I spent the last 5 days in complete silence at a meditation retreat in North Fork, Ca. Yup, complete silence for the entire time which means no eye contact, no gestures, no touching, and definitely no talking to anyone else there. It’s sounds painful but after about a day of twitching out from no FB and email access, the body reconnects with its primal instinct and the natural surroundings. I had a great time, just me, myself, and my monkey mind. The purpose of the retreat is to become more aware and to see things as they are, or simply put, to be in the moment. As simple as it sounds, the web wired world we live in makes mindfulness a difficult feat. One way we tend to complicate our lives is with the lack of being in the moment. We can all recall times where we have gone through a day of multi-tasking and no memory of what exactly we did, or scarfing down a meal and then trying to think about what was consumed or how it tasted. Sometimes it’s OK to not be completely mindful, like knowing where the chair is as you are reading this, but other times, like having your shoulders scrunched up by your ears as your reading this, can lead to problems. Back to the retreat, I spent 10 hours a day trying to sit still and observe my breath and I spent 2 hours a day observing my food.
The meals in silence got me reflecting on food and our relationship with food. It’s been on mind for a while now, with the growing wellness industry and innumerable nutritionists and coaches and blogs out there on food, the focus has been on WHAT to eat. But I wondered is there more to eating than just the TYPE of food? Granted the “what” is a big party of a healthy lifestyle but what about the other questions? To get the whole picture a good investigator applies the “five W’s and one H” concept, the “who, what, where, when, why, and how”. All of these play a role in a “healthy” vs. “unhealthy” meal. I find it ironic that many healthy nuts will avoid “fast food” yet they will eat fast?! Every part of our dining experience contributes to the health factor of that meal because your surroundings have a direct impact on your nervous system which then affects your digestive system and really good healthy food which is poorly digested is no longer healthy.
Not having anyone to talk to and without the social pressures of forced fake conversation with the stranger across the table; I had a chance to give my meal my undivided attention. I ate slow, chewed every bite 20 times (yup, I counted) and engaged each of my 5 senses. Looking at my plate and mindfully created a bite, tasting the flavors, feeling the textures, smelling the spices, and hearing the primal chomp chomp. Every bite was amazing and although I had free reign to attack the buffet line, I knew exactly when I was comfortably full and made the mindful decision to stop eating at that time. The whole experience was about 40 minutes! 40 minutes of me eating my meal in pure silence with no distractions, I can’t remember the last time I had done something like that, can you? I get that we all have busy lives and don’t live in silence day in and day out. We are constantly in motion but developing awareness around when, why, where, with who and how we are eating can optimize the “what” that we are eating. Be your own investigator and experiment with a mindful meal, eat in silence and observe how you feel before, during, and after the meal.
Being mindful takes practice, just like you go to the gym to practice a pull up or a squat clean or add one more mile to your marathon training so to you have to exercise the mindful muscle. You’re probably wondering 1. Where is that muscle? and 2. How the heck to exercise it?! Here are 5 ways to work out the mindful muscle.
- Keep a diary of your thoughts and feelings. Doesn’t need to be long but focus on answering the “five W’s and one H”.
- Notice… take a deep breath; notice five things you can see. Notice five things you can hear; notice five things you can feel (shoes, pants, hair against forehead etc.)
- Practice a 2 minute meditation, regularly. Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit. Preferably someplace you won’t be disturbed. Close your eyes. While seated, place your feet flat on the ground. Relax your shoulders. Let them drop. Relax your jaw. Unclench your teeth. Slowly drop your chin toward your chest. Take a few natural breaths. It takes a few breaths to calm the body down so be patient. Then take your attention to the tip of the nose, hold the attention there, and take 10 long deep breaths (inhale and exhale=1 breath), if the mind wanders bring it back to tip of the nose. This practice, done regularly, will help you filter out distractions, stop the mind chatter, and get you calm and centered.
- Let out 3 deep sighs or deep breaths before and after a meeting, meal, car ride, phone call, etc. The sigh will automatically release any tension that you created from the activity and make you more present to the activity ahead.
- When you’re annoyed at waiting for a stopping sign, or anything else for that matter, just SMILE (Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Buddhism)
Eat your next meal mindfully and post to comments the “What, why, when, where, and how’s” you experienced!
Nourish Me – Mindful Eating Workshop
In this 4 part series, you will develop your awareness of how you eat, what you eat, when you eat and why you eat. Through body movement, mindful meditation, and nutrition education we will begin to unravel our eating patterns and make mindful choices. We will learn techniques to develop mindfulness and apply it to our daily nutrition lifestyle.
Series starts Thursday January 5th. Space is limited. Register here.