Although Pilates, done properly, is inherently mindful, I stumbled upon the concept of mindfulness not via Pilates but as a self help method for combatting depression.
What is mindfulness?
A way of living, a philosophy if you like, with elegant simplicity and immense practical value, for helping us to improve the quality of our lives. It could be summarised thus:
“bringing ones complete attention to the present experience on a moment to moment basis”
I found that definition on Wikipedia but there are many others, some longer, but the jist is the same. If you do Pilates, even if it’s not a regular thing, you can probably see how Pilates is mindful. However, even though this is (mainly) a Pilates blog I want to go off on a bit of tangent.
Many of us are concerned about our disconnect with food – issues around food miles, food waste, animal cruelty, overuse of pesticides, excessive consumption of processed food for example, but what about our disconnect with eating? Mindful eating is of great interest because it addresses this.
There is a massive amount of literature about mindful eating and it is similar in tone but not all the same. Here is a little bit of overview:
It seems to me that there are a couple of differing standpoints. One is the use of mindful eating to curb overeating and help with weight loss and weight management, the other has a more philosophical stance – to emphasise our connectedness with the universe, the land and the people that produced our food.
So mindfulness involves the mind…..
Think of the conscious mind as having two distinct functions: thinking and awareness. If the mind is doing one, it will be less focused on the other. When applied to eating, if you’re watching TV, reading or driving for example, then you won’t be as aware of the food. You are not in the present moment – the here and now, which should be centred around the eating. When eating, just eat, with no distractions: no walking, driving, working, TV, electronic gizmos, books or radio. To aid awareness of the experience of eating, sit down at the table. Ideally a table that is especially for eating at, free of clutter and that looks welcoming.
With sitting comes the opportunity to slow down. Notice the food. Initially without actually eating, pause and consider the colours, textures and smell. The presentation of the food on the plate becomes more important. Try to make it look attractive. When you start to eat, savour each mouthful – again notice texture, tastes and temperature. Some practitioners suggest putting down the cutlery in between mouthfuls, although simply doing that in the middle of the meal might be more practical and stop the food going cold. Make sure that you chew the food properly. Enjoy both the food, and the time set aside to sit down and rest.
We’re all leading busy, stressful lives, right? That might mean that it’s not possible to do this at every meal, or every day, but start somewhere. Maybe with the odd dinner, tea or breakfast, or simply at the weekend. Even with a mid morning snack. In fact snacks are a very good place to start. After all, chances are it’s a bit of a cheeky treat – a biscuit or some chocolate. All the more reason to notice it and enjoy every last morsel.
A greater awareness of the act of eating will enable you to sense when you’re full and encourage you to stop eating. Mindless eating – just putting the food in your mouth with little awareness increases the likelihood of going past the point of fullness without even noticing, or without even noticing that you’ve eaten at all in some instances. It is perilously easy to forget or fail to register things you’ve eaten during the day. How many times have you eaten whilst walking along or simply mooching around the house? With a weight management orientation it is suggested that you leave the table immediately when you’re full, or push the remaining food away. That raises the possibility of food waste and if that doesn’t rest easily with you then start with modest portions that you can add to if you’re still hungry – if indeed you are, once you have paused to really assess the situation.
Some mindfulness practitioners suggest that we should consider the origins of our food. For instance, did it involve animal cruelty? What is the welfare of the food producers? One of the most important thinkers in this area is Thich Nhat Hanh – a Buddhist monk who was written extensively on mindful eating. His thinking is rooted in Buddhist philosophy and concerned with the earth and humanity as a whole. It is an enormous topic to grapple with and goes beyond eating and considers consider what you eat, what you buy, where you buy it etc.
Whilst these ideas can inform the mindful eating, and are valid and important, do bear in mind that it is possible to eat mindfully, taking a very practical, personal approach, without worrying too much about packaging, veganism, waste, eating organic etc. Or to put it another way, if you’re not interested in the more spiritual dimension of mindful eating, don’t let that put you off investigating or trying it for yourself.
Mindful eating can provide a framework to help examine your emotional relationship with food – although you don’t actually need to be mindful to do this. You can question why you want to eat the particular food. Is it hunger or are you craving something else? What are the emotional triggers associated with eating? Does eating involve guilt afterwards? This is potentially rather challenging territory. It might seem scary to admit to really liking things – the unhealthy “fattening” things – because we fear overeating them as a result. However, as with all relationships, we’d have a better one with food if we respected, appreciated and loved all the food we ate.
On an easier note – learn or simply remember to appreciate food more. Not just the restaurant fare, or something that was expensive to buy or time consuming to cook but also the mundane everyday breakfast cereal or packed lunch. If it’s really beyond all fondness, then maybe it’s time for a change so that you can learn to enjoy and appreciate a simple meal. If you have stopped enjoying something or realise it lacks flavour – could you change it?
I really have simply scratched the surface of this topic. There are many websites, books and apps devoted to the subject. What I unearthed made me want to try this for myself. Why?
- a way of bringing mindfulness into my daily life
- could it help my IBS?
- wanting to review my eating habits in light of recent weight gain
So coming soon – how was it for me?