Many of you will have come across mindful eating on yoga retreats or mindfulness courses - probably based on the John Kabat-Zinn raisin exercise. It often reveals our deep emotional connections with food – from memories of mum's christmas cake to 'I wish the teacher would just shut up and let me eat it!' (depending on what the edible object is/ how we are feeling). But it can also be terrifying, baffling etc.
It is one thing to eat consciously with soothing guidance in a relaxed environment (as it is to breath beautifully into parasympathetic resonance on our yoga mats) but how do we apply these learnings on the wider scale, to benefiting our everyday lives?
In our recent 8 week course tailoring yoga towards recovery from disordered eating, we set a home practise: to take one mindful bite of each meal, or conscious sip of one drink, once per day. So I'm following it myself for a week. The task is to slowly explore with the senses: smelling, touching, watching, listening to and finally tasting. But not just like v dislike ('yep that piece of toast smells good' as we shovel it in); really observing how the smell fades and develops; feeling around the different textures, noticing the temperature; putting an ear to the crackling of muesli... and so on.
For most of us not every meal can be this slow and mindful. There are situations where we would feel extremely odd gazing intently at our dinner. Say dinner with our new work colleagues for example!
But can the scheduled practise seep into the day to day, so that every meal becomes a little bit more conscious? From the two extremes we can move towards balance and integration - this is what yoga is all about right?
On day one its more like my third sip of morning tea which is at all mindful. The first thing I notice, before even the smells, texture etc is berating myself for forgetting! High expectations and judgement can be a pattern itself (it probably already is a pattern in many areas - playing out on the plate or the yoga mat). The exercise isn't about being perfect – in this case perfectly mindful all the time, just a little more conscious.
Day two I choose my morning yoga snack, a couple of dates and nuts. I think about how sugary dates are as well as how amazing they are to squish and realise that I wake up looking forward to this sugar in the morning when its particularly cold on the boat. And that I don't judge myself for this, whereas in the past I would have felt bad about admitting to having sugar cravings. I feel pleased with myself for this step... then judge myself for my lack of equanimity!
Day three I start to notice my posture as I eat, it seems quite protective and cramped – I would never sit for yoga practise this way. I examine all the textures of my bircher muesli and banana, just as it is. I am also aware of how much easier it is for me to be mindful with cold foods/drinks than hot ones, which I cant bear to go cold – interesting!
Day four I am trying out dinner and I realise I'm thinking about an intelligent thing to write about the experience. I laugh at myself for being unconscious in a whole new way.
Day five, you may be getting bored now, but I am curious about how different meals or foods are more emotive and difficult. Sometimes we bolt our lunch because we just have to eat in a hurry or because the pace of our lives has us habitually rushing. And to judge ourselves for that can be counter productive. But at other times are we rushing as we subconsciously know that if we did slow down we would go through a less elaborate version of conscious eating – and realise that what we are eating isn't the best thing for our health right now?
Day six, I'm eating with family and thinking about how hard it is to be both attentive to conversation and keep my senses on the plate. Of course eating together can be joyful, as it is in this case, but there can also be lots of triggers and challenges to staying conscious with food, perhaps versus using food to escape or deal with am emotional situation.
Last day, dinner, I make a legendary raw salad of red cabbage, carrot, tahini, olive oil, sunflower seeds and goji berries. I realise that what I'm doing is shifting things around in my routine for the opportunity to eat consciously...as opposed to fitting in eating/the practise when I can. I pause after shutting my laptop down before going to the kitchen. Switch the engine off and pause before serving up.
If you are interested in how yoga can help with disordered eating please contact us about the next 8 week course. Om shanti