Mindful Living, Mindful Eating

Meditating with candlesWhat is mindfulness? What does it mean to be mindful? We’ve been hearing these terms being thrown around a lot lately, yet the concept of Mindfulness and Mindful Eating are actually not new at all. In a world where eating has become so troubled and where so many people struggle to find a better way, Mindfulness is coming more and more into the forefront. The word mindfulness simply means waking up…something that we do automatically. We wake up every day, each morning after we sleep. We wake up and start our day and move forward. Unfortunately, as we do, we start to fall asleep again without even realizing it. This sleep I’m referring to is our robotic and systematic thinking that pushes us throughout our day, doing, accomplishing, making things happen in our lives. For all intents and purposes we appear fully awake and yet as our mind and thoughts move us along, the most important part of us, the part of who we truly are in our entirety, is sleeping. Mindfulness is simply the process of waking up and reuniting with who we are. There have been many words and concepts used to describe Mindfulness: awareness, presence, being at peace, etc. All of these words simply mean that we are focused on the moment where we are now and not in the future or the past. In this space of being present here and now, we can find balance, serenity, and a word I love to use, “okayness”.

Having more mindfulness in our lives is something we can achieve if we put some attention to it, little by little each day. There are many ways we can experience more mindfulness, but it isn’t something to be worked at, rather something to be allowed back in. It’s actually our true nature to be mindful and yet, it’s so tricky for us. When we were children, we were mostly mindful. We were in the moment, present with all life. We were mindfully playing, eating, or daydreaming. Then we were taught to focus on learning and doing, and the more we “grew” into useful human beings, we moved away from that innate state of mindfulness.

Our thoughts, our knowledge, our learned abilities and talents, although useful in so many ways, have distanced us from those childhood days of just being in the moment and experiencing life in a mindful way. The good news is that we can get back there whenever we want.

So, how do we do that? Bringing mindfulness into our lives can be done with small, easy steps. We can start by first catching those thoughts that are pulling us away from feeling peaceful. Those thoughts are what take us out of the present moment. The truth is, our fears, doubts, and anxieties are products of the past or the future. Focusing on the present helps take all of that away.  Awareness is the first step always. It allows us to “wake up” and find the now.  Then, we can guide ourselves into a better space without all those thoughts swirling around us. Maybe we pick some moments to take a nice walk or to simply sit in nature and look at a beautiful flower or the leaves of a tree. Maybe we close our eyes and breathe in the breath of sweet air that is laden with the scent of flowers or freshly cut grass.  Maybe we meditate and little by little, let our minds become still so that we can feel the quiet presence within. Most importantly, we realize that we can’t think our way through to mindfulness. We must feel our way there.

It would be so nice if we could be like the Yogi’s or the Tibetan monks and focus our entire lives on meditation; on being quiet and at peace. There are many cultures that understand and cultivate this aspect of their lives and they honor this important part of their humanity. There are cultures that have rituals in order to put emphasis on simple tasks like bathing or eating. I remember when I was in Tokyo and visited an Onsen, which is a bath house with mineral springs. They are very popular there. The women and men are separated. I noticed that the women and their children took great care in slowly bathing themselves. They sat on wooden stools near the water and spent a long time using a sponge to clean themselves underneath the flowing water. It was a lovely ritual that perhaps brings them a sense of peace and connectedness. It’s a perfect example of mindfulness.

We live in a society that puts emphasis and praise on how quickly we get things done. How many tasks can we complete in a days’ time and get those things checked off of our to do lists? We’re driven to multi task and spread ourselves thin. It’s just the way life is for us. Yet, it’s why we are so “off”.  It’s that daily disconnect from our place of serenity and well-being that causes our illnesses, our anger, our unhappiness, our discontent. It’s what causes us to turn away from ourselves and not focus on what we really need.

Of course, we could run off and live with the Monks or on an ashram somewhere, but it’s not necessary. We can begin our own practice of living a better life, rich with mindfulness. The good news is that we can do it right now. We can take small moments to just breath and let go. Gathering simple tools like meditation, yoga, short walk outside are ways we can lead a more mindful life. Sometimes I just simply need to stop and ask myself, “What is it I am doing right now? Then I just focus fully and completely on that task without worrying about anything else.

Mindfulness can be applied to all aspects of our life in order to keep us happier, healthier and more balanced. Mindful eating is another very important part of this. Next Month’s article will be Part 2 and we’ll explore the world of Mindful eating! For now, stop and smell the roses whenever you can!

Mindful eating is another very important part of our journey towards a more Mindful and balanced life. We spend too little time really experiencing our food. We shove it in and we run. Or we sit with friends, drinking and eating and not paying attention. Worse, we eat standing, walking, in the car or in front of the television. No wonder we find ourselves still hungry or still searching for something to satisfy us.

