Upavaas, does not mean starving the body, nor does it mean dieting. Diet alterations are taken up by people for various reasons like detoxification of the body, losing weight, religious gains, or on medical advice. ‘ Upavaas ‘ is a junction of two words in Sanskrit: up +vaas, ( abiding in proximity to). Keeping constantly in tune with or in remembrance of the Lord . As a religious discipline it is used to control the wayward mind and inculcate the virtue of sacrifice.
The goal of fasting is to keep the stomach light and free of food that causes lethargy, intoxication, excitement or dullness of the mind,to help the mind to dwell on pure divine thoughts constantly. Generally, the old, weak and sick, expectant or lactating mothers are exempted from fasting. Some fast as a form of penance, seeking forgiveness for some wrong doing. They believe the fast to work as a form of nemesis ,freeing them of guilt by the infliction of self -punishment.
The result of Upavaas is not so dependant on the food or the time of the fasting but on the purity and the equipoise of the mind achieved .The pure texture of your thoughts, their composure and divinity determines the success . It is a self discipline, not torturing the body with hunger,else the mind will constantly dwell upon the body defeating the very purpose of fasting. Praying for the health and welfare of others while fasting is a form of directing a forceful thought flow as blessings towards those prayed for and is very effective if sincerely performed.
Upavaas purges your mind of negativities like fear and anxiety as the mind is ‘near ‘ Him ,the controller of this universe and under His shelter. As swami Ishwaranandaji says “when He is near , where is fear!”
Prarthna Saran, President New Delhi Chinmaya Mission