144 hours of youth

Go to the table of contents —by Cyril Aslan Skinazy Lire cette page en français

In 1905 Upton Sinclair published The Jungle. The novel that describes working conditions in the meat industry and horribly unsanitary conditions found there was a great hit, several million copies have been printed and the book has been translated into thirty-four languages. Six years after that the American writer released another book whose subject was no less revolutionary for its time. In The fasting cure Sinclair tells how he was won over by the fasting cure, his edifying success in health through food deprivation.

It all starts with a trek, riding wild horses to Mount Hamilton, California. The woman rides alongside him while blithely climbing the hills, telling her life story marked by illness and physical pain. She owes her current resplendent health to regular and absolute fasting.

The conversation between the writer and the experienced horse rider with a calm look on her face carried on under a fierce rainstorm. And while the horse riders were blown around and drenched in the storm for six hours, the woman admitted that she had not eaten for four days.

A successful writer who has often suffered weak health would find reason for hope in this striking example. An opportunity to try this miracle cure was also given to him by one of the leading lights seeking the secrets of health in the New World, the millionaire press baron Bernarr McFadden. Upton Sinclair was one of the first to learn the benefits of the fasting cure at the McFadden Sanatorium, and was so happy with his experience there that he adopted the place as a sanctuary of revelation, inspiring his manifesto.

“At first, I enjoyed an extraordinary sense of peace and calm, as if every nerve of my tired body was purring like a cat in front of a fireplace. Then came a much more intense intellectual activity, I read and I read, and wrote endlessly. And finally, a ravenous desire for physical work came over me. There were other times when I went out on long hikes, climbing mountains, but it was always reluctantly and a bit by compulsion. After the deep cleaning of fasting, I started going to the gym, doing exercises that previously would have literally broke my back, I did it with intense passion and with amazing results. My muscles started rising out from my body; I suddenly noticed I could become an athlete.”

In its long history, fasting as a therapy has had mixed fortunes. It was probably better regarded in antiquity to as compared to our era. It was even considered him an imperative necessity in ancient Egyptian and Pythagoras, during his trip to the land of the pharaohs, adopted and practiced fasting, as did Hippocrates. But in the nineteenth century in Europe and the Americas nutritional abstinence, far from being considered a way of maintaining and restoring health, became the subject of fierce debates among the proponents of allopathic medicine. The 40-day fast undertaken by Dr. Henry Tanner before a panoply of doctors who were either skeptical or downright hostile perfectly sums up the medical world’s resistance to this practice.

Thierry de Lestrade’s book, Fasting, a new therapy?, based on the documentary of the same name broadcast on the French TV channel Arte, demonstrates how indisputably effective fasting is through many studies carried out in countries subjugated by the dogma of the traditional scientific medicine. The most memorable of these studies are the cases of healing and rediscovered health conducted by Yuri Nikolaev in Russia on mental illnesses considered incurable, or those of Valter Longo at the University of Southern California, first with yeast then on mice. The biologist observed a remarkable improvement in the liveliness and life expectancy when subjects ate less, as well as a better ability to withstand chemical treatments of degenerative diseases.

A dazzling experience

It was a beautiful day in June when I went off to Aix-en-Provence. Laurent, tan, solidly built, with thick silver hair tied back in a ponytail picked me up at the station. Riding in his vintage Saab we headed off towards Bras d’Asse and the ice broke easily. I was wondering about the age and family profile of the participants in the fasting and hiking workshop that would last a week. “They are of all ages, from twenty on up” said our leader, “with as many couples as there are singles”. People often tell me they’ve decided to come after entering a period of questioning about their private or professional life”.

After driving along one last immense lavender field the sedan climbed a rocky path leading to some beautifully renovated buildings alongside some walls in need of similar renovations.

After settling in to one of the immaculate and comfortable rooms upstairs, I met my companions for the week around beverages of radical qualities: a full glass of water mixed with a generous dose of magnesium chloride which should at all costs be drunk all in one swig. As I am writing this, drinking the magnesium chloride water remains the cruelest memory of my week’s experience, much more than the food deprivation or long hikes in scorching heat.

Once I’d passed this test of fasting I went on to experience a most impressive inner adventure, as hygienic, philosophical, social and human as one can imagine. This fast lasting almost six full days was a quantum journey during which I could feel the regenerative effects in the very core of my cells and in my mind.

The “cleaning of my body”, out to the last nooks and crannies of my entrails is not an empty expression. Stride after stride in the mountain trails my body drew sustenance from each deep breath and from whatever unnecessary bodily elements, while powerful regenerative processes swung in to action. The balmy air of pine and wild grass flew about my lungs, clearing my mind and making time stand still. Though I sometimes felt I was about suffocate while hiking steep hillsides, I experienced these sensations as blessings because I was sure of the improved wellbeing I would enjoy after tasting the freshness of a cold mountain stream, or later the cool water in a swimming pool. Even vegetable soup, the subject of so many gastronomic jokes, would never dampen my good mood, nor that of my companions.

I must emphasize that the success that week’s experience owes as much to the director’s tried and true program, harmless to anyone in good health, as to the skill of our guides Sandrine and Laurent who are masters in combining firmness, flexibility, enthusiasm and humor.

The miraculous disappearance of pain in my joints, the rise in my physical and mental alertness, and the return of confidence in my abilities that followed that week of intense purification will in no way make me forget the happy and supportive atmosphere of an adventure that I would love to do again, and which I figure is an essential chapter in a healthy way of life.

Special thanks go out to my fellow travelers on the retreat for being such enjoyable company: Nicolas, Yaëlle, Ingrid, Gilbert, Catherine, Pascale, Sandra, Chantal and Olivier.

—by Cyril Aslan Skinazy

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