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Food as a mindfulness practice?

We often hear about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness – and most of us struggle to find the time. We’re busy, and we’re getting busier. Post-pandemic, working hours are getting longer and feeling pushed for time is probably something we can all relate to. But what if there was a meditation practice that you could fit in with your daily life – that matched with something we all have to do, every day, no matter how busy we are?

We all need to eat.

Some of us might see food as a pleasure, others regard it more like fuel, but it’s something everyone has to fit into their schedule sometime. Modern life, in making food ever more convenient, can also make us feel less connected with the food we eat. From plastic packaging in supermarkets to ultra-processed energy drinks – at times it’s hard to know what we’re putting into our bodies each day.

If we take a little bit of time – and it only has to be a little, we promise! – to connect more profoundly with the food we eat, there are many micro-opportunities for meditation peppered throughout the day. This practice is sometimes known as ‘mindful eating’. It’s absolutely not about dieting or calorie counting – it’s more about deriving a more powerful connection with the ingredients you prepare and the meals you eat, and therefore deriving more pleasure and satisfaction from food. It can also help you tune in more profoundly with yourself – and there’s plenty of scientific research that demonstrates the benefits.

The key component of this meditative connection with food is attention. If you have time to prepare a meal, try giving this act your full focus. It’s rare that we do this in modern life – and some might find it confronting! Turning your attention fully to the task at hand means no radio, podcasts or TV on in the background – but complete focus on the act of cooking. It doesn’t need to be elaborate – focusing on the simple task of chopping onions or stirring tomatoes can be an act of meditation in itself. You can also explore where your ingredients come from – either with research, or with your imagination.

In Ayurveda, a belief system originating in South Asia more than 3000 years old, the seasonality, provenance, and welfare of the farmer or maker of the ingredient is an important consideration, as the food’s history changes what it contributes to our bodies. The closest contemporary Western parallel might be free range eggs or Fair Trade coffee – and the ethical impact of ingredients and our personal connection to them is something Ayurveda has been concerned with for thousands of years.

Equally, if you don’t have time to prepare a meal from scratch, it’s possible to engage in a meditative practice around food while you’re eating. Allowing this to be the only thing you’re doing – so not reading, working, talking on the phone or watching anything at the same time. Engaging with your senses – the smell of the food, it’s temperature and texture as well as the taste – draws you more fully into the present moment. Paying attention to these small details can radically increase your enjoyment of a meal – and also help you recognise what you really like (or don’t like) about what you’re eating. This type of intuitive eating also helps you to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you feel full. Sharing food can also be a powerfully meditative practice – helping you slow down and savour what you’re eating with loved ones.

Studies have demonstrated that engaging with what you eat in this way can have a dramatic effect on your general health and wellbeing. Taking the time away from a busy day can ease stress and anxiety, improve your digestion, and develop a stronger connection with the provenance and heritage of the ingredients of your meal. Tuning in can also help you notice how different foods affect your energy and mood – and once you start looking, the results can be surprising! Typically, we pay attention to how our food makes us feel when we’re ill. But, if we start to ask ‘What foods make me feel well?’ our relationship with food can become much more positive. Even taking the time to notice the difference when drinking a cold glass of water on a hot day – the changes in the body, the lift in mood and energy – every interaction is an opportunity to tune in, and notice how you feel.

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