I took the handle of the metal tablespoon and punched a hole in the bottom of the coconut and slid a straw in. I then sat down at the table on the front porch of my bungalow. The stray cat sprawled out on the table sleepily looked up at me and refused to move out of the way.
I then slowly savored the sweet taste of the fresh coconut water, which was my breakfast. It was my last day in Thailand. I was on Day 16 of my fast. In twenty four hours, I would back in my home in cold Kyoto where I would break this fast by eating 5 small organic cherry tomatoes. The first solid food in 17 days.
As I sipped on my breakfast, I reviewed all that had changed in a short amount time. My belly was gone and I had lost about 30 pounds. The stress I had been carrying around had also lifted. I felt clear-minded and energetic, although my physical power had been tuned down a couple of notches. I had a clearer of image of what I wanted in life and how to get there. And I didn’t feel hungry at all.
I went to Thailand because I was stressed out, overweight and unhealthy. And I knew that I could not make the changes I needed to make on my own. I had tried and it hadn’t worked. I finally let go of my long list of excuses and listened to the voice in my head that kept telling me to see Hillary.
Hillary Adrian Han owns and runs Dharma Healing International, which is a holistic fasting, detox and spiritual retreat center on Koh Samui island. She is a well-tanned, energetic American expat in her mid 60s, who seems much larger than her slender five foot frame. She has a quick mind, a contagious smile and glowing eyes.
She started Dharma Healing more than twenty years earlier with her former partner, long before detoxing became a fashion. Unlike the upscale detox spas that dot the island, Dharma Healing is decidedly old-school. It consists of a few modest wooden bungalows under the coconut trees a few meters from the shore. Clients stay at a variety of lodgings along the beach, from posh resorts to backpackers' crash pads.
I met Hillary 15 years earlier when I first came to Samui to do a fast. Dharma Healing was well known in the expat circles of Kyoto at that time and several people encouraged me to go there.
That fast truly changed my life. I cleaned out all of the gunk from my drinking and druggie days. I learned about healthy eating, which I followed for the next five years. Over the next few months, I lost more than 50 pounds, had an incredible spiritual awakening and married my wife. I let go of so much and gained even more.
That fast was the catalyst to make that all happen. When we clear away the old, we make room for the new.
The daily routine at Dharma Healing involves a twice daily regime of herbs and fresh coconut juice, colonic irrigation in the morning, classes in the afternoon, and vegetable soup broth with the other fasters in the evening. For some reason, conversations at dinner time always seemed to revolve around the topic of food.
Hillary also urged swimming in the sea twice a day for me. I also had Thai and therapeutic massages whenever possible.
The daily classes covered how to fast and cleanse, the digestive system, food, cooking and how to break the fast correctly, which is very important. All of this was rooted in the Buddhist concept of dharma, which Hillary teaches about passionately.
The first three days of quitting anything are the roughest. If you can get past that hump day, then things get better. Stopping food and drink is no different. To prepare for the fast, you progressively stop eating different kinds of foods until you get down to just raw fruit. Then you start the fast.
During the cleansing process, a lot of old stuff comes out of your body. I was often amazed how much did and what it was. If it is something particularly nasty, you can feel pretty bad before you let it go. After that, you quickly feel better.
Emotions would also come out. Sometimes, I would cry for no apparent reason. Since I have sobered out, I have learned to feel my feelings, let them flow and let them go. So when a cry comes up, I let it go for as long as it needs to go.
One day during the fast, you turn the corner and you feel really good. Someone will come up to you and say “Wow, you look great!”
Hillary would often comment how my eyes glowed, my teeth looked white and my skin clear. She would also comment how my aura changed from a weakened dull gray to bright, shiny and radiating.
There is sort of a fasting buzz. My mind would become super clear, and so would my vision. I could feel that I was energetic, yet in a certain way, I would be very chilled out. It could become very easy to go deep inside during meditation. I understand why many different spiritual traditions use forms of fasting to gain spiritual insight. Jesus is said to have fasted for 40 days in the desert, where he confronted the devil.
I almost never felt hungry. That goes away pretty quickly. I might feel that I was thirsty, but rarely did I have hunger pangs. The feeling of hunger comes back again once you break the fast. Actually the 10 days of breaking of the fast is more difficult for me, because once I start to eat, I feel ravenous. But it is important to respect the very slow and careful process of reintroducing food into your diet.
For me, the experience at Hillary’s retreat center was not just about my body. I needed a place to take time for myself and to heal myself. It was really difficult to do that at home. Dharma Healing gave me the space to do that. I gave myself the time. And Hillary gave me the guidance I needed, on all levels.
By getting away from all of my stress and habit triggers, I was able to let go. The act of fasting and cleansing is all about letting go, both literally and metaphorically. I learned about myself and my body. I was reintroduced to a holistic healthy eating mindset. These are the tools I will use to continue to work toward staying healthy.
I consciously stayed off of social media during this trip, which is actually a big source of stress for me. It is over stimulating. And I also limited my Internet communications to only a few people. This also helped a lot.
People ask me if they should do a fast. My answer is that you should learn how to do it. I highly recommend that you go some place that offers experienced guidance, like Dharma Healing International, to give yourself the time and space to heal, and learn what to do. I don’t recommend that you just read stuff online and then stop eating. There is a lot more going on, and there are many facets involved in order to fast safely.
If you really want to make a change in your life, and are willing to address some of the issues that keep you unhealthy, then take the plunge. Think of it as an investment in yourself, in both time and money. If you don’t have your health, then everything else doesn’t really matter.
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