Ekadasi – The intermittent fasting protocol suggested in ancient Indian Yogic texts to maximise health and spiritual benefits! 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve likely heard of intermittent fasting. While it has only recently caught the attention of mainstream scientists and the general public, you would be surprised to know that it is an age old practice prescribed in ancient Indian yogic texts and followed by many practitioners for its spiritual benefits. It is known by a Sanskrit name called ‘Ekadasi Upavasa’ – which means to fast on the 11th day of the waxing and waning lunar cycle in the Vedic calendar month.  Put simply, it essentially involves fasting for 36 hours every 2 weeks.  

While in the yogic texts the goal for such fasting is primarily spiritual advancement, it is also prescribed in Ayurveda (ancient Indian system of Indian medicine) for its immense health benefits. More recently, a string of high-quality scientific studies has also found evidence supporting these claims. In this article we will look at Ekadasi fasting from all three perspectives and hope that it inspires you to give it a try too!  

Ekadasi fasting benefits from a scientific perspective: 

One study published in the journal Aging in 2014 found that intermittent fasting led to an increase in lifespan and a decrease in age-related diseases in mice. The study involved mice that were fasted for 24 hours every other week, which is similar to a 36-hour fast every two weeks. The researchers found that the fasting regimen led to an increase in lifespan by up to 12%, as well as improvements in insulin sensitivity, cognitive function, and immune function. 

Another study published in the journal Cell Metabolism in 2015 found that intermittent fasting led to improvements in various markers of aging and health in humans. The study involved healthy adults who fasted for 5 consecutive days each month, which is similar to a 36-hour fast every two weeks. The researchers found that the fasting regimen led to a decrease in markers of inflammation and oxidative stress, as well as improvements in glucose metabolism and blood pressure. 

There is also evidence to suggest that fasting helps slow down shortening of telomeres and promote telomere lengthening. Telomeres are the protective caps at the end of our chromosomes that naturally shorten as we age. Shorter telomeres are associated with a higher risk of age-related diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. Another study published in the journal Cell Metabolism in 2017 found that intermittent fasting led to an increase in telomere length in mice.  

Another study published in the journal Rejuvenation Research in 2018 found that prolonged fasting (a type of fasting that involves abstaining from food for several days) led to an increase in stem cell production and a decrease in markers of aging in humans. 

Thus, there is strong evidence to suggest that Ekadasi fasting comprising about a 36-hour fast approximately every two weeks, reduces aging, increases longevity, has positive effects on blood sugar regulation, insulin sensitivity, and cardiovascular health, improve immune function, reduce inflammation, and promote cellular repair and regeneration. 

Ayurveda and Ekadasi fasting 

Ayurveda recognizes the importance of fasting for overall health and well-being, including on the day of Ekadasi.  According to ayurveda, fasting on Ekadasi helps balance the body’s doshas (energies) and promote overall health and well-being and can have several other potential benefits, including: 

Digestive rest: Fasting gives the digestive system a break from processing food, which can help to improve digestion and reduce inflammation in the digestive tract. 

Detoxification: Fasting can promote detoxification by allowing the body to eliminate toxins and waste products more effectively. 

Increased prana: In Ayurveda, prana refers to the life force or vital energy that flows through the body. Fasting can help to increase prana by allowing it to flow more freely throughout the body. 

Improved mental clarity: Fasting has been linked to improved mental clarity and focus, which can be helpful for spiritual practice. 

Better sleep: Fasting can help to regulate the sleep-wake cycle and promote deeper, more restful sleep. 

Overall, Ayurveda recognizes fasting as an important tool for promoting physical and spiritual health, and Ekadasi fasting is one way to incorporate this practice into one’s life.  

Last, but not the least, it is important to note that ancient texts consider fasting on Ekadasi immensely beneficial for spiritual advancement, so much so that the above-mentioned powerful health benefits are considered mere side benefits! Thus, for those of you who are more spiritually inclined (as most of you in our community are), below are some of the powerful spiritual benefits of fasting on Ekadasi. 

Spiritual benefits of Ekadasi fasting  

Increased mindfulness and focus: When we fast, we become more aware of our bodily sensations and mental states. This can help us to develop mindfulness and focus, which can be helpful for spiritual practices such as meditation. 

Enhanced spiritual connection: Fasting is a common practice in many spiritual traditions, and it is believed to help us connect more deeply with the divine. By fasting, we can cultivate a greater sense of humility and surrender, which can facilitate our spiritual growth. 

Greater self-discipline: Fasting requires self-discipline and restraint, and cultivating these qualities can be helpful for spiritual practice. By practicing Ekadasi fasting, we can develop greater self-control, which can translate into other areas of our lives as well. 

While all of this sounds great, you might still be wondering what makes fasting on Ekadasi different than fasting on any other day. Why not fast whenever one fancies? There is no doubt that most fasts, done any day, will yield some positive results for the mind body and soul as long as they are done in a proper prescribed manner following the guidelines given by experts on the subject, fasting on Ekadasi is a uniquely powerful experience.  

Ekadasi is considered a particularly auspicious day for fasting and spiritual observances in bhakti yoga. It is understood that on Ekadasi, the planets are aligned in such a way that the body and mind can align with the higher consciousness whereby the practice of spiritual disciplines such as fasting, meditation, chanting and devotional practices can yield greater benefits. 

In Krishna consciousness, as well as in most other ancient traditions, it is agreed that the phases of the moon exert a strong influence on the earth and its inhabitants. The eleventh day of both the waxing and waning phases of the moon, known as Ekadasi, are considered especially powerful for spiritual practices. On Ekadasi, the heightened energy levels create a positive and uplifting atmosphere making it easier for individuals to cleanse the body and mind of negative energies and connect with their divine source. 

Another interesting consideration is that Ekadasi is associated specifically with Vishnu and is considered a day of special significance for his devotees. Fasting on Ekadasi is believed to deliver spiritual blessings, protection, and grace. 

Thus, while fasting can be practiced on any day for spiritual or health purposes, fasting on Ekadasi is considered particularly auspicious due to its association with the moon’s energy, its significance in the Vedic calendar, and its association with the personality of Vishnu. 

Levels of Fasting 

Ekadasi fasting is typically observed by abstaining from grains and beans, and some people choose to observe the fast more strictly by also abstaining from other foods and certain activities. The strictest form of Ekadasi fasting is where practitioners abstain from all food and water for the entire day and night of Ekadasi. “Nirjala” means without water in Sanskrit, and this level of fasting is said to be the most purifying and spiritually beneficial.  


Fasting on Ekadasi is a powerful method for making spiritual progress, which also has several health benefits. The level of fasting observed may vary based on personal preference, health, and other factors. It is important to note that the primary goal of Ekadasi fasting is to cultivate spiritual purity and devotion, and the level of fasting should be chosen accordingly to support this goal. Also, it is important to note that while Ekadasi fasting has immense spiritual benefits, it is not a substitute for other spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation, or community involvement. And lastly, while short term fasts like Ekadasi are considered quite safe and can be practiced without facing any major issues by most people, as with any fasting or dietary practice, it is important to consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle, especially if you have pre-existing medical/health conditions. 

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