Mindfulness is about more than meditation. If you already meditate you will know its benefits (and its challenges).
One powerful way to practice mindfulness is to eat mindfully. “Food reveals our connection with the earth. Each bite contains the life of the sun and the earth .... we can see and taste the whole universe in a piece of bread! Contemplating our food for a few seconds before eating, and eating in mindfulness can, bring us much happiness”- Thich Nhat Hahn.
Mindful eating can change our lives on so many levels. Many of my students come to me with digestive problems such as peptic ulcers and IBS, which are ailments known to be related to stress. Anxiety, stress and depression all affect the digestive process through unhelpful engagement of the sympathetic nervous system - the ‘fight or flight’ response. The parasympathetic nervous system - ‘rest and digest’ - is unable to work effectively when we are in overwhelm. We can underestimate the impact this can have on our long term health. By bringing mindful eating into our practice we can slowly begin to address these issues in a healthy way. Slowly slowly, and without judgement.
Many of us have complicated relationships with food. I certainly did before I discovered mindfulness and I still have to watch myself when I’m feeling low, tired or vulnerable. Years of negative thought patterns around body image and self-worth had developed deep-rooted unhealthy self-talk, resulting in a chronic eating disorder and shame and blame.
When I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia I started to look at alternative ways to cure the condition and became rather obsessive with my diet, cutting out many food types and adding yet another impossible goal to my already long list. I didn’t realise how much I was stuck in striving.
I am very proud that I have taken such care to heal myself through diet, exercise and making wise choices in my life but what has helped more than anything is slowing down and savouring my food. My intense love affair with Morocco, and especially the amazing food, has enriched my relationship with nourishing my body and helped to take out the blame and shame around eating. The flavours, colours and smells are a meditation of the senses in themselves.
The mindful raisin exercise in the 8 week MBSR course is a perfect reminder to guide us through mindful eating. This guided eating meditation helps us to see the raisin with a new perspective - a beginner’s mind.How often do we tell ourselves we don’t like a certain food or make an unhelpful judgment on what we are about to eat?
By bringing a beginner’s mind to the process of tasting our food, being truly present in the moment as we look at our food with new eyes, noticing the colours, flavours, textures and smells, before we have even taken that first delicious bite, can remind us to really enjoy the food we eat. It can help us to make wiser choices too. How often do we grab food and eat on the run perhaps skipping a lunch break and perhaps creating indigestion in the process?! We often don’t even notice what we have eaten.
On my retreat day in Hampshire I invite the participants to eat in silence for ten minutes. The lunch I prepare is a Moroccan feast and a visual treat. People tell me that it changes their relationship with food and eating dramatically, helping them to reduce stress around meal times with family members. One man says it had a profound effect on his family meal times which previously had been a source of anxiety and stress.
On my Moroccan mindfulness retreat in Essaouira, food is a source of fun and a celebration of the vibrant culture. Fresh and local produce is the norm. Healthy eating is inexpensive and easy.
One excursion includes a visit to the wonderful La Fromargerie an organic goats cheese farm, where we have been known to stay for hours enjoying the different dishes and setting in the glorious countryside. One group member described the experience as a food orgasm!
In essence, food is there to serve and nourish us in so many ways and mindful eating can become part of our everyday practice if we choose, adding to the many ways mindfulness can enrich our everyday lives.I invite you to join me in Hampshire or Morocco to experience that food orgasm for yourself!