Fasting for 14 Days in Siberia

Here follows a report of my experiences so far at GORIYANSK, a former Soviet sanatorium that is slowly being renovated to accommodate guests with a bit of cash to spend on their health. This beautiful place is a three hour microbus ride from Ulan Ude, the capital city of Buriatia...and the resort is located in a very special place. Not only is the resort on the shores of Lake Baikal, but also there is a special hot spring, with a small creek that runs through the resort. People come here in the summer (free of charge) and wander around, then they soak their feet or bodies in this radon hot mineral spring water. People who come for cures, such as fasters like myself, also are urged to drink a liter of this water daily, along with mineral water. During your stay, your blood pressure is monitored daily, an a nurse comes by your room to check on you. You also must give an EKG in the middle of the fast, and toward the end of your fast, you give a blood and urine sample. The doctors and nurses are very attentive, and kind hearted.

There are several buildings that house the guests. Some are for Russian pensioners, who can stay here at low fees and even free of charge; some are ill with asthma, leukemia, cancer, or other serious diseases. Some are fasters. And some are just here for the beauty of place. Most of the guests purchase a package that includes their room and board: they are fed four times a day, breakfast, lunch, tea, and supper. These people share a room with one or two other guests, but private rooms are available. Couples can also share a room. Private rooms are available, and also rooms for simply a night or the weekend. Families with small children are welcome. There are a variety of dogs on the grounds, but people are not encouraged to bring pets.

The resort is 204 years old. It was a hot springs cure during the Russian Imperial Era; then a Soviet sanatorium, and now a state run spa/resort. It is not up to standard with European spas or American resorts, as it is a bit run down, but it is a unique and affordable place. (For example, my 14 nights and fifteen days, with all the procedures, room and board, was approximately 500USD). Since the fall of the USSR in the early 1990s, a few foreigners have come here; a handful of French, a German or two; I am their first American guest. A French film company also included this sanatorium in a recent film about the benefits of fasting three years ago. 

The room I am staying in is small, clean, and has two cot beds, with a rolling heater for additional heat. There is a TV with one channel, but down the hall is a common room filled with comfy old sofas and a TV with many channels. I have spent many hours in that room listening to Russian TV to improve my language skills. The guests are generally women who wish to lose weight, but some middle aged men men come too, and a few young, hip Russian girls have been here for short fasts of three to five days, saying they want “to improve skin tone.”

Until my 4th day of fasting I obeyed my doctor’s orders. I had no trouble abstaining from food. But since the second day my legs ached badly, with constant muscle spasms. This kept me from resting and sleeping at night. The doctor, a serious looking Buriat woman in her early 40s, sent me to the clinic to have a IV drip of something I still cannot translate. It did not help. The nurse then gave me some tablets to put under my tongue; it did not help. So on the fourth day, secretly, I took a vitamin and an aspirin, because I am convinced the pain is from a lack of potassium and magnesium...I tried to explain this to the doctor, but she said no vitamins. So, at 4PM on my fourth day of fasting I took my own vitamin and an aspirin -- and I had relief in a few minutes. Fasting here, with water only, is considered superior to fasting in other places where they give you broth or juices. But the consequences are muscle pains resulting from a lack of minerals and vitamins. “Taking juice or broth is dieting -- is not fasting,” said the doctor. (The pain in my legs continued during my fast, and I continued taking aspirin).

People can fast for 3 days, 7 days, or more. After their water fast is over, they are slowly put on a ‘food diet’ for the same amount of days they fast. For example, I am fasting for 7  days, and also have 7 days of first half a cup of fruit juice and later, tea...the last day offers a normal meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but totally salt free. The fasting is meant not just to help people lose weight but also to clean their insides. It is thought that fasting has beneficial effects on everything from herpes to cancer. I am fasting to cleanse my liver, which is in good condition but can use a ‘tune up’ because of my age, and because I have lived several years in China, which is extremely polluted and has chemicals in the food and water. I also want to lose weight, and the weight is melting off.

When you enter the spa, you register, and are given a receipt that tells you your room, as well as a small booklet that will detail your regime. I paid for my treatment in Ulan Ude; in the winter there is a 20% discount, and clients are few, so the service is less rushed and more personal, and there is greater flexibility when one totters on to various treatments. One lady, who takes care of the mud packs, told me that her salary in winter is only 7000 rubles a month, as compared to 18000 rubles in the three peak summer months. “At that time, in summer, you must be right on time, or you lose your place, we just go through the clients, bang, bang,’s better money but more hurried.”


The routine for fasters is as follows: First, every day at 8am, we wait to see the doctor, who asks us about our health, mental and physical. Then we are weighed and our blood pressure is checked. Everything goes into a booklet, which details all the procedures we are signed up for, as well as any optional treatment (special massages, leeches, aromatherapy, etc).

