We talked last time about stress. We talked about breathing properly and a basic meditation technique with counting breaths. One other stress management tool we use is mindfulness. It’s a very powerful, simple technique, but it can be difficult in this fast moving, information filled, media bombardment society in which we live. Mindfulness, put simply, is being fully in the present moment. When you think about it, most stress is caused by either dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. If you can stay in the present moment, your stress levels are greatly diminished. But it goes beyond staying in the present. You must experience the present without judgment. That is the most difficult part of mindfulness. Be aware of how many times during your day that you judge people, situations, and intentions. If you can stop yourself and just fully experience these situations, the stress tends to be diminished or vanish completely.
There is one area we can all practice mindfulness several times each day: when we eat. One study showed that the average time K-12 students take to eat is 7 minutes. As adults, we tend to wolf down our food, usually trying to work, watch television or perform some task at the same time. When we eat stressed, and our body is in that low level flight/flight mode, the blood is taken away from our organs and is sent to our extrimeties. Without the proper bloodflow, our stomachs cannot properly digest our food. That results in upset stomach, indigestion, and acid stomach. Then we usually reach for the Zantac.
Try this mindful eating exercise:
Get a nut or a raisin. Look at it carefully. Look at the colors, feel the textures. Look at how the light bounces off of it. Then put it in your mouth, but don’t bite it. Let it swirl in your mouth. Feel the textures. Start tasting the flavors. Now bite it once and see what changes. Swirl it around more. Feel what happens when you eat with your tongue and your mouth. Then slowly chew the rest of it and swallow. That is a mindful way to eat a small morsel of food. See how it changes your perception of how you eat.
Then, try to do this at each meal. Think of and thank all of the people responsible for getting that meal to you: farmers, harvesters, butchers, truck drivers, grocery store workers, etc. It’s a long chain. Then slowly savor your meal. Savor each bite. Look at the colors, feel the textures, listen to any sounds (sizzles or snap, crackle and pop of a cereal), fully smell and taste the flavors. Take at least 30 minutes to eat. You will also eat less because the mouth will signal to the stomach when it is full. When we eat quickly, this doesn’t happen, we don’t feel full, and we overeat.
Try it with meals, then apply it to other areas of your life. For some, it’s a miracle. More on this later.