Mindful eating is a beautiful gift that you can give to yourself. The benefits are great. They’re more than worth the small effort it takes. We’re well aware that taking time to really experience our food on all levels brings a great satisfaction to our eating. Yet, there’s so much more to be realized in this process. When you sit and use all of your senses….your sight, your smell, your feeling and of course, your taste, eating becomes a beautiful ritual. You’re giving yourself a loving and nurturing way to feed yourself, body, mind and spirit. You feel more satiated. You feel fuller and more satisfied on all levels. As humans we must eat. It’s a life giving action for us. Through mindful eating, we can offer ourselves the utmost of love and care through this process. It can be simple, but sacred. It doesn’t have to take much more time, but the time it takes is more focused and enjoyable. Mindful eating is the key to a healthy gut, a healthy weight and to a loving and healthy relationship with food. Your body will respond in a positive way when it feels that connection to mindful eating. No longer will food be the enemy. No longer will food be needed to fill an emotional void or to numb or soothe us from feelings we don’t want to feel. Mindful eating and mindful living go hand in hand and together help us get on our path to a holistic and balanced life.

Mindful eating can make a positive impact not only on the lives of over- eaters, but for under eaters as well. When you start to have a mindful pattern of eating, your relationship with food changes and so does your relationship with yourself and with others. Not only can the direct experience bring more pleasure, but it also brings more calm and serenity to your meal and to the rest of your day.

Here are some steps you can take to practice Mindful eating:

  1. It begins with the preparation. Select the foods you want to prepare with thoughts about abundance. We’re fortunate to live in a society that offers us endless choices for healthy food alternatives. Choose a nice balance that incorporates the three macro nutrients: protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. Wash and dry your fruits and vegetables with care.
  2. Refrain from eating as you are preparing. You’ll be apt to eat more if you start before you are even ready to sit down. Cut everything into small pieces. Look forward to sitting down and enjoying your meal with some anticipation. Feel the connection between your efforts of gathering together your meal and the fact that you are lovingly taking care of yourself in this way.
  3. Sit down in a place that you can be comfortable and not distracted. If you are alone, try to really focus on your meal without reading or watching television. It’s a nice way of just being with yourself and your meal. If you are with others, you can still fully enjoy your food in between the ongoing conversation.
  4. Pause and take some breaths before you eat. Take a moment to consider that the simple act of feeding yourself is one of nurturing and kindness. Imagine the food as great fuel, as energy and healing for your body. It’s providing each and every cell with life giving force. Nature has a direct effect on our food from the soil, to the sun, the wind and the rain. Many people on the earth have contributed to your food from those that plant and grow it, those that pick it, to those that package and sell it to me. Your own energy and love is infused in the food as well.
  5. Glance down at your plate and notice the array of colors and shapes on your plate. Smell the aromas and take it all in.
  6. It’s all about the fork or spoon. Take small amounts on the end of your fork and place them on the forward part of your tongue. Let the textures be noticed on the tip of your tongue and as you bite into the food, feel what it does inside your mouth. I now eat blueberries, one at a time, speared onto a tine of my fork rather than shoving a handful into my mouth. I can feel the skin burst open and taste the juice.
  7. Eating slowly and deliberately and tasting your way through your meal is quite an experience. It’s luxurious to savor the whole process.
  8. You’ll definitely start feeling the fullness take over. As you eat mindfully, choosing foods that are natural and without additives, you’ll really start to appreciate not only the simple yet delicious flavors of the food, you’ll feel good that you’ve made choices to give your body the fuel it needs to go forward satiated and energized.
  9. Practice being mindful AFTER your meal as well. Reflect on how good you feel…how satisfied….how your body has now received the proper fuel it needs to function and do all that you want it to do. Remind yourself that it was exactly what you needed…it was enough. I recently added this to my mindful eating because it really makes a difference.

 

As I think about the loving act of kindness that I am giving to myself and to those I love, I also think about the choices I’ve made to be more conscious of the earth. How and what we eat has an impact on the planet, not just on ourselves. Food consumption has taken a great toll on our Earth. Our need to over consume, to waste food, and to eat mindlessly has left scars. When we think about eating less, not wasting food, and choosing to eat more plant based foods and less meat, we become part of the solution and are contributing to the greater good.

Sometimes it’s easier than others for me to slow down and do this practice of mindful eating. I just have days when I’m hurried and it’s hard to focus. Like everything else, I’m incorporating these new tools on my journey to more peace and balance. It’s an important part of a balanced life and I know it will give me great benefits. It’s a practice. So, that’s what I intend to keep doing…practicing. It’s worth the focus and the attention. I plan on more of it.

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