After having seen the doctor, we visit the nurse, who gives us a colonics treatment. Colonics is supposed to help the liver and spleen let go of bile, which is harmful to people of all ages. Those who wish may also sign up and pay for a more powerful colonics treatment, that uses more force to move the cleansing water through the intestines. This process is not really pleasant, but in the days I have been fasting here, I have seen for myself that bile does come out when you fast, as well as other kinds of toxins, that apparently have been living in my intestines for a very long time. One result, after six days, was the appearance of spots on my skin. The nurse said these spots will disappear in a few days, and she also noted that my skin was softer than before I started to fast. “The skin, like the liver, are large organs. When you clean the liver, you re also cleaning the skin.” The spots indeed did disappear when I broke my fast.

After the colonics, per my schedule, I go to hydromassage. This alternates every other day: the first day I simply sat for 20 minutes in a large tub filled with the special hot springs water. The following day, however, I sat in an even larger tub, filled with warm spring water, and a lady sprayed/massaged my legs, my arms, my spine, and my shoulders with a powerful hose. It can be slightly painful, and lasts about 20 minutes.

After this treatment, I dress and go upstairs for another massage. Each client has a personal masseuse. Mine was a Tatar woman named Danya with bright red hair and strong, adept hands, who told me that she has ben working here for 28 years. She massages my back and neck very day. These massages last 15 minutes. She digs deeply into the muscles, to get out toxins and uses massage creams her clients buy for her.

After this treatment, I may be tired, so I go to my room and rest. I lie down and try to relax and meditate.  Because I am fasting I find that I need these frequent little rests; in my daily life I rarely take time to lie down except to sleep. At night I have found it difficult to sleep. At twelve I go to a 15 minute fitness class. The exercises are very gentle adaptations of yoga and pilates. After I broke my fast I started using the workout machines to get a more vigorous workout.

After fitness class I have mud pack treatment. Russians, like Americans, love mud. The doctor said to either pack my feet or my shoulders, so this is alternated every day. I sit  with the mud for 20 minutes. The mud worker, Tanya, has told me that the mud is alive, and has micro elements that will cure anything. The mud here, like the water, is considered more “active and alive” than in other places on the earth. The mud is put in a plastic bag, after it has been heated and mixed in large tubs that resemble dough mixers. Tanya either follows the doctor’s orders as to where to place the mud, or asks her client where she wants mud today. I have had my feet wrapped in mud, my hands, my shoulders, and my spine. It’s pleasant to sit and feel the hot, gooey substance, and then it is nice to wash it off with warm spring water, using a primitive shower.

After mud pack I go to the sauna for fasters; it is small, very hot, and has a cold pool basin. Usually I am alone in the sauna. I have one hour to myself, it is a great pleasure. The sauna, of course, helps the pounds to melt off, but is also cleans out toxins. Every five or ten minutes I leave the sauna and plunge into the cold pool, then return to the sauna. This brings my heart rate up, and causes the blood to flow; it also makes me sweat out more toxins. There is also a Russian banya, which is similar to the sauna, but not as hot. It is cared for by a 77 year old granny named Lydia Grigorevna, who will often come into the banya and chat, and after you are getting ready to leave, she will invite you for tea.

By three pm I have finished my daily regime. If I want additional procedures - which ranges from manicures and facials to special massages or extended  colonics, I can pay at the registration office and add these things to my schedule. The grounds also host a Center for Eastern Medicine, that offers Tibetan cures, acupuncture, herbal remedies, and other things. Most of the procedures end, however, by four pm; so it is important to book efficiently. The doctor has highly recommended that fasters walk in pairs, 3-5 kilometers every day, but the first days I could not summon up the energy to walk anywhere. During days 5 and 6, I walked with my roommate along a snowy path to visit Lake Baikal. The grounds are magical, with pure white snow, birch trees, and little birds flitting about cheerily, and visiting this sacred lake is supposed to advance people in their cures. After breaking my fast I started walking all over the village, as well as walking to Lake Baikal.

The Grounds and Guests

Around the grounds, each building is numbered. Fasters live  separately from the others. The grounds host are a hair salon, a beauty salon, and on call medics 24 hours a day. There is also club room that hosts dances for the senior citizens, and a small museum/library. Most of the workers on the grounds are females; men only do handyman jobs. Most of the workers have been here for 20-30 years. There are a few young local girls, who do simple stuff, like sign guests in for procedures like the sauna, or spray you with water during hydomassage.

The grounds by hot springs at dawnMost clients are older and overweight, sick, or look sick. In Russia, women over 30 often turn into tanks. Some of them want to look and feel better. There are men who come here, too. They are trying to recover from a lifetime of heavy drinking and eating too much rich food. My roommate is a woman of 40 from Vladivostok. Victoria is overweight by 30-40 pounds, and she wants to lose the weight as fast as she can. She has been kind to me, tolerates my accent, and speaks to me pleasantly. Today she had the leeches treatment - an additional option. They put three leeches on her belly, to stimulate weight loss there; she also gets an additional stomach massage. There are huge bandages on her stomach from the leeches treatment. She told me that the enzymes from these creature help stimulate weight loss, and that it was not painful to have them placed on her body. She has also had optional electrodes attached to her stomach, to help shrink the stomach and tighten up any loose skin; she says that these procedures are well known in Russia and efficient.


