Yin Yang Fast
by Jessica Sommar MSc 夏 洁 希
Seven years ago I injured two of three knee ligaments and was sidelined. I gained weight. Lots of weight. Being a woman in my 40’s and moving into hormonal changes shifted my metabolism. The only exercise I got was physical therapy and the struggle of getting back and forth from work on a crutch. I was plagued with all sorts of ailments – bloating, stomach pains, digestive problems, elimination problems, mood swings. But I muddled through, working at a demanding job as an editor and journalist in New York City. Late summer came and I was miserable. I decided to do something about it and that’s when I found a form of Daoist Korean yoga and qi gong that brought me back to my goal weight, 75 pounds lighter, and into great physical condition and health.
When I began training at the studio I was in a toxic condition – everything inside of me was bloated and stagnant – I was put on a Yin Yang Fast to help cleanse, detoxify and restore balance to my body, mind and spirit. I did the fast for a longer period of time than most but was monitored weekly by the Masters at the center where I practiced and at their retreat in a New York suburb.
Although I undertook the fast in the fall, it is spring time at this writing and the optimal time for strengthening and supporting the liver according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. So to assist in detoxing from heavy winter foods I offer this fast – slightly modified by my experience and training — as one of many methods available. I also recommend that before undertaking any fast, a doctor is consulted and a support group is in place to assist the detox and healing process. With those caveats, here is the fast.
Three days of pre-fasting by reducing daily food intake by 30% to 70% of normal is recommended. Begin with fruits and vegetables – fresh, raw, boiled or steamed. Brown rice once or twice a day is okay. Avoid dairy which creates mucus and damp in the body and fried foods, meats, cheese, eggs, sugar, processed foods, alcohol, coffee and fizzy drinks which may feed inflammation.
On the fourth day, a cleansing is suggested. Using an herbal tea with laxative properties once a night throughout the upcoming phase of the fast or trying a salt cleanse are options. I did the salt cleanse. I was curious how it would work.
Put 2-3 tbs of natural, uniodized sea salt into 1 quart of warm water. Drink as much as possible as quickly as is comfortable. Rest for one hour.
I filled an empty quart seltzer bottle with warm water and dropped in 2.5 tablespoons of sea salt. I found I could drink just a little less than half of the bottle. I had to hold my nose to keep from gagging. I did not believe that this was in any way going to cleanse my toxic bowels, but I followed instructions. I felt a little uncomfortable, but the nausea went away quickly. I sat and rested as instructed.
Almost an hour later exactly, I had to go to the bathroom and was there for about another hour on and off releasing everything and more than I ever thought could be in my body. It was amazing. I had some cramping but not much. It just poured out of me, unrecognizable stuff, impacted and now released.
I drank some mint tea. My mouth felt dry and parched. I then prepared the juice for the fast that I would be on for the next seven days.
To one gallon of water is added the juice of 3-6 lemons [cleansing for the liver and kidneys], several or more shakes of cayenne pepper [to break up mucus and build warmth and blood] and either maple syrup or molasses. I chose molasses as I had had blood sugar problems in the past. Molasses helps the pancreas to produce insulin and provides minerals.
The juice is mixed together and drunk as much as desired throughout the day. For seven days, taking no other food or beverages. Mint tea is allowed on occasion.
This was easier than I thought it would be. I was assured that there were enough vitamins and minerals in the juice to keep me going, so I didn’t worry. It was only one week and I had been damaging myself and my body for many years when I honestly took an appraisal.
And I didn’t suffer much and not from hunger. Sometimes a headache, most times I just felt okay. I continued to work at my job, rested as much as possible and did my Daoist yoga and qi gong at the studio once a day. I had mood swings. There is a process to fasting and lots of things come up emotionally as well as physically. I had a terrific support network that included energy healing sessions and later I came to be part of others’ support network during their fasts over the years.
Yin Post Fast
Coming off the fast was more challenging to me. It was recommended that orange juice be taken in the mornings. I was concerned because of blood sugar spikes from high concentrations of fruit juice. Instead I prepared the vegetable soup that is to be the main meals for the next 21 days and skipped the suggested morning orange juice.
Many of my Asian friends will recognize that the base of this soup as congee or jhou or xifan as they say in Mandarin – a rice gruel that is eaten for breakfast and at any time mixed with assorted herbs and roots to restore and heal.
I put rice in the bottom of the pan and covered it with 10 to 12 cups of water. Rice and water are brought to a slow boil and vegetables of all kinds – potatoes, tomatoes, soy beans, celery, carrots, onions, zucchini and salt and pepper are added to taste. More spices can be added but I was feeling the need for bland and stuck to it.
This part of the fast is recommended for 21 days; however, due to my advanced toxicity and damp, I stayed on this Yin post fast for nearly 60 days. I brought the soup to work with me and it was all I ate for all my meals, changing the recipe as my tastes changed. Other food did not appeal to me. But the soup made me feel full and satisfied and peaceful. The mood swings were gone and the weight was falling off my body. I got stronger from the daily yoga and qi gong and the energy healings helped stabilize and harmonize all the changes that were happening.
I also had training in Korean-Daoist inspired eating, chewing, meditation, water therapy and special exercises and movements during this time.
At the end of 60 days, I began to come off the Yin Soup. I only added foods that felt right. I listened to my body – now cleansed – to hear what it wanted. And it wanted good things much to my surprise. I craved vegetables, steamed with rice and soy sauce and sesame seeds, chili oil and light broth soups, tofu [which I had never touched before the fast] with ginger and scallion and tamari and eventually whole steamed fish, with cilantro and ginger or grilled salmon. I never again ate chicken, beef, pork or any other meat. I found I could finally cut out milk and cheese from my diet, but I did add eggs back without complications.
I had changed on levels I wasn’t certain I understood. But I was glad. When I would listen to my body or my senses before the fast, I would crave all the same addictive foods – breads, meats, lunchmeats, fried foods and sugar, dairy and butter. After the fast – even now, many years later – I have maintained the weight loss and the good health and have not had the urge to add any of these foods back in my life. I have some things once in a while – a dessert at family celebrations, ice cream on a hot summer day, gelato when I was in Rome and an occasional meat broth soup when I lived in China.
Some months after completing my fast I began training in classical Yang Family style Taijiquan fist and weapons forms and internal arts with a new master teacher. Although my path broadened to include living in China and training in Traditional Chinese medicine and Chinese Daoist yang-sheng practices for health, healing and longevity, I always remember my Korean roots and the fine Daoist practices they shared with me during my initiation in Dahn Yoga.
Jessica Sommar, M.Sc. is an author/instructor in Classical Yang Family Style Taijiquan and Daoyin at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the Berkshires. She has trained in Daoist alchemy, Taijiquan fist and weapons forms and daoyin [yang sheng practices] and apprenticed in TCM — acupuncture and eastern herbs for six years, including living two years in Hangzhou, PRC. In the past two decades her training includes western herbs, western astrology, various energy healing modalities and she is a clinically trained and CPE-certified Interfaith Chaplain. She is currently undertaking the 200-hour certified Yoga Teacher Training at Kripalu and is marketing and administrative coordinator for the Schools of Yoga and Ayurveda there as well.