Welcome to the first installment of How to Meditate! First I’d like to talk to you a little about the process of learning to meditate. In yoga we often study and try to follow the 8limb path of Raja Yoga. This “path” is not necessarily a traditional path or ladder in which you accomplish one step before you move on to the next. Instead is more often represented as a wheel so that you see that each element is connected to the others and that when we live a truly yoga life we encompass all aspects at once.
In June I will take a little more time to talk to you about the first two limbs of the 8 limb path: Yamas and Niyamas or the moral observances and code of ethics for how to live your life. The second two limbs are what are more traditionally referred to as Hatha Yoga or the physical path of practice and include the Asanas (postures) and Pranayama (breathwork). Those are two very simple generalizations of this portion of the practice and I hope to devote more time to the discussion of Pranayama in July and Asanas in August.
This month, however, I want to talk about the last four limbs of the path and we’ll start with Pratyahara. Pratyahara can be defined in many different ways and I referenced it briefly in this post from September 2014. But the basic gist is that you want to Turn Inward and Tune Out. I like to teach this in regards to Mindfulness and you can find many of my posts relating to this topic by clicking on that tag to the left. Here is a mindful eating exercise I have developed that can help you connect to your inner self, the moment you are in, and the experience of being in the present. It is the best way that I can find to give you Pratyahara in a practical sense of your every day life. This is the first step on the journey to being able to meditate and next week we will work on Dharana.
Mindful or Intuitive Eating are strategies to better understand your own personal eating habits. Choose, in advance,one meal which you will eat Mindfully.
1. Before you sit down to eat, think about the answers to the following questions:
How do I feel right now? What emotions am I experiencing?
Am I actually hungry or am I choosing to eat in response to something else? This could be because others are eating, you saw/smelled food, you are at a specific location where you always eat, or in response to an emotion.
What do I really want to eat? What flavors, how much?
2. After you have answered these questions and decided to eat, gather your food. If you are preparing the food, think about how the food looks, smells, and feels. What does it take to make this meal?
3. As you prepare to eat the meal are you seated or standing? What does your dining environment look like, sound like, feel like, smell like?
4. Before you take your first bite, consider the food using as many of your senses as possible:
What does it look like? The texture? The color?
What does it feel like? Is it hard or soft? Grainy or sticky? Moist or dry?
What does it smell like?
How do you feel about the food?
5. Now begin to eat the food. Chew slowly no matter how small the bite. Take the time to roll the food around in your mouth to feel the texture and notice how the intensity of the flavor changes the longer it stays in the mouth. Does it make a sound as you chew?
6. Take each bite moment by moment. If eating with others, consider how their eating is influencing your eating pattern. Think about how other environmental factors influence how you’re eating. Is the tv on or off? Are you talking during your meal (with food in your mouth?)?
7. As you finish eating, consider why you stopped eating. Were you full? Was it time to go? Were you out of food? Did you get more than one helping? Were you interrupted in your eating?
8. How do you feel? How did this experience alter the way that you normally eat? What did it feel like? How does it make you feel about your food choices and eating habits for the future?
I would love it if you would share your Mindful Eating experience with us here in the comments or as a post on your blog linked in the comments below!