When I returned back to Canada from living abroad in Japan I was pretty sick. After traveling around Asia I had acquired some work/life related stress from Japan, and a giant parasite from India. My hair was falling out, I lost a lot of weight, and felt weak, stressed, and sick.
While the healthcare in Japan seemed to be decent, the language barrier was something I struggled with so it was a relief to visit my family doctor and feel confident that she understood me – that alone was worth it’s weight it gold. After getting rid of the parasite, my hair grew back and my weight returned back to normal. Upon the suggestion of my family doctor, I enrolled in a Mindfulness Meditation course at the Toronto General Hospital to learn how to better manage stress. I’m so lucky that my family doctor could recognize that physical and mental health go hand in hand and that optimal health of one cannot be achieved without the other.
All of this healthcare, by the way, was 100% covered by Canada’s universal health care system. Canadians pay a large percentage of their income to taxes (estimates put the average at 33%) which go onto cover the cost of health care, however, I’m encouraged and happy to live in a country where we take care of each other independent of how much someone makes per year.
When I walked into my first meditation class I expected to see a lot of freaky people but the participants were all….normal. In total, there were about 30 people; businessmen and women, retirees, students, mothers, and fathers. The concept of mindfulness, which comes from Buddhism, surrounds being in the moment and present in what we are doing and experiencing right now. Instead of worrying about what happened in the past, or what might happen in the future we learned how to focus on what is going on presently and to embrace that experience whether it’s good or bad. In fact, good or bad is often left out of the conversation – it is what it is. We were taught not to judge or feelings or thoughts. It was actually a powerful notation to know that just because we have a negative thought doesn’t mean it define us or that we are horrible people.
Mindfulness is designed to keep you in the present and is shown to reduce worry and anxiety. Scientists have measured an increase in the grey matter in the brain of those who meditate – grey matter is responsible for emotional regulation, perception, and cognition. According to research conducted by Richard Davidson, a leading neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Buddhist monks who meditate on regular basis have a more developed prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is responsible for positive emotion and Professor Davidson suggests that through regular mediation, we are able to improve our overall level of happiness and wellbeing. Other research reported by Jon Kabat-Zinn from the University of Massachusetts states that “meditation actually changes the neural pathways in our brains” – it also reduces depression, anxiety, and pain.
It’s pretty extraordinary, isn’t it?
So, how can you do this as it relates to nutrition? One of the first exercises we did in the course was to take a raisin and investigate everything about it. Touch it – what is its texture? Is it soft or hard? Smooth or rigid?
When you pop it in your mouth, wait as long as you can before chewing. How does it feel? Can you describe the flavour? Is it sweet or sour?
Take as long as you can to chew it as well. Really savour that raisin and try to think about how it tastes.
Taking your time to really taste food is an excellent exercise. You may find that you eat less because you’re more fulfilled and you’ve had a chance to enjoy the taste, texture, and experience of the food more than you would if you just scarf something down.
Actually, one of the biggest issues with digestion starts with a lack of proper chewing. Breakdown of carbohydrates starts in the mouth via an enzyme called amylase. By reducing the time food is spent in your mouth both mechanically (chewing) and chemically (enzymes) breaking down your food makes it harder during every other step of digestion.
So, my homework for you is to chew your food…taste it, and then swallow. Would love to see how this changes the experience of eating.
Eat, drink, and be mindful!
For more resources check out the links below:
Mindful Eating: http://www.mindfuleating.org/MindfulEating.html
Mindfulness Exercises: http://www.mindfulnessinfo.com/
10 Minute Body Scan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obYJRmgrqOU
Mindfulness Courses Worldwide: http://w3.umassmed.edu/MBSR/public/searchmember.aspx
Full Catastrophe Living (written by Jon Kabat-Zinn): http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/Full-Catastrophe-Living-Using-Wisdom-Jon-Kabat-Zinn/9780385303125-item.html?cookieCheck=1
72 minute Mindfulness Meditation guided by Jon Kabat-Zinn: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nwwKbM_vJc