By Mia Park
The holiday season is upon us, which means that many celebratory meals await consumption. Many of us have strong associations with eating that are challenged or indulged in reaction to the cultural and emotional pressures that arise during holidays. A common reaction to holiday eating is cultivating guilt, which can ruin our experience of eating and disturb digestion. Perhaps the most powerful tool to keeping our minds and bodies balanced this time of year is to mindfully prepare and eat our meals.
Yoga and Ayurveda offer techniques to be mindful while preparing and consuming food. Ayurveda is the ancient science of self-care from India and is the sister science to Yoga. Scott Blossom, a California based Traditional Chinese Medical practitioner and Ayurvedic consultant masterfully reviews the sciences of Ayurveda and Yoga in his FREE e-course on Pranamaya.com
To cook meals mindfully, consider that what you’re preparing was grown with great intention. Every plant and animal develops from cells that contain the DNA to become what it was intended to be. An eggplant comes from an eggplant seed and a cow comes from the egg and sperm of cows. This miracle of nature is a wondrous concept to ponder as you prepare your food. Your food has followed its dharma, or life purpose, to become what it was meant to be. This is an incredible miracle. Cultivate gratitude for your food and give thanks for being able to choose what you are cooking.
As you prepare the food, pay attention to it. Chicago based teacher and author of cooking with a yoga view Claire Mark says, “It’s easy to go on auto pilot and in your mind be somewhere else [when you are cooking]. If instead you are focused on the smells, the sights, and the way the food looks and feels as you prepare it, you are literally infusing it with more attention and love and consciousness.”
James Tennant,co-owner of Tejas Yoga in Chicago echoes this advice, saying, “One should enjoy the experience. If cooking is typically a stressful activity for you, ask why. Is there a particular aspect you get frustrated with or stressed out about? Is there something you can do to make cooking more relaxing? Perhaps ask someone to help you, make a list and be better prepared, or maybe get over the idea that everything has to be “perfect.” If you are stressed, that energy goes into the preparation of the food. Focus on the creative component of cooking. Pour the love you have for the people you are cooking for into the process. Smell and taste the foods as you prepare them. Foods have all sorts of amazing textures, scents, and intricacies. Immerse your senses.”
From an Ayurvedic standpoint, cooked food in season is best, right now. “Eat seasonally,” advises Jim Kulackoski,an Ayurvedic practitioner and head of the Darshan Center in Chicago.“The foods available at this time are more dense and help the body build its tissues in preparation for the winter months.” Just as raw foods, such as salads, are more cleansing, cooling, and appropriate for the summer months, cooked foods, such as acorn squash, are more nourishing during the fall and winter when your body should feel strong and robust, says Jim.
James agrees, advising that, “In general, for autumn and winter, favor warm, heavy, moist foods to balance the cool, light, and dry qualities of the season. Think stews, pot pies and hearty soups. Nourishing foods with heating spices such as black pepper, cumin, fennel, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, and turmeric will stimulate the metabolism and promote the digestion of heavier foods, which we naturally favor during these months.” In addition, Jim suggests that ginger also increases circulation of blood and prana (life force), which can be low due to decreased activity and cold weather. Cinnamon helps to warm the body, while nourishing the kidney system, which is most active during the winter season. Nutmeg and garlic are grounding, helping to calm Vata dosha which can become unbalanced in the fall and winter. (Vata is an energy associated with qualities of the wind such as lightness, dryness, and mobility.)
If you are comfortable chanting or praying, consider chanting as you cook. The Mahamrityunjaya mantra, also known as the Triyambakam mantra, is a healing sound that can soothe you as you cook and offer nurturing vibration to the food. In addition, Jim, who likes to cook in a positive mental space, chants the Shanti-Path (also known as the Peace chant) from the Katha Upanishad, which he says promotes prosperity and togetherness.
When you are ready to eat, create physical and mental space for yourself. Avoid eating quickly or on the run. Before you eat, reflect again on the source of the food and the consideration that went into preparing it. Cultivate gratitude for the opportunity to nourish yourself with this meal, especially if you are sharing it with loved ones during the holidays. Jim says, “Almost every culture celebrates the shorter and colder days of winter with holidays that remind us of our togetherness, strength in community, family and bounty. I recommend enjoying these times by participating in celebrations with family and friends enjoying the cooking, eating, and sharing of foods you love.”
Chanting or sharing a prayer or blessing with yourself or with others before you eat can help to calm yourself to better enjoy the meal. Chanting “Aum” is a simple way to participate in this pre-meal gesture. Aum is said to be the root of the word “amen,” which often concludes “saying grace.”
As you eat, minimize multitasking to improve the eating experience and digestion. Challenge yourself to eat a meal by yourself without distraction. Focus solely on the food on the plate and the drink in the cup. Appreciate that the purpose of this food is to nourish you. Eat slowly, chew slowly, taste slowly. Be aware of what you’re experiencing without judgment. Mindful eating takes practice.
James suggests, “A good place to start with mindful eating, especially around the holidays is this: before putting something in your mouth or filling up your plate, get into the habit of asking yourself, ‘Am I hungry?’ Most of us eat unconsciously because there are snacks on the table or because everybody else is eating. This simple device will heighten your sensitivity to how your body is feeling in the moment. Being mindful of our emotional state while eating is imperative. Observe without criticism. Are you eating because you are anxious, depressed, bored?”
Mindful eating can change your perspective. Claire reminds us “When we cook and eat mindfully, it’s just like doing anything else mindfully. It brings something that could be mundane or routine into a beautiful and magical experience. Be inquisitiveness about eating things that you’ve eaten often—just like the experience of being in a yoga pose that you’ve been in a million times. Be more conscious. Shift your attention to being present and mindful.”
Jim gives the most practical, sound advice for mindful eating. “Always eat what you enjoy, and enjoy what you eat.” Aum to that.
For more Advanced studies in Yoga and Ayurveda with Scott Blossom visit Pranamaya you receive 10% off when you buy all three courses on Ayurveda.
Mia Park is Chicago based 500E-RYT and a certified ParaYoga and Rest and Renew teacher. She teaches Tantra Hatha yoga and Yoga Nidra weekly at Moksha Yoga Studio and in the Moksha Yoga 500-hour teacher training program. Mia is currently in a yoga teacher training at Darshan Center. She is also an actress, drummer, and producer who says she is able to do it all thanks to guidance from her teachers and her dedicated meditation practice. Find out more about Mia at http://www.MiaPark.com