I remember my grandfather peacefully sitting on the ground, sprinkling a few drops of water around his plate and reciting a Sanskrit prayer every time before he started eating.
It is now a prevalent culture to have an orientation session before any kind of educational course. Orientation can induce a sea-change in the reception of everything. Right orientation leads to the right approach and right understanding. And wrong orientation can lead to dangerous misinterpretation.
According to the ancient Indian medicine system Ayurveda, it is believed that the way food is eaten effects the way it is absorbed. According to Ayurveda, food has a soul of its own – it can be satvik (pious), rajasic (hyperactive) and tamasic( ignorance inducing). The quality of the food depends on the way it is earned, cooked and eaten. However, the final process of eating is the most important of all three. Even poison can be used for treating diseases if consumed properly. Similarly, even if the food is consumed with a blissful mind, it can have an amazing effect on the body.
There are multiple scientific pieces of evidence to prove that placebo therapy can produce incredible results in the treatment of diseases, esp. the pain sensations. Therefore eating food in the right way can help us not only to prevent diseases but also to cure and prevent our emotional problems.
It is unfortunate that eating has become a side-process. We have automated the process of eating. We eat while walking towards our office or school, eat while watching TV or while working. The awareness about the food, its natural flavour, its, and smell is lost in a mob of stormy stimulations of electronic gadgets or our emotional turbulence. Even if we are not seemingly doing anything else, we are lost in our daily worries and thoughts. Probably, this is the reason junk food is full of excess salt, sugar, and fat in order to attract our unstable attention, just like heavy beat music does when compared to a delicate classical melody. We have to stop and review this process of increasing senselessness.
Mindless eating leads to all diseases. First is obesity which comes naturally, as we are insensitive to the body signals to stop eating. We don’t drink enough water because we have become unconscious to our natural thirst. Only a sharp pain of kidney stones can grab our attention. We are leading a fast-track life, leading only towards an early death.
No time for mindful eating
Mindful eating is not about chewing your morsel 36 times. It is about being aware of the eating process as a whole. If you are trying to chew a spoonful of soup 36 times, you must be equally mindless as a person who simply gulps down big pieces of food. In fact, mindful eating is the quickest way to eat because normally we do not need the quantity of food that we consume today, no matter whether we are adults or children. If this were not the case, we would not find any cases of infant obesity. With mindful eating, we know when to stop. And genius is in knowing when to stop! Let me put it the other way round. If you are eating something while watching TV, you might never know when to stop as you will be too engrossed to notice the metabolic signals of a full stomach. But if you are just eating, you might as well finish it in 5-10 mins as you will know when you are full. Mindful eating is a permanent cure for obesity without any doubt.
Mindfulness is a constant practice. It increases the more it is practiced. Eating mindfulness eventually spreads to other parts of our lives.
With mindful eating, you will start to notice the quality of food that you are eating. You cannot be mindful and still eat extra cheese pizza and double-decker burger. You will become conscious of the effects that food has on your body and this is the first step of making conscious food decisions. I am not suggesting that we should become hermits and banish all tasty food from our meals. But what is the meaning of eating the tasty food when you are not paying attention and enjoying its taste? So mindful eating eventually makes you so aware of the deliciousness of the food that you feel the same satisfaction with 1 slice of pizza that you would not have felt with 2 boxfuls of pizza. With more practice in mindfulness even the normal rice with salt tastes like heaven, if only we have time and peace to observe that sensation. And since you will be more satisfied with the healthy food, there will be fewer chances of squandering your money on junk food and later on medical expenses.
Increases time on earth
We tend to save our time by multi-tasking. However, the current life expectancy of a normal human being in the developed world is highly threatened by lifestyle disorders like diabetes, hypertension etc. a hoard of psychological disorders also result from the hap-hazard lifestyle. With random multi-tasking, we are only reaching fast towards an early burn-out, and probably as early demise. Suppose if you have an option of 40 years and 100 years of healthy workable life, which one is going to be more productive? And what is the benefit of early achievements if the benefits thus acquired are spent on diseases later.
Death by choking
Death by choking is a rare but probably occurrence if you are inattentive while eating. Mindfulness can sure save you from this one.
How to practice?
Some ritual makes it easier to invite an ethereal experience. It is good for beginners to start with some rituals to kindle the interest and maintain a steady pace. Here I am sharing my experience of mindful eating –
Quiet Eating Time
I have communicated to my family that while eating we are not going to talk and look more at the food. And it is ok since it never takes us more than 10 min to finish the meals. Sometimes, people around you might feel ignored if you suddenly start practicing this technique, esp. if you were talking like a parrot during the meals earlier. Harmony with others makes the practice easier and more fruitful.
