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Mindful Eating for a Happy Christmas

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How do you feel when you think about ‘Christmas food’? Does your mouth water? Do you resign yourself to the fact that you will over-eat and plan to make up for it in the New Year? Do you panic at the thought of there being lots of ‘fattening’ foods to avoid? Then it could be time to start practising ‘mindful eating’…

Tulsi with cake mixer for mindful eating blog

Eating should always be a pleasure!

Eating more than we really need, and eating food that is convenient but not necessarily what our body needs, is an easy thing to do – even more so during the festive season.  Whether it’s the seemingly endless supply of Quality Streets found in offices across the land, the box of mince pies hiding in every kitchen cupboard ‘in case someone comes round’, or those last few roast potatoes that ‘need eating up’, there’s always something available, always something to reach for without thinking.

For some people, the ongoing availability of food – particularly at Christmas – presents a different problem: they feel guilty about eating certain types of food and go out of their way to avoid them. This has as much potential to bring about an unhelpful relationship with food as the tendency to gobble up whatever is being offered – the mind develops thought-patterns which underpin and reinforce negative ideas about body image. In this way, under-eating can become something we do without thinking, too.

Mindful eating for pleasure and good health

One way of exercising our powers of awareness, so that we can make conscious decisions about what we eat – and, importantly, truly enjoy and benefit from the things we consume – is to practice ‘mindful eating’. Before we go on to the ‘how’, here are a couple of definitions of mindful eating:

“Mindful Eating is allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom” ~ The Center for Mindful Eating

“Mindful eating is eating with intention and attention: Eating with the intention of caring for yourself [and] eating with the attention necessary for noticing and enjoying your food and its effects on your body” ~ Am I Hungry?

As these two statements suggest, there are big advantages that come with eating mindfully – the main one being that when we are aware of what we are doing, we can make choices which will have positive effects on our physical and mental health. The person who has a tendency to unthinkingly swallow more than their fair share of chocolates can choose to say ‘No, thank you’ when offered yet another, and the person who has grown to deny themselves the pleasure of eating sweet treats can choose to say ‘Yes, please!’.

Yoga and mindful eating

Have your cake and eat it!

Have your cake and eat it!

This is all good news for those of us who attempt to live our lives according to the principles of yoga, which state that a healthy mind and a healthy body create the optimum conditions for our practice – and, therefore, for reaching the goal of spiritual enlightenment that a consistent and dedicated yoga practice promises.

Not only this, but by training our powers of awareness through the practice of mindful eating, we can pay more attention to everything else we do: the things we think about, the words that leave our lips, and our behaviour in the world. Practising mindful eating works very much like practising yoga postures – we learn to listen to our inner wisdom. Just as we might acknowledge thirst and quench it with a glass of water, we can identify the need to adapt a posture in order to avoid injury, or to deepen the pose.

How to eat mindfully

One very effective exercise for honing your mindful eating skills is given in ‘A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook’, by Stahl & Goldstein. It involves spending time looking at, smelling and considering what you’re about to eat, before gradually taking in more and more sensory details as you put the item in your mouth and chew it.

If you’ve never done this exercise with us in our classes, have a go at home. Try the exercise with a small a handful of raisins, as suggested in this adaptation of Stahl & Goldsteins’ mindful eating exercise, and then see if you can apply the same technique in other situations – like when you’re sitting at the Christmas dinner table!

Read more about how you can gain control over your desires!

Spring clean your mind for Lent!

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Imagine what it would feel like to not want anything…

We’re not talking about the things we need to survive, like food, shelter and warmth. Rather, the things we desire – the ‘perfect’ dress, the latest iPhone, that lovely butter with salt crystals in it…

Being free of desire – and the resulting discomfort or pain we experience if that desire is not fulfilled – sounds liberating, and it is! But getting there does take effort. If you’re prepared to put some effort in (and the 40 days of Lent is the perfect opportunity to do so) keep reading.

Why do we have wants and desires?

Spring clean your mind

It’s beautiful – but your happiness is not dependent on it.

In life, we mistakenly think that our happiness is dependent on external factors, such as:

  • Where we are – school, home, work, the local watering hole…
  • The people around us –and what they all do and say!
  • Our possessions – the car we drive or the clothes we wear, for example.
  • What we eat – from the flavours we crave to the aesthetics of fresh produce.

And because we believe that our happiness is dependent on these external objects, we develop minds of attachment towards them – which makes us want them.  On the flip-side, we sometimes think our happiness is threatened by certain people, things and places, and we develop minds of ‘aversion’ towards them.  Minds of attachment and minds of aversion are very uncomfortable, as we ‘loop’ the same destructive, ‘sticky’ thoughts again and again.

How our minds work (and why it’s a good idea to Spring clean your mind for Lent)

It’s easy to mistakenly identify something as a gateway to happiness. We see an object – a beautiful item of clothing, let’s say – and our mind exaggerates what we perceive to be its good qualities. We imagine how good we’ll look in it, we imagine ourselves at events wearing it, what people will say about us... and our mind becomes ‘sticky’ towards it. We want it, have to have it, begin to formulate plans to sneak off and get it… And if that item is sold out when we go to buy it, we experience suffering, we feel loss.

What’s happened is, we’ve given that object power. Before we saw the dress, its existence was of no importance to us – it had no power over us.

How to remove an object’s power

We regain control over objects by practising not feeding our desires, and Lent provides us with an opportunity to do that – to install some self-discipline, to embrace a degree of austerity. It gives us a framework for the work we need to do to free ourselves from our attachments and to create a peaceful mind.

Spring clean your mind

Tap into your Tapas!

We can use the Yogic concept of Tapas to inspire and fuel our efforts, too. As one of the five ‘Niyamas’ (things we should do – The ‘Do’s’, as opposed to the ‘Yamas’, which can be summed up as behaviours we should avoid – The ‘Do not’s!’) Tapas refers to the fire we have within us that allows us to practice mental discipline, to get things done, to do what is good for us and the people around us. In short, Tapas gives us the power – not the objects!

Make a promise to yourself, to Spring clean your mind

Spend a bit of time contemplating what things you identify as sources of happiness, and choose one to give up for the duration of Lent. It could be any of the examples listed above, even something as seemingly innocuous as milk in tea. The point is, if you want it, try not wanting it – exercise your mental discipline! And tell the people close to you what you’re doing – it’ll help you stick to your guns.

Along the way, you will experience a sense of ‘mind friction’. Whatever you’ve chosen to give up, the next time you’re faced with temptation, your mind will be cross with you. Notice that, but don’t react. Tell yourself, “Thanks for that, but right now I choose not to have any.”

In time, your desire will fade and your mind will become more peaceful. You will experience a sense of liberation And that’s where you’ll find the kind of happiness that can’t be taken from you.