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The ration challenge: fasting for solidarity

A few weeks ago, whilst scrolling through Facebook, I saw a friend's post, stating that she was taking part in the Ration Challenge. I read about this challenge she was undertaking, and duly showed my support with a donation. The money went to Concern Worldwide, and the purpose of this challenge was to raise awareness and funds for Syrian refugees in the camps in Jordan, and other people in desperate situations around the world.

After donating and reading more on the fundraiser page, I noticed at the bottom of the page "Interested in joining our community, supporting our cause and taking the Challenge yourself? Sign up here" I barely thought for a moment before finding myself filling in my details and setting up my own fundraising page. I was so inspired by my friend's conviction, and by the story behind the cause that I couldn't not be part of it.

I often find myself thinking "what can I do" when I feel overwhelmed by tragedies in our world. This seemed like a good answer to that question - this was something that I had control over, that would raise awareness, bring money to help fund a solution, and challenge people's judgements. I also believed that the experience would help me to empathise with people in situations that I can hardly imagine. I connected to the message that this challenge shared, which was "to show refugees that I'm with them, not against them". Yoga means unity, and a big part of that for me means uniting with others. This was an opportunity to take my yoga practice from the mat into action. Furthermore, I have felt called to challenge my own relationship with food, and have been considering undertaking some form of a fast for a long time.

The word "fast" can have negative connotations in our culture, and in certain contexts I myself might hold those judgements too. However, fasting originally stems from spiritual rituals; in most religions fasting takes place as a practice of self discipline, remembrance, and/or to grow close to God. I have been yearning for an opportunity to challenge my own self discipline. When the topic of food, or diet comes up, a lot of people assume that because I am vegan, I live a really healthy lifestyle. In some ways I do, but there's no denying that I often indulge in foods that aren't great for my body, more frequently than is good for me. I'm especially challenged when I'm very busy (which has been a lot of the time, over the last couple of years!). 

The first couple of days were very hard, as I had a retreat day - where I was doing a vegan BBQ! - and I had very little spare time to prepare food for myself. After that things got a little easier, I opened my kidney beans, and couldn't believe I have been wasting the juice in the can my whole life! It made a huge difference to the rice, which I was usually frying. As well as that, I was making flatbreads for breakfast and had opened my tofu. The middle few days weren't too bad at all, though I was very tired, which I couldn't figure out whether that was due to the restricted intake of food, or because the week unfortunately coincided with my period. Either way, I was finding that I had to go to bed much earlier than usual, and was napping during the day, which I rarely do usually. The last couple of days became more challenging again, as I had run out of the kidney beans (I think that the juice was my favourite part!) and had no tofu left. I only had rice, lentils, chickpeas, and my portion of vegetable; I chose edamame beans. However, the fundraising aspect of the challenge really helped me to stay motivated, as so many people were so generous for the cause.

Aside from the physical challenge of the week, the toughest aspect of the limited diet was the lack of choice, and inability to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to. I already had an inkling that I frequently choose to feed my emotions rather than feel them, but I have rarely been in a situation where I have been forced to sit with those emotions instead of eating, despite my awareness of that recurring behaviour. The hardest feeling to sit with was longing. It's a familiar feeling for me recently, and it is a very good one to hide with food; the feeling of longing for something quite abstract can so easily be suppressed with a delicious treat like chocolate! It was difficult to sit with that feeling, without the distraction of food to avoid inviting it in, but it was good to notice that, just like anything else, that feeling wasn't permanent - and even if it wasn't fed, it still passed. I also noticed how often I "treat myself" with food - like on a busy day, how often I thought "Oh I'm so busy today, poor me - I deserve something nice to eat", before realising that wasn't an option. So I had to reframe that in my mind to instead of going for food, just be with that.