By Claire Diab and Dennis Boyle
We know that eating healthy will add life to our years and years to our life. There is another powerful technique that you can incorporate into your daily life that will make your relationship with food one of celebration and fun! Food is your friend, not your enemy. When we understand this we develop a healthy relationship with food that will nourish your body, mind, and spirit on a daily basis; not only once a day…three times a day! There is an eating meditation which has been practiced for hundreds of years so that people can really be one with their food and enjoy eating.
We need to eat to maintain internal and external balance. Your job as a firefighter is not only to help and serve others, it is also to help and serve yourself. You need your strength and power in order to perform you job with grace and ease just like a professional athlete… after all, you are an amazing athlete. Food is a powerful tool to keep you strong and healthy. If we can take one meal a day and practice this eating meditation you will notice an immediate change in how you feel.
Choose breakfast, lunch, or dinner for your eating meditation. Decide which meal will allow you a little extra time and peace and quiet. It is best not to do the eating meditation when super hungry! You want to be relaxed. Your meals should always be made and presented so the food in front of you is pleasing to the eyes. All you need for the eating meditation is a nice meal and your five senses – sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.
Before you begin the eating meditation, make sure the area where you are eating is clean and free of clutter; make the table setting nice. The meal is now on your plate. Begin by taking two or three deep breaths. Now, using the sense of sight… look at all the food with your full attention, like a child seeing something for the very first time. Notice the colors, the shapes, the lines, the contours, and the size of each piece of food. You can add color to your plate of food by shredding: a carrot on top of your salad or rice, putting corn on the side, maybe a few kalamata olives, and even a lemon wedge to make it colorful. Take one to two minutes to really look at the beautiful plate of food in front of you. Take a moment to be grateful for all the people who were involved in the preparation of the food in front of you.
Next, let’s awaken our sense of smell. Smell all the food on your plate. Notice the different aromas of each different food. Softly close your eyes while doing this and you will heighten and increase your sense of smell. Take a minute to do this.
Now you are ready to have your first bite of food. Using your fork or spoon, look at what is on your utensil. Notice the smell as you are putting it in your mouth. Now, begin to chew. Do not swallow your food just yet (this is why you can’t be crazy hungry before you do this!!). Now the food is in your mouth and you are chewing with your eyes softly closed. This is where the sense of taste begins to come in. Taste all of the wonderful flavors that your food has to offer you. You will chew 20 to 30 times. This is not always so easy, since we are used to chew…chew…swallow. Chewing allows you to break down the food so that all the vitamins, minerals, proteins, and carbohydrates can be used as energy efficiently and effectively. During the chewing you will also awaken the last two senses of touch and sound. The touching is happening with your tounge. You are noticing the textures of the food – soft, hard, crunchy, or chewy. The sound comes from the chewing and especially when food is crunchy.. such as vegtables, nuts, fruit. So with your eyes softly closed, take one to two minutes chewing your food and experience the taste, touch, and sound.
It is important to chew your food almost to a liquid for maximum absorption. Now you are ready to swallow. Before the next bite…take a moment to feel the food going down your esophagus and into your stomach; it is amazing. By the way, to really experience your senses there should be no TV or loud music on during your meditation. If there is music, it is best to have nice soothing music without words so your attention is 100 percent on your food. Now you are ready for your next bite, and repeat the process above.
This is your eating meditation…you will find that by doing this for one meal each day, your relationship with food and what you are eating will change. You will be satisfied and will find yourself not over eating. You will see food in a whole new way. You will have a wonderful relationship with food…for food is to be celebrated. Enjoy this eating meditation on your own or with family or friends. You can teach your family and do this once a week together as a group, and even in the “kitchen” at the firehouse, when appropriate. Celebrate food! Food is your friend! Enjoy!
Claire Diab is an internationally recognized Yoga therapist. She is the director of the Yoga Program for the Chopra Center founded by Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. David Simon. She is an adjunct professor of Asian Studies at Seton Hall University. She is the author of several books and DVDs on Yoga including “Yoga For Firefighters.”
Dennis Boyle is a retired fire director and acting chief with the West Orange (NJ) Fire Department. He was the recipient of the 1999 New Jersey Deputy Fire Chiefs “Fire Officer of the Year” award.