Wednesday, March 2, 2011

March Daily Practice: Mindful Eating

Ah, March is here and Spring is in the air. Here in Tucson, our windows and doors are open, the birds are singing, the chickens are laying, and the hiking is lovely!

For this month, I thought we’d take up the practice of “Mindful Eating.” Now, before any of you grumble and complain, I am not necessarily suggesting what you should eat, nor how, other than suggesting chewing your food a bit more than you most likely do now. There’s no need to count your chews or anything, but notice when the urge to swallow arises, and simply chew a few more times, savoring and noticing any changes. What have you been avoiding by swallowing when you normally do?

I remember the first time I participated in an “Apple Meditation,” eating one apple mindfully. I found that my conditioned tendency was to swallow as soon as the intense sweet taste started to fade. By continuing to chew, I found that the taste became a bit ‘sour’ or tart, then bitter, until eventually, the skin was just about all that was left and it had a definite ‘astringent’ quality. This amazed me!

In Ayurvedic teaching, there are six ‘tastes’ (rasa): sweet, sour, salt, pungent, bitter, astringent. These can be thought of as forms of prana or even ‘intelligence.’ When we eat the apple just for its sweetness, we only assimilate one ‘code of intelligence.’ No wonder one apple is rarely ‘fulfilling.’ I found that when I chew the apple, and experience the other tastes (four of the six!), I actually feel more satiated from the apple. It’s like I assimilate more of the energy/intelligence the apple has to offer.

In any event, we can practice a very simple form of Mindful Eating, by first sitting down to eat; turn off the radio or tv; and refrain from reading while eating. If you have the opportunity to eat an occasional meal in silence, that’s great!

The following “Contemplation” and “Meal Gatha” are simply ‘bells of mindfulness’ allowing us to take a few moments to really look at, and acknowledge, the food we are about to consume. As Thich Nhat Hanh has said, if we do not pay attention to the food, it is not real to us, and we cease to be ‘real.’ "If the broccoli is real, we are real."

At Plum Village, the following Five Contemplations are said before meals. As you will see, they are a specific form of the traditional Meal Gatha:

1.    This food is a gift of the whole universe – the earth, the sky, and much hard work.
2.    May we live in a way that makes us worthy to receive it.
3.    May we transform our unskillful states of mind, especially our greed, and learn to eat in moderation.
4.    May we take only foods that nourish us and prevent illness.
5.    We accept this food so that we may realize the path of practice.

Meal Gatha

First, seventy-two labors broght us this food; we should know how it comes to us.
Second, as we receive this offering, we should consider whether our virtue and practice deserve it.
Third, as we desire the natural order of mind to be free from clinging, we must be free from greed.
Fourth, to support our life, we take this food.
Fifth, to attain our way, we take this food.

First, this food is for the Three Treasures.
Second, it is for our teachers, parents, nation, and all sentient beings.
Third, it is for all beings in the six worlds.
Thus we eat this food with everyone.
We eat to stop all evil,
To practice good,
To save all beings
And to accomplish our
Buddha Way.

Please, enjoy your food, and do please share your practice here at the Mindfulness Yoga Blog. What kind of reaction or response arises when you read and contemplate the above verses? What is your experience of slowing down (a wee bit) and really savoring what is on your plate?

in metta,
poep sa frank jude


  1. It was very different for me not to read during breakfast! I wasn't sure what to do. It's the meal I eat alone - for the most part - sometimes my son joins me. But for the most part it's just me and a book or the paper. So this morning it was just me and the food.
    I was surprised at how quickly I have the urge to swallow. And so I chewed longer each bite.
    And I resisted the urge to "wash it all down" with my coffee.
    In the morning I will not put as much on my plate. Eating this way - I just couldn't eat as much. I realized I was not hungry much faster.
    I usually share lunch with Greg (husband) and he is interested in sharing this practice with me.
    I like the Five Contemplations you shared. As a family in the evening we usually share the meal gatha and tonight I will introduce these Five Contemplations.
    This is a mindfulness practice that could have an impact not just personally but on a broader social and ecological level.

  2. I'm glad you shared this blog on Facebook. I'm looking forward to practicing with you this month.

    I have a bag of flavorless apples in the fridge. I haven't been able to bring myself to compost them yet, and I've been getting angry every time I see them. How dare they be flavorless!

    Little did I realize they're my teachers. Before I compost them, I'm going to do an apple meditation and see what else I might learn from them.

  3. Oh, Jack! Please do share what those flavorless apples (or at least one of them eaten mindfully!) have to teach!

    Susan, your post relates to a point I didn't include. It takes about 15 minutes for the signal to move from stomach to brain that it is 'full.' So often, we eat so fast that we 'overstuff' before we get the signal. Slowing down, as you noticed, we feel satiated sooner, so we eat less! Without any dietary restrictions, it has been found that those who are over-weight tend to lose weight when they eat whatever they normally eat -- but simply slowing down!

    Conversely, those who are under-weight often put on a bit. It's like the wisdom of the body gets to be 'heard' when we simply slow down and take the time to 'listen.'


  4. I opened this page just as I was tucking into some cheese on toast. Immediate flush of guilt, that I hadn't been eating mindfully and then an attempt to rectify this by eating a little more mindfully.

    Your question, Frank, what are we avoiding when we don't chew to the end. Hmmm... I chewed on my radish sprouts a little longer and there was a sharp pungent flavour that wasn't so pleasant. It made me wonder about the parallels between how we eat and digest food and how we consume and digest life. I do find, though not to get too personal ;0) that my digestive processes mirror in some sense my emotional and psychological states. If I'm uptight then my whole digestive tract tightens.

    It's amazing this body/mind interconnectivity and reminds me to pay attention to how I'm eating, the speed in particular, and that this might offer me a wake up bell to notice what's going on with me psychologically or emotionally in any moment. If I can notice what's going on this will create the possibility of doing something different, a mini liberation from what perhaps was a habitual way of eating, feeling or thinking. Hmmmm.....

    Thanks for this.

  5. I few days into this and I'm finding it's not as much work as I thought it might be. A couple of things though...I really miss reading in the mornings with my breakfast so I'm having to adjust my morning routine a bit. Also, to eat mindfully - can't eat on the run and so on days when I'm squeezed for time - eating just doesn't happen. And so on Friday - I worked, I ran the kids around and had the opportunity to hike Agua Caliente Hill - all before the Body of Peace workshop started....Not much time to sit and eat mindfully. So when I got home Friday evening I was really hungry. (I did stop to notice and investigate that feeling). And then I decided to just eat - eat mindlessly!! :-) And on top of that it was pizza - I don't really even like pizza - but it was what was for dinner (not my night to choose). I ended up over eating something I don't even like too much!! lol