Reading week is always paved with good intentions, such as catching up on university work, hanging out with friends and getting enough sleep.
However, one Kingston student ditched her social life for a more spiritual experience, going on a meditation and fasting quest for a full seven days in order to get ready for her upcoming exams.
Second year environmental management student, Nina Grote, 25, pledged not to eat solid food for a week in a bid to cleanse her body and mind and get rid of the accumulated stress.
“I never imagined I’d spend reading week at home, drinking tea and meditating, while my friends were out drinking and having fun,” she says.
“Before this experience, I always felt like going out. On Wednesdays I was looking forward to Fridays.”
Nina’s diet for the week consisted of nothing but vegetable broths and herbal teas, and a few spoonfuls of honey per day. She spent long hours meditating in her room, which she claims helped her be productive and get rid of all the stress.
“I was feeling very stressed out because of my job and coursework and I got to a point where I could barely concentrate on anything. That’s when I knew I had to do something about it.”
Spiritual fasting is an extreme form of meditation as those who practice it believe that abstaining from food can help detox both the body and the mind, and also improve concentration.
“After this experience I feel like I’m more capable of dealing with stress,” says Nina.
“I did it during reading week because when you’re fasting you must respect your body. You can’t do everyday things such as going to University and concentrate during lectures.”
With a full-time job as a business development manager taking up most of her time, and very little time to focus on her coursework, Nina says that the level of stress had become unbearable. She used a combination of fasting and meditation as a tool to break the routine she had gotten into.
“Doing something as drastic as fasting for a week was like breaking a long chain of accumulated stress that I had not been able to deal with before. After the week, I felt like a new me.
“I hadn’t been so productive in a while in terms of studying, I also took on painting and now my kitchen has a nice picture of an avocado that reminds me of the challenge.”
The hardest part about fasting, Nina says, was finding alternative activities that would keep her “relaxed and focused”.
“After the first few days I realised I really missed the social side of food.
“I like having a chat with my housemates while we had dinner, so I would make a broth or a herbal tea just to enjoy the ritual.”
Nina first grew passionate about yoga after a spiritual trip to Thailand last summer. Soon after she got back to London, she joined a yoga class and then started to meditate.
ina says: “Yoga has helped me become more flexible, both physically and mentally.
“I’m not going to lie, spiritual fasting is hard and I would not recommend it to everybody.
“I consulted a nutritionist and a meditation instructor beforehand. I knew what I was doing.”
Katie Moncaster has been teaching yoga and meditation for 12 years, and tried spiritual fasting a few times before she gave birth to her first child.
She says: “Spiritual fasting can have great benefits, however I wouldn’t recommend it to most of my meditation students as it is not something that everybody can do. It must be part
of a journey.
“Fasting can be very dangerous, as many people see fasting and cleansing as an easy way to lose weight. It’s actually the opposite – after fasting you are likely to gain weight more easily.”
Nina lost almost eight pounds after her week of fasting, but put on the weight straight after she started eating normally again.
Katie recommends meditation alone to students who are going through stressful times as a way to become more flexible and learn to cope with stress.
She says: “Meditation itself is a positive activity for people with very stressful lives, so it’s definitely a good things for students and young people who are going through turbulent times.
“Meditation is about dropping your ego. It’s getting to know yourself and your body, getting to know your limits and accepting yourself for who you are.”
Nina says the experience helped her appreciate a stress-free life. However, she is not planning to do any more fasting anytime soon.
“I’m definitely not going back to the old me. I still like going out, but not things like going to the pub straight after a lecture, or getting drunk on cheap
jagerbombs like I used to.
“When I go out now I’d rather go for a nice meal.”