When I entered the resort I was 61.55 kilos; on day two I was 59.35 kilos; on day 3 I was 59 kilos; on day 4 I was 58.05 kilos. On day 5; I was 57 kilos, and my liver let out much bile...I felt a bit lightheaded but pretty good, overall. On day 6 I was 56.95 kilos. After the second day my legs began to hurt, and I could not sleep. The doctor told me this was normal, but as the days passed, with the pain not abating, I secretly took an aspirin. This, in turn, activated my stomach, so I feel hunger, when I should not. It was only when I ingested the aspirin that the pain went away, but also the price I had to pay was the activation of hunger in my stomach, as well as in my head. The doctor said that people go through a crisis period on day 4 and 5; they either have physical or psychological (or both) pain. This must be resolved for the faster to continue more than a few days. I understood her words, but as the pain was keeping me from sleeping or even sitting, I could not bear it. My roommate, however has been very stoic and is going to fast with water for 10 days, she has not taken anything for her pains, which included severe headaches, and also pains in her legs. On day seven I was 56.30 kilos; and on day eight, my weight was 55.95 kilos.

Day eight was the start of my return to food. This first 24 hours, I was given 500 grams of compote, a kind of watery apricot juice. The doctor told me I should spoon the liquid into my mouth and savor each spoonful. The 500 grams were to be divided into four meals. I consumed this foodstuff, and strangely enough, I was not hungry after eating it. I thought I would be ravenous, and want to go buy myself a roast chicken. The other thing I have noticed on day eight is a slight return to energy. I went to the fitness hall and walked for thirty minutes, then rode the exercise bike for fifteen minutes. Afterwards, I was lightheaded, but the feeling passed. I must admit that I am looking forward to ‘real food,’ which starts tomorrow.

All the food here is salt free. After a person breaks a fast, the food portions are very small, very simple, and cooked: it is, in essence, baby food. The first two days after the juice I received small portions of oatmeal, mashed baked apple, and cooked carrots. The food was bland. Because my stomach had shrunk, the portions were adequate to stop any slowly returning hunger pangs, but as a grown adult, my brain craved something more tasty, more beautiful, and more varied. By day four I was given soups, with no salt, which I found unsatisfactory, along with cooked carrot cutlets. They were terrible. In the evening I had some kind of bitter tea with milk; this, along with home made kefir, gave me hope. Day four brought more soup, and beet salad; day five after breaking the fast I received a piece of salmon, with a slice of lemon: I felt I had entered the adult world. Food tasted much better, even without salt, after the third day.

The doctor explained that it was very important after leaving the resort to maintain good eating habits. Keep the portions small, with lowered salt and spices, and eat organic, fresh foods and proteins. The nurse also showed us a variety of films, to reinforce good eating habits; we watched, for example, the Russian version of Michael Moore’s Super Sized Me. We watched movies about nutrition and health. And the doctor also hosted intimate little chats, with all of us sitting together in the communal TV room. She talked about food and spirituality, about how food and water are alive, how they are connected to our emotions, how we psychologically use food for comfort. I found all of the movies and talks very insightful - none of the information was new to me, but at last I was prepared to really listen and absorb.

Unusual Occurrences

One thing that puzzled me was the fact that, after breaking my fast, I ate very little but still started to regain some of my weight back. “You are rebuilding cells in your body,” the doctor explained. “You need to add this weight, it won’t be much, because the fasting took away so many of the old cells. It’s a good thing.”

Another thing that puzzled me was the fact that two days after I fasted my body felt very different. “Your body has reversed the aging process by 5-10 years,” said the doctor. “This is why fasting with water only is so effective; it will not happen with juices or broth.” I am not sure what to think, but I can say I feel lighter in weight, in spirit, and I do, indeed, feel younger. I feel open to new things, to love, and to forgiveness. Things that seemed difficult and stressful seem now as smaller issues, things that will be dealt with and that will pass. I pray that this sensation continues. And oddly, it looks like the gray in my hair has stopped growing out.

One final thing: I had a rather supernatural experience a few days after I broke my fast. I felt he presence of my Finnish grandfather, a person I never met, for he died long before I was born. He greeted me, told me who he was, and said my heart would not give out as his did. He said that the creativity and spark of extra energy I have have had since I was a child is his gift to me. He said that I had to live through the harsh experiences generated by my mother and father; their karma, their negativity, was gone from my being now...I was clean, and free, and ready to start again, like a person reborn -- and I should make the best use of the time left to me to be creative and kind, to live a full, adventurous life. Then the sensation of my grandfather faded and was gone. This experience baffled me, even frightened me a little, but I sensed this force as benevolent and real -- and I hope to follow the advice given me to the end of my days. I do not think I would have had this experience without having done the fast. Therefore, in closing, I recommend water fasting under a doctor’s care to anyone who wishes not only to lose weight, but to those seeking another kind of emotional/spiritual path. It has been an excellent experience for me. 

by Valerie Sartor
2014-03-01 13:12:21


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