Mindfulness is a popular topic around the globe right now, gaining more attention and scientific recognition as each year passes. We see measurable physiological effects on the body; the nervous, endocrine and circulatory systems; neurological responses and benefits - the feeling of peaceful, calm alertness and expansiveness.
There’s no question that as mindfulness is implemented and studied further over the next decade, we will really begin to see the far-reaching benefits of this simple practice. Who doesn’t want more joy, presence and connectedness in their life
As all this great data emerges I'm inspired to talk about the effects of applying mindfulness to the act of eating. Studies already exist demonstrating promise for the use of mindfulness in the treatment, and management of eating disorders.
MINDFULNESS AT THE FORK
With that in mind, let's look at the ways everyone can benefit from bringing mindfulness to the dinner table. There are a few levels to this, including a number of interesting applications of conscious eating. Let's start with talking about the practice of mindful eating, as it relates to observing how we eat our food.
How Do I Do It?
We start this process by taking a third person view on how we feel; our thought patterns and emotional state, as we first sit with our meal. We want to take a moment to bring awareness to the body through the breath:
As you breathe in through your nose, feel the air expand in your lungs; as your lungs fill, notice the ever so tiny moment of pause, before the exhalation begins. There is something special in this stillness. Feel the sensations of your body as your breathe in and out. Notice how your skin feels, take a moment to sit with this. Do a quick scan of your body from head to toe; release any tension you may find, breathe into it, and release.
This doesn’t need to be a long process, keep it short and simple; this acts as an easy way of checking in, and getting into your body (and out of your head) before you eat. The more we bring our consciousness into the present, the better our food tastes!
As we begin to eat our meal, we can start to use mindfulness to assist our body in digesting. As you bring focus to your body, your breath and the physical sensations you feel right now. Taste the first mouthful with full consciousness; focus on the taste, the texture, the aroma. If thoughts come into your head, as they will, let them go and gently bring your focus back to the present. The idea is to experience your food with as much awareness as possible; be gentle, if you run away with thoughts, just softly bring yourself back and continue.
What Are The Perks?
As you practice this you'll notice that the sensations are amplified; the taste is stronger, the flavors are richer and more detailed. By bringing yourself into your body and into the present moment while you eat, you are experiencing your food without the noise of the mind dulling these sensations.
One of the benefits of this is that you will chew longer, digestion starts in the mouth remember. This oral digestive process works in a few different ways, which are quite interesting!
As we chew, the brain is stimulated, and messages are sent to the digestive system, which responds by starting to prepare itself for the food. Saliva is generated helping to relax your pylorus (connects the stomach and small intestine); this is integral to allowing your digestive system to flow smoothly. Relaxing your pylorus enables food to make its way from the stomach into your small intestine, without any hold ups. Your saliva also contains enzymes that contribute and assist in the digestive process; lingual lipase breaks down short chain saturated fatty acids, assisting in their digestion. While alpha-amylase begins the process of starch digestion.
Finally, the process of chewing and breaking down food allows more surface area for the enzymes to work on; helping to make the nutrients available to your body sooner.
Another great benefit to mindful eating, and the subsequent changes in the way you eat is that you will avoid over-eating. You’ll feel full quicker, as you are allowing your digestive system to register how adequately it is nourished, and communicate this message back to the brain. Rather than having a truckload of food dumped in it, over a very short period of time; leaving the poor digestive system to go into overdrive, requiring all hands on deck to cope with the stress.
I think we’ve all experienced that feeling before..
Most of us are so focused on the next fork full, that we don't experience the mouthful we have right now. This often continues throughout the meal until we finish; where we find the food is gone, and we can't recall much of the experience at all. We missed it! This is just one application of mindful eating and the immediate benefits it can provide. There are more, that I look forward to covering soon!
Until then be well!