Also called an absolute fast or a complete fast, a dry fast is considered the most extreme type of fasting. Dry fasting is considerably more difficult and hazardous than other types of fasting. When dry fasting is performed, it is usually practiced for comparatively shorter periods compared to therapeutic fasting.
In religious and spiritual customs, dry fasting has been used in Hinduism, Jainism, Judaism, Islam, and Native American traditions. Furthermore, it remains a central feature in Judaism, Jainism, and Islam.
There are a number of accounts in the Bible documenting dry fasting. According to Acts 9:9, Paul went on a dry fast for three days following his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus: “For three days he was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank anything.” Esther also called for this type of fast: “Esther sent back to Mordecai the response: ‘Go and assemble all the Jews who are in Susa; fast on my behalf, all of you, not eating or drinking, day or night, for three days.’
Christian monastics advocated dry fasts in an attempt to quell bodily desires. The Brotherhood of the Cross and Star, a Christian movement founded in Nigeria in 1958, has traditionally practiced water-only fasting and dry fasting for 6 and 3 days respectively. Members of the Orthodox Church have historically undertaken a dry fast, beginning Saturday night and ending Sunday morning after communion. This is the same as an overnight fast that we all do every night.
Native Americans frequently dry fasted in numerous rituals and ceremonies, including the vision quest. Some Native American traditions called for dry fasting for 96 hours, ending with drinking 3 to 4 quarts of an herbal tea, followed by regurgitation, and time spent in a sweat lodge. The Sun Dance Ceremony and the Rite of Vigil involved a pledge by the participant to take no food or water over a three- or four-day period.
In traditional Chinese medicine, dry fasts have been practiced in an effort to influence chi (or qi), considered the energy of life. In qigong (also spelled chi gong and chi kung), dry fasting is used to increase chi and is often performed in conjunction with acupuncture and acupressure.