There might be instances where everyone is talking around you. However, you can CHOOSE to be peacefully quiet. You might answer some important question. However, it is important to realize that others will respect your choice if you respect it and stick by it ardently.
We don’t watch TV while eating. If I am feeling down then I may put some light instrumental music, otherwise, it is normally quiet while eating. However, initially if the quiet appears too dull then you can turn on some light music. Heavy beats or party songs can grab your attention away from the food in your plate.
Initially, start with something that you enjoy eating. It is better to choose healthier options. However, if you are completely addicted to junk food, it can be a suitable option as well. Trust me, if you start to practice mindfulness even with extra cheese pizza, you will grow out of it soon.
It is a very good practice to keep away electronic gadgets, esp. mobile phones while having a meal. Like the way we switch off or silent our mobiles before an important meeting, we can turn away all gadgets during the meal time. It is the respect that we show to our life-giving food and for the ones who strive for it. Our ancestors ate without mobile phones and survived better than us.
Family dinner is the time when normally people sit together and connect with each other. it is considered to a time when you can talk about your day and share your thoughts. But if the meal is a short time focused on enjoying the food, then ideally there will be not enough time for any meaning full talk. It will be just like talking while brushing your teeth or washing your hands. Besides, it is disrespect towards the person you are talking to. It shows that you cannot spare an attentive 10 min to talk to your family or a close friend. Initially, it might seem a little weird, but if we are convinced with the essence of the practice, we can joyfully implement it.
The most destructive element to mindfulness, esp. mindful eating is an encroachment on personal freedom. Some people in your family or close circle might not want to experiment with mindfulness. It is absurd and thoughtless to lose your mind about convincing others about following your practice. First thing, you cannot be insensitive to others’ feelings and wishes when you are trying to practice mindfulness. Secondly, you should try to perfect something that you wish others to follow. Leading by example is always the most discreet option esp. in case of mindfulness.
Now, we will not impose eating mindfulness on others. But how to tackle the person who wants to talk to you while eating, esp. if the person is your spouse, parent or child? Now, this is a delicate matter. I remember when I first started meditation; I was convinced that this will be able to solve my problems. So I sometimes ignored the requirements of my family, esp. my younger brother. He would come to play only when I wanted to meditate. My avoidance and cold shoulder turned him away from meditation and now even as an adult he is still reluctant to try it. We don’t want our loved ones to feel bad about something so subtle as mindfulness. Patience is the key, difficult to practice but always bears sweet fruits in the end which are good for all.
Now, it is not always that you are eating with your family. You might be in a business dinner, where people expect you to talk or with a friend. It might work well if you can convey beforehand that you don’t talk while eating or take small pauses between the meals to accommodate appropriate responses. One day of lapses will not stop the constant process of mindful evolution. Flexibility or absence of a thoughtless resolution is the real proof of mindfulness.
This is all about managing the quiet during meal times. However, the most important factor is the quietness of the mind. Here a prayer can bring the right orientation to the mind. It is an excellent habit to say prayers together with the family, before the meals. In this ritual, let us try to be mindful of the prayers and their meaning.
Please find some of the mealtime prayers of different traditions in Appendix 1. Each prayer is special and conveys a new dimension of gratefulness and joyful acceptance. Many traditions have a prayer after the meal too. Some of them are –
I hope that the grace before the meal creates a feeling joyful acceptance towards the food that we are going to eat now. Nowadays, children are fuzzy and complainant about the food that they get. Grace before meals is a subtle way to teach children and even the adults that whatever food they have is a blessing because many people don’t have even that.
Now let us bring our attention to the food. Let us look carefully at our food. So many hands go in cultivation, transportation and final preparation of our food. Let us be grateful to the provider of the food, our parents, spouse or guardian. So many hands have worked in preparation of this meal. It takes so much of divine love for all these resources to flow naturally towards us.
Gratefulness is one way to really bring peace and joy in the mind. One of the most powerful effects of gratefulness is that we realize that we have someone who will help us because he has already helped us. Gratefulness proves that we are not burdened with all the responsibility. There is someone above us, a parent, a guide and a helping hand. Gratefulness is a reason for us to relax and smile!
Respect for Food and the Body
It is important to eat only when you are hungry. It is the true respect of not only the food but also your body. When we keep munching endlessly, we treat food like trash and our body like a trash-bin. Therefore, let us be mindful of the requirements of our body and eat only when hungry. Also, when hungry we should not stuff ourselves with too much food.
With all the earlier preparations, we must in an ideal state before we start eating the food. Let us fill our food in our mouth and feel its texture, flavour and warmth/coolness. The words fall short to describe the divine feeling of food when you are starving.