A gong sound bath vibrated so deeply throughout my body that my senses of hearing, touching and seeing merged into a unified instrument of sensory awakening. Something else was happening, yet I could not name it. This was yet another experience beyond the Aristotelian five senses we commonly know. The sensory awakening felt unlike any daily life experience I knew.
Neuroscientists and some philosophers would argue that we have anywhere between 22 and 33 different senses. In fact, already in the 1960s an American psychologist, Dr. Richard P. Youtz “had tested an American woman who can identify colors by touch alone”, the New York Times reported in 1964. She saw through her fingers. When you fast your sense of smell, taste, hearing, touch, temperature (Thermoception), even vision increase. There is something about intuition. Each us may experience it in individually tuned pitches. It feels mysterious. You are being ‘more’ and differently. Higher perception becomes the gate to another world. Carefully step in.
I realised that this sensuous awakening is the opposite of meditation. You dissolve into nothingness, the breath melts through your pores, as if the entire surface of your skin breathed for you in the deep meditation. Tuning out and completely detached from the body, the mind and whatever is out there are unified with the aether and the spirit. You are in your unconscious. This state of deep relaxation and withdrawing the mind from thoughts, senses and emotions is an ancient practice yogis call pratyahara.
But during a fast, your survival instinct battles more fiercely, which explains some of the sensorial escalation as well as diming out other senses. You are tired and more in the twilight mode than hovering in the unconscious realm. Still, each of us is unique and if you are an experienced meditator you will be able to use your skills to tame your emotions and the survival instinct steering the fire in you during the fast.
Multisensory awareness when fasting
Strangely enough, while you almost do not eat, the annual purification of the body and mind climbed its religious and traditional ayurvedic, shaolin and zen boundaries into luxurious medical and spa retreats today. I have never fasted, always skinny and not religious, I felt no draw towards denying myself the indulgent pleasures of life. Yet, as my husband has been fasting for a couple of years, I began to hear about another side to this hungry state — broadening of one’s senses. I was intrigued to experience it myself.
Lanserhof is one of the best clinics for fasting and one of the most advanced holistic medical clinics in Europe. The most important though for me is that it is set in a pristine nature. If my senses were going to be pampered, this was the place. Psychologically and spiritually I also felt elevated.
I stayed at Lanserhof Am Tegernsee in Bavaria. The daily schedule fitted in sufficient sensual experiences. A nightly concert by the fireplace sonorously soothed us into bed. Perhaps only a warm cosy bed feels as pleasant as classical music during a fast. Since your ears become so sensitive, no loud, discordant tones please you, but your awareness of the composition expands. A morning birdsong sounded like a symphony.
Fire was omnipresent in the pre-mountain region where heat lands only for a couple of summer months. More than a design accessory, the fireplaces at Lanserhof drew you like magnets under their aural reach. As your body cools off when fasting, any radiant warmth feels extremely cocooning. You need to dress warm and comfortably also for your touchy self.
A qi gong on the wooden patio (in good weather) lead by Marco Korber, one of the experienced spa practitioners, balanced anxiety and curbed fidgeting mind. He is excellent in foot reflexology, which is very painful during the fast. But the sensory awakening of my qi energy was so potent that beyond my skin I could feel something so palpable surrounding my own body, that I decided to pursue more lessons in the future.
Taste & smell
Cooking classes from healthy bread baking and Lanserhof Energy Cuisine as well as nutrition lecture bring awareness to your eating at home. When you mainly drink water, you start to distinguish between the different levels of sweetness, salinity and minerality in this pure gift of nature. The herbal infusions that would normally taste flat to me, broadened like a grand cru Burgundy. A verbena brew flashed notes of lemongrass, linden with a sweetness of flower honey. All aromas were so potent that perfume was forbidden to wear around the clinic. I was wondering how close to a dog’s sense of smell I got during my short three days fast.
I did not sleep much during the fast, as most don’t. Our Elysium Loft suite was superbly comfortable. Natural pebbles, sand and white cotton tones, fireplace, wooden shades, Finnish sauna and a vast bathroom next to plenty of terrace lounging were luxurious. Yet, the interior did not comfort me as much as a cosy little cabin in the forest would. I needed a better view.
My sleepless nights reward was being up early enough before the sunrise, so I walked over to the spa house. Joining a gentle yoga sun salutation in a small group company or often alone. Getting up well before the sunrise one morning rewarded us with a purple-painted sky. One could not wish for a more stunning set up for a sun salutation.
The minimalist contemporary design of the clinic visually cued me to simplicity and comfort. In the lobby there were inspiring books, board games, and comfortable sofas to lounge in, lovely. The only thing my eyes were missing was art, something I could create myself in this period of significantly increased sensitivity.
Some senses are disrupted by insufficient food intake as that during a fast. That is why you are strongly advised not to drive or perform other sharp-mind and balance requiring activities during fasting. These are some of the senses that are muted when intentionally fasting.
Chronoception – sense of the passing of time (you are locked down at home versus visiting a new city, watching an arresting film, doesn’t time shrink, somewhat? On the other hand when fasting time passes very slowly, unless you busy yourself with distractions)
Equilibrioception – sense of balance (stand on one leg, train it if you cannot and soon you will, like a person learning to play a musical instrument, being on a plane your balance tells you more than your vision. When fasting you become more wobbly.)
Kinaesthesia – sense of movement (a ballet dancer can tell you how this elevates his perception, but anyone with close eyes sitting in a car or train moving can feel this)
Proprioception – knowing which parts of your body are where without looking (close your eyes and put your finger to your nose, type without looking on the keyboard, …)
The sensuous awakening during fasting can be used for creative work but not for sensual pleasures. It is not recommend to engage in sex while fasting, in fact your libido weakens. The multisensory experience may not be unique to fasting. Psychedelic drugs show us somewhat different reality from that we see, hear, smell, touch and taste on a common day. I have never tried, but research and some popular shows (GOOP Lab on Netflix) explain more about the sensory awakening during the controlled used of these, in many countries still illegal, substances.
Elevating one’s senses and getting attached to it is a call for trouble though. This is a path of addiction. A post in Yoga International alerts on the importance of non-attachment: “the problem arises when we can’t let sensations go, and we get swept away by the sensory world, only to wash up on its shores exhausted”. This partly explains why so many artists suffer and cling to addictive behavior. Battling the sensorial overload one calls upon to create new art, the artist also needs to deeply relax, to empty oneself from all that stimulation in and outside. And, you do too. The faster can become attached to not eating and the sensory highs, which can lead to serious psychological problems (depression, nervous breakdown), anorexia, and ultimately death. This is why medical supervision is important during fasting. It not only guides you carefully to a deep cleanse, but also reintroduces your awareness into the healthy, balanced lifestyle that is about to commence once your fast is over. As in ayurveda, the seasonal fast (panchakarma) is supervised by a certified ayurvedic practitioner for the best balancing result.