yoga sequence to support your fast

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While the body adjust to long periods of fasting, such as Ramadan, it is very common to experience a variety of symptoms that may include lethargy (from staying up during the night, or waking up in the early hours to fuel up on food and fluids before fasting again), stiff muscles and joints, cold limbs, and digestive ailments, either from overindulging in nutritionally poor snacks at nighttime or from lack of fluids.

This sequence, explained in detail below, has been designed as a way to wake up and energize the body; and stimulate the digestive system in a dynamic and effective way that is still gentle and not overly demanding. Because all the poses feature tone and massage the abdominal organs, it is ideal for both those that are fasting for long periods of time, and also those who, though they may not be fasting, would like to give their digestive system a little boost. 

Bear in mind that the sequence is meant to be performed mindfully and you shouldn’t rush through the poses, which are to be held anywhere from 10 breaths to 3 minutes, according to your capabilities. The full sequence can be performed at a slow pace in 30 minutes -- and you can give yourself as long a savasana relaxation as you’d like!)

Detox and increase your digestive fire with this sequence

1. Sun salutation

The sun salutation is great to stretch, loosen up, and energize the whole body, which makes it an ideal sequence to start any yoga practice. Head over to my YouTube channel to learn how to practice the Classical Sun Salutation, and start your sequence with a few rounds, which can be as little as 3 or as many as 10 or more, if you feel like it. Even on days when you’re not feeling like it, just the Sun Salutation is a great practice in itself, and I can guarantee that once you’ve done a couple of rounds, you’ll feel more awake and ready for a full practice!

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2. Setu bandhasana

After you finish your Sun Salutations, lay in savasana between 30 seconds to 1 minute or, if you’re heart rate feels a bit agitated, until it returns to normal. This is a sequence that you want to perform gently and mindfully, so your heart rate should remain stable at all times.

To go into the pose, bend the knees, bringing the feet close to your buttocks. Keep the knees and feet hip width apart, toes pointing forward. Extend the arms by the sides of the body, palms facing down. On an inhalation, lift your hips of the floor. You may keep the palms on the mat or, for a deeper bend, you can interlace your fingers, extend your elbows, rotate the shoulders underneath the body, and press with the arms on the ground as you push up through the hips. Your body weight should be on your shoulders, and your neck should remain long. Hold for at least 10 breaths, and then return to savasana.

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3. Paschimottanasana

From savasana, roll on your right side, and use your hands to prop yourself up to sitting. Extend both legs together in front of you. Keep the feet flexed and engaged, toes pointing up. Make sure you’re sitting on your sit bones. Raise your arms up on an inhalation and elongate your spine (imagine someone is gently pulling you up through the crown of your head). On your exhale, gently hinge forward from the hips and grab your feet. If you find that you hunch when you grab your feet, then grab your ankles or shins instead. Try to keep the chest open, and the shoulders away from the ears. The purpose of the pose is to stretch the back side of the body -- it doesn’t really matter how deep you can fold.

*If you feel pain in the knees, roll a blanket and place it underneath.

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4. Bhujangasana

From the previous pose, come to lay on your belly, make a pillow with your hands, and rest your head on them. Stay here for a few breaths. When you are ready to go into cobra, place the hands next to your shoulders, and separate your feet hip width apart. Keep the neck long and the shoulders away from the ears by drawing the shoulder blades towards the spine and down your back. On an inhalation, project your chest forward and begin to lift your torso off the floor, maintaining the shoulders away from the ears -- avoid hunching!

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5. Balasana

To come out from cobra, lower your torso first on the mat. Then, keeping your nose close to the mat, bend your knees and slide all the way back into child pose. This is a counter pose for the previous backbend, and it will help release any compression in the back. Make sure you are sitting all the way down onto your heels, and your forehead is on the mat. The arms can be extended like in the picture, or you can relax them alongside your body. If you can’t sit on your heels, you can insert a cushion or a blanket between your heels and hips. Stay here for about a minute.

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6. Ardha matsyendrasana

Slowly roll up from your Child pose to find yourself kneeling on your mat. Then, sit on the right side and, keeping your right foot next to your left hip, take your left leg and, bending the knee, place the left foot next to the right knee. Make sure both sit bones are on the mat. Then take your left hand and place it on the mat behind your body. Lift the right arm up, inhale to elongate the spine, and as you exhale twist towards the left leg. You can either hug the left thigh towards yourself, or use the right elbow to press against the left leg as you twist deeper. If you have the space, you can also bind your hands behind your back. Make sure that the spine is straight and you’re not hunching. Also, when in doubt regarding which side to twist towards, remember that your chest should be facing the knee that is up.

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7. Savasana

We’re done! You’ve made it! To practice savasana, everyone’s favorite yet still one of the (if not *the*) most difficult yoga poses, come to lay on your back. Keep your feet somewhere between hip width to mat width apart, and allow them to relax completely, with the toes falling outwards. The arms should also be extended alongside your body, slightly apart from it, with the palms of the hands facing up. Allow the fingers to curl naturally as they completely relax. The idea of savasana is that you lay there as a dead body, which means you must completely let go of your physical body, allowing it to sink into the floor. You must also remain mentally aware or present. There are many savasana techniques out there, so I encourage you to try different ones to see what works for you. You may find that this may also change depending on the mood or how much time you have. You may practice savasana in silent, to the sound of some relaxing music or Tibetan bells, or even to a guided meditation (apps like Insight timer are great for this!). I also have a Guided Savasana up on Etsy if you’d like to practice with me.

