fasting is actually more natural for homo sapiens than eating 3 meals a day.9

Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of eating and fasting. Many people “fast” while they sleep, so intermittent fasting can be as simple as extending that fast longer into the day. Skipping breakfast is one method used to prolong a fast. There are many types of intermittent fasting, so knowing your body and seeking guidance from a health professional can help target the type of fast that is best suited for you.

Types of Intermittent Fasting

Different types and methods of intermittent fasting have emerged, including:

  • The 5:2 Diet: 2 days a week, individuals only eat around 500-600 calories.
  • Eat-Stop-Eat: Once or twice a week, individuals do not eat anything from dinner one day until dinner the next day (a 24 hour fasting period).
  • The 16/8 Method: Individuals fast for 16 hours a day, for example, from 8 PM one day to noon the next day.
  • The Warrior Diet: This was popularized by fitness expert, Ori Hofmekler. Individuals eat small amounts of raw fruits and vegetables during the day and eat only one large meal at night.
  • Spontaneous Meal Skipping: Individuals skip meals when not hungry and eat balanced meals during the non-fasting periods.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Researchers have studied intermittent fasting for decades. Study findings are often contradictory and inconclusive, but evidence shows that intermittent fasting may provide the following health benefits:

Weight Loss

Eating during a set period can reduce the number of calories consumed, and it could boost metabolism. A study conducted in 2017 found that intermittent fasting led to greater weight loss in men with obesity than a regular calorie restriction.10 Additionally, research from 2016 concluded that a 16/8 approach for 8 weeks showed a decrease in fat mass.11

Disease Prevention

Studies suggest that intermittent fasting can help prevent:

  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Heart Conditions
  • Some Cancers
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases

A 2017 study on animals concluded that intermittent fasting reduced the risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and cancer. Other studies reported that intermittent fasting reduced glucose 3-6% in those with prediabetes and also decreased insulin by 11-57% after 3 to 24 weeks of fasting.12

Extended Life Span

Scientific animal studies have suggested that intermittent fasting can lead to a longer lifespan. For example, one study reported that short-term repeated fasting increased the lifespan of female mice.13

The National Institute on Aging mentioned that, even after decades, scientists still cannot explain why fasting lengthens lifespan. As a result, they cannot confirm the long-term safety of this practice.14

Thinking and Memory

A recent study showed that intermittent fasting may have a bigger brain payoff than a small degree of calorie restriction (10%): specifically, better memory retention and brain cell proliferation.15 Other studies have concluded that intermittent fasting boosts working memory in animals and verbal memory in adults.

What to Expect When Intermittent Fasting

Matt Mattson, PhD. and a professor at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine and former chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging, says, “During the fasting period, the cells go in kind of a stress-resistance mode. And then when you eat, they’ve prepared themselves to quickly take up nutrients, proteins, and grow. However, the transition can be tough on your body.”16

While waiting a bit longer between meals may be fairly simple, there may be side effects as your body gets used to intermittent fasting, such as:

  • Your stomach will most likely grumble during fasting periods.
  • You could potentially dehydrate since you aren’t eating. Make sure to drink lots of water.
  • You’ll probably feel tired at the beginning of your intermittent fasting journey because your body is running on less energy than it’s used to.
  • Since fasting can boost stress levels, you might find that your sleep pattern is disrupted. Try adopting a healthy sleep routine to combat this issue.
  • Due to lack of salivary flow and the rise of acetone, you could experience bad breath.
  • During the first few days of intermittent fasting, you may experience headaches or lightheadedness.
  • The same biochemistry that regulates your mood also regulates your appetite with nutrient consumption affecting neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. This could potentially play a role in anxiety, depression, and irritabilty.17

Seek Your Doctor’s Approval

Considering that the bulk of intermittent fasting studies have been conducted on animals or in short periods on humans, researchers and physicians recommend always seek a professional’s advice before proceeding.

Intermittent fasting is not recommended for those who are:

  • Underweight
  • Struggling with weight gain
  • Below the age of 18
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Suffering from dementia or immunodeficiencies
  • Susceptible to eating disorders16

Intermittent fasting is not for everyone. If you have any concerns or adverse effects, consult with your doctor.

Let us know, have you tried intermittent fasting before? Which method? Any advice for people just beginning intermittent fasting? Share in the comments section below.

References: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7],often%20found%20in%20the%20Quran. [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14],retention%2C%20and%20more%20brain%20cells. [15],mood%20swings%2C%20and%20even%20dizziness. [16] [17],or%20over%20periods%20of%20fasting. [18] [16]