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Excerpt from "The Transformational Power of Fasting"

by Stephen Harrod Buhner


Preparing for the Fast,

Fasting, Breaking the Fast

Fasting is more than anything an engagement with personal mortality and the rebirth that follows such an engagement. When we decide to fast we decide to examine our own rela­tionship with survival, and this means directly encountering death. These are heady topics, and one reason that fasting should be undertaken with consciousness and deep thought. In any engagement with our own death we have the opportunity to deeply examine our lives, to explore what we have done and not done, and to decide what we wish to do in the future. We have the opportunity to revise or alter the path we have taken, to make new choices, to begin anew.


Initially, the most important thing to consider is why you want to fast. You should fast because you want to, not because a voice in your head is telling you that you will be better for it, more whole, cleaner, purer, or more spiritual. Fasting should be done because some deep part of your self lets you know that it is something you need to do to be who you are, who you want to be. The decision to fast often begins in a deep, unconscious part of the soul. Eventually, if we are smart, we begin to lis­ten, to think, and to begin to prepare ourselves for a journey. Like all journeys, fasting takes preparation—preparation of the soul, the emotions, the body. The more conscious you are about what you are doing, the better prepared you will be and the more you will get from it.


When you decide you are ready to fast, think about what kind of fast you want to do. Know also that the older you are, the more intense a fast can be, especially if you have been living a toxic lifestyle for a very long time. If you have never fasted before or if it has been a very long time since you have fasted, you should consider a juice fast. Some of the juice blends that I think are very effective are listed in appendix 2. While a juice fast will, like a water fast, bring many benefits and will evoke many deep emotional, spiritual, and physical insights, it is much easier. A juice fast is the best way to first experience fasting. If you have fasted before or if you are working with an experienced fasting coach or health practitioner, then per­haps you will want to do a deep water fast. A water fast will be much more demanding; the degree of emotional, physical, and spiritual intensity is much higher. The benefits are cor­respondingly greater, but only if you are ready for it and are not forcing yourself into it too quickly. While a water fast is exceptionally safe, if you engage in a water fast before you are ready to do so, you risk doing yourself spiritual, emotional, and physical violence. Neither fast is better or worse than the other, they just do different things. Each type of fast will make differ­ent demands on you; both are of great benefit.


It is crucial to decide for how long you are going to fast before you begin. The part of you that wants to eat will feel more taken care of if it knows just how long you will be fasting. It is important as well that you keep your word to yourself and only fast just this long. If you are new to fasting, start with a short fast and let yourself get used to the process. Use the following guidelines to help you determine the length of time you should fast.

Fasting Time Guidelines

Water Fasting

Regular Diet

2 weeks (minimum) low-fat cleansing diet

3 days fresh juices and herbal teas only

4–10 days water only

1–3 days fresh fruit juices; miso soup; mild, heavily steamed vegetables

4–14 days low-fat cleansing diet

Regular diet

The length of time spent on each of these sections depends on a person’s physical, emotional, and spiritual condition and needs.

Juice Fasting

Regular Diet

2 weeks (minimum) low-fat cleansing diet

4–30 days fresh juices and herbal teas only

1 day miso soup and mild, heavily steamed vegetables

4–14 days low-fat cleansing diet

Regular diet

The length of time spent on each of these sections depends on a per­son’s physical, emotional, and spiritual condition and needs.


Consider these questions before you set your physical goals.

1. Do you believe your body can be healthy?

2. Do you believe your body has an innate wisdom that can guide it where it needs to go?

3. Do you have any beliefs about your body that may stand in the way of it becoming healthy?

4. Are there any illnesses that have been troubling you that you would like to see resolved?

5. Do you think it is possible to be healthy long into old age?

6. Can you conceive of your body as sacred?

Think deeply about any truths that underlie these ques­tions. Once you have thought deeply about these questions, then, and only then, decide what your physical goals are for your fast. These goals are more supportive if they are of the order of things like: I want my body to feel healthier than before the fast. I want to love my body more. I want to be healed in this area of my body.

Most of us are trained out of perceiving our bodies as holy, trained instead to see our bodies in distorted and misguided ways, even to believe they have our worst interests at heart. When you begin the difficult task of ceasing hostilities with your body, you directly confront the most basic beliefs you have been given about your physical self. It is one of the most loving and most powerful acts of courage and faith that you can do.

A genuine fast cleanses body, mind, and soul.


Stephen Harrod Buhner is an Earth poet and the award-winning author of ten books on nature, indigenous cultures, the environment, and herbal medicine. He comes from a long line of healers including Leroy Burney, Surgeon General of the United States under Eisenhower and Kennedy, and Elizabeth Lusterheide, a midwife and herbalist who worked in rural Indiana in the early nineteenth century. The greatest influence on his work, however, has been his great-grandfather C.G. Harrod who primarily used botanical medicines, also in rural Indiana, when he began his work as a physician in 1911. Stephen's work has appeared or been profiled in publications throughout North America and Europe including Common Boundary, Apotheosis, Shaman's Drum, The New York Times, CNN, and Good Morning America.

The Transformational Power of Fasting

The Way to Spiritual, Physical, and Emotional Rejuvenation

By Stephen Harrod Buhner

ISBN 978-1-59477-466-9 • $16.95

Quality Paperback — March 2012

224 pages, 53/8 x 81/4

Imprint: Healing Arts Press

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