I hope that the practice of this sequence helps sustain your fast, if you’re fasting, and increase your digestive fire, in all other situations. Let me know if you try it!

the practice of yoga while fasting

With Ramadan just around the corner, for many of us it’s that time of the year when we start to plan ahead in order to be able to keep up our physical yoga practice while fasting several hours a day. If you have fasted before, you have probably already experienced some of the overall health benefits that come with it. If you are new to yoga, however, you may be wondering whether continuing to practice on a completely empty stomach can be a wise or even healthy idea. In order to put things into context, here I would like to share a few facts about fasting and its relationship with yoga, along with my own experience of keeping up my asana practice during Ramadan.

Fasting in a yogic context

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"In yoga, the ideal break between one meal and the next meal is eight hours. You can manage these kinds of meals even when you are working outside. But a minimum of five hours is a must for everybody. This is because only when your stomach is empty, your excretory system functions properly." (Sadhguru)

Fasting is actually a very common practice among yogis who understand that this healing technique, one of the oldest known to man, can have incredibly positive effects both on the body and the mind.

Yogic fastings can be of different types, including juice fasts, water fasts, or more severe types of fasting in which the practitioner abstains from the intake of both food and fluids. Fasting can also last anywhere from several hours to days. Generally, anybody in good health can safely do a juice or water fast for 3-5 days without supervision. Longer or more extreme types of fasting may require supervision and I wouldn’t advise undertaking one without consulting your general practitioner and making the necessary preparations to ensure that you stay healthy throughout the process.

From a physical point of view, fasting promotes the process of autolysis, which usually begins one or two full days after you start the fast, and which consists in your body digesting and getting rid of diseased, damaged, dead, and dying cells. Fasting promotes the elimination of toxins from the organism, and also provides your digestive system with much needed rest, freeing up the energy that usually goes into the digestion process and redirecting it towards other purposes. Because of this, while many people initially think of fasting as an extenuating ordeal, those who try it tend to realize that, after a while, they feel more energetic than the usual.

From a spiritual point of view, fasting can increase your awareness, making it easier to focus and to enter a meditative state . Fasting may also help to develop your willpower, as you learn to resists bodily urges, and develop the ability to complete a self-imposed task. When you become able to distance yourself from food and look at it as a mere object, without giving in to your body’s craving for sensory pleasures, you start to realize that you are not this body. Fasting may also help you gain sensitivity and intuition.

All of the above create the perfect bodily environment for an enhanced yoga practice. You may enjoy more energy than the usual, and also be able to get deeper into some poses (or to perform poses you had never managed before) because your gut is empty. Likewise, your concentration may be improved, helping you turn your attention inward as you breathe in awareness.

3 keys to keeping up your practice while you fast

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Every year, before and during Ramadan, when Muslims around the world fast every day for a month from sunrise to sunset, I get questions on my Instagram account about whether I continue my regular yoga practice while fasting, and whether I still teach. The answer to both questions is yes. Here are a 3 key pointers that, from experience, work for me:

Asana is not everything

As I wrote in my previous blog post, “what is yoga?”, asana is not everything in a yoga practice. It is important to remember this, because it means that you can still practice yoga even if you’re not doing any physical postures. While it’s definitely better to keep the body active throughout your fast, there may be times when this is not possible or when you are just not feeling it. It’s okay. You can do other things: namely pranayama, seva (selfless service or action, i.e. karma yoga), concentration and meditation, and even reading and studying in order to deepen your understanding of yoga philosophy (you will find several book recommendations on my affiliate Amazon page, linked in the Recommendations section of this website.)

Find a time that works for you

If you’re practicing asana, find a time that works for you. You may need to change the time from your usual routine. As your energetic pattern will change, you may also feel more energized at different times of the day than when you’re eating. You may also want to save some energy in the morning, and dive into a more vigorous practice later in the day, when you’ll have less hours left until you can break your fast. In my particular case, I usually start my own personal practice, which lasts anywhere from 1 to 2 hours, between 11 am and midday. During Ramadan, I often prefer to start a little later, between 1 and 2 pm. I also change my teaching schedule, which goes down from 6 classes a week to just 3, which I hold in the late afternoon, so by the time the class is over people have just about a couple of hours to go home and get ready to break their fast. If you’re looking to join me for class during this Ramadan, please scroll down to the bottom of this post to check out the schedule and book a spot!

Modify your practice if needed

Because my personal yoga practice is not excessively dynamic and doesn’t usually include a vinyasa style flow, I don’t usually feel the need to modify it during Ramadan. I practice my school’s sequence, which is heavily inspired by the Sivananda sequence, and I usually add several extra more advanced poses or modifications, depending on how I’m feeling. During Ramadan, I keep up the same practice and, depending on how my body is responding, I stick to the basic sequence, or take it a little further, always with awareness. I have also recently started learning the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Primary Series, which I practice once a week at the moment, but I am unsure at the moment about whether I’ll keep this one up while fasting, as it’s more dynamic and demanding than my usual Classical Hatha practice.

If you feel like you don’t have the energy for a full regular practice, or you wish to start slower to gauge your capacity and endurance before committing all the way, you can always start by modifying your practice and seeing how you feel. Some ideas are sticking to a few rounds of the sun salutation and 4 or 5 other poses of your choice, or exploring a gentler and more static yet powerful practice like Yin Yoga, in which each pose is held somewhere between 3 to 10 minutes with the aid of props if needed. Yin Yoga is perfect to release the connective bands and tissue all around and within your muscles, as it works on the deepest layers of our anatomy, providing an enhanced sense of relaxation, clearing energetic blockages and promoting circulation.

I hope that the keys above will help you sustain your practice while you fast and make the most out of it— please let me know if you have any additional advice and share your experience in the comments.

If you’re in Oujda (Morocco) and would like to join us for practice, check out the schedule below and book your spot here.

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ETA: You can find an enhanced version of this article, published as a guest blog post, on Juru Yoga's blog.