Eating Mindfully Can Change Your Life (and Change the World)
By Alison Shore Gaines
Early spring is a natural time to practice mindfulness. The air smells fresh and sweet. Green sprouts peek through patchy snow. Bird songs lift us out of cabin fever as we come alive to our senses.
What exactly does being mindful mean? One aspect of mindfulness is savoring what we see, hear, taste, smell, and feel in the moment, like the proverbial reminder to stop and smell the roses. Another important aspect of mindfulness is observing ourselves—our thoughts, emotions, motivations, and actions—and the world around us with a sense of curiosity and kindness.
When we practice mindfulness we temporarily set aside the train of thought that drives us around and often drives us crazy. We take a few deep breaths, relax the body, and shift into a sense of Being rather than Doing. We become absorbed in other dimensions of intelligence—spatial, kinesthetic, intuitive, and so on. In this relaxed and open state, often we experience a shift in perception or we gain a new insight. New and deeper understanding leads to new choices, behaviors and habits. Voilà: change! Small increments of insight lead to profound change over time.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness. Sitting on a meditation pillow, doing yoga, watching nature, gardening, mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, taking a shower, walking, playing an instrument and listening to music are all activities in which we can fully experience the sensations of the moment. It is this state of being without the chatter of thoughts that gives us insight, moments of peace, and occasionally a wondrous sense of bliss.
There is growing awareness these days of the power of eating mindfully. We take a few breaths before downing food. We relax tense muscles and churning thoughts. We give ourselves a moment to digest our stresses instead of eating them.
When we chew thoroughly and fully savor the taste and texture of each bite, we don’t need second helpings or rich desserts to enhance the pleasure. By chewing well we digest better, easing indigestion, acid reflux, and bloating. With better digestion we absorb more nutrients, improving our health. It takes the brain about 20 minutes to record what has been eaten, so we usually eat less because all that chewing and breathing takes time.
Now, if we wait till we have just an edge of hunger before we eat (not getting ravenous, however, which can cause bingeing), food tastes so much better. We have a clear sense when we go from feeling hungry to feeling fed. We know the moment when we have had enough. We could actually feel more satisfied with less food!
Practicing mindfulness continues to deepen our understanding of ourselves and our world, gives us moments of inner peace, and begins to permeate every aspect of life. Perhaps we can bring about a peaceful world, one breath, one morsel, one kind thought at a time. It’s a good thought for Spring and new beginnings.
Set aside 20 minutes or so for a quiet meal. Clear the table of newspapers, bills, gloves, and so on, and sit down with your food. What a concept!
Close your eyes, take three to five deep breaths, consciously relax tensions in your face, shoulders, hands. Notice your thoughts and emotions. Don’t process them now, just consciously set each issue aside to deal with later.
Behold your meal for a moment. Take in colors, textures, aromas. Your enjoyment level goes up before you take the first bite. As you begin to eat, chew each mouthful thoroughly. Count 20 or 30 bites (this part doesn’t work with ice cream . . .).
Put the utensil down between bites. Savor texture and taste.
Keep breathing deeply and evenly. You can even breathe while you chew, just do so carefully. Deep breathing increases your oxygen, which calms the nervous system, aids digestion, and enhances absorption of nutrients. Every meal
is an opportunity to enjoy a sensual, nurturing meditation.
When you finish, take a few minutes to feel the sensations of your meal in your belly. So often we eat without fully enjoying or receiving. Sometimes we live that way too.