Mindfulness is the skill that seems custom-designed for modern life – so it’s popular. I can’t tell you how many books I saw (many from new graduates of mindful meditation courses) – at the most recent Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics (AND) conference. The more the merrier, really – all attempts at helping people begin mindful living are welcome!
I’m sure you’ve heard about the fascinating studies that suggest the simple (but not easy) practice of mindfulness helps with nearly any chronic condition, from stress to diabetes. True. But, you have to practice regularly, and I do think you have to practice reasonably well (not to be confused with perfectly – intention counts). For bet effect, you aim is to let go and be deeply and completely absorbed in what you are doing. I’m in the camp that thinks that mindfulness is a little more than just paying attention to what you are doing, though paying attention is a marvelous thing.
Here is a fun and easy solution to that tricky problem – each season, I hold an interactive online group called Begin Mindful Living. It’s been a hit! Because it works.
So, what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness – a meditative practice of focusing on what happens moment to moment with an attitude of non-judgmental awareness – seems like medicine for what ails us in modern life. It can begin to change us from the inside out.
In the past couple decades we’ve learned a lot more about just how this happens. There are short -term neurological mechanisms, and longer term genetics at play in the inside-out change of mindfulness. There are also mindset changes that, over time, reinforce the primary two mechanisms of neurobiology and genetics.
Why it can be so hard to start & maintain?
Mindfulness is a way of being. It’s a big shift in how you approach life. I think of the things you do in life – your habits and choices – as a flowing river. You flow along, doing what you do. When you begin to practice mindfulness, it’s like putting an oar in the water – it starts to make waves. It takes energy and skill and determination to keep it going. Practice. That means it’s easy to give up when you don’t see quick benefits. It’s easy to give up when it gets a little challenging.
Community to the rescue!
That’s why it’s great to launch mindful living in a group under the guidance of a skilled facilitator. Having the touchstone of others that will motivate you to try try again catapults the likelihood that you’ll keep it going. That you’ll press through when things get tougher.
Now, a word about online groups. I’ve given a number of interactive webinars for national health organizations, and conducted several of my own online groups. I love the magic that happens in groups and it’s the center of the work I do. There have been some recent advances in online interactivity that – while there is nothing like face-to-face – do the trick to connect you with others. You can see them, you can speak to them. It is an online kula – an online gathering. Overall, for the cost and time, it’s awesome.
Begin Mindful Living Online Group
I love this group!
Here is an easy way to launch mindful living that focuses on your self-care. Self-care is anything you do to do well by your whole being. It’s everything from making a balanced choice for breakfast – then enjoying every sensory bite of it; to taking a slow mindful walk in nature as you breath and receive the beauty of your surroundings.
I’ve begun to do a 4-week session every season, and our summer offering goes off between July 18- Aug 8th, Thursday evenings at 6:30 pm EST.
Each session will have a theme and your learning will progress over the month. One week before each session, you will receive a tip sheet with an introduction of the topic, an easy suggested practice and a journaling question.
Week 1: Intention & Mindful Practice
- Get clear on why, and begin the experiment with easeful practice.
Week 2: Mindful Self-care
- Health care IS Self-care. It’s for everyone, even you.
Week 3: Mindful Relationships
- Others in our lives give us our greatest opportunity to practice!
Week 4: Take it Forward into Life
- Clarify what you’ve received, and set intention for moving forward.
Each week, we’ll discuss overcoming challenges!
I so look forward to seeing you in our mindful living kula! Here’s more information.
Ready to sign up? Sign up now.
Have questions? Ask away.
Thinking of adding yoga practice to your lifestyle? Lucky you! The first exposure of yoga is a profound experience (but for those who have a poor first match, a decidedly not-so-profound).
Here are some tips for what you can do to increase your odds of having an enjoyable and beneficial first experience as you begin a yoga practice.
1. Know yourself.
Your age, fitness level, and relative interest in physical or spiritual development will all influence your best class choice. If you are 50 and not in great shape, a level 2 Ashtanga class may be stressful and painful enough to turn you away from yoga forever. A gentle Kripalu class, however, may start you on the path to actually enjoying the Ashtanga class once you have some experience under your belt.
2. Start slow.
Choose a class that seems easy and doable first, and then progress to more strenuous styles or more advanced classes after you have learned a few basics. Learning the basics of how the body works in yoga, and how to do postures safely as you move deeper, is essential to being able to sustain a long-term practice. Please don’t skip that step! Many studios offer a series of basic classes.
3. Learn a little yoga lingo.
If you are young and fit, more active styles of yoga may be a great introduction to the practice. These include Ashtanga, Bikram, Vinyasa, and Power styles. If you are older or less physically active, begin with Kripalu, gentle Hatha (usually a blend of styles ), Viniyoga, or another gentler style. Yin yoga and Slow-flow yoga tend to be deep and meditative with longer holdings. If you enjoy an intellectual approach, you may enjoy the Iyengar style with its precise alignment and detail. Kundalini yoga features chanting and song, lots of fiery breathing, and postures which can be scaled up or down to match your physical ability. Ananda, Shivananda, and Integral yoga tend to feature spiritual development more than postures. You will, however, likely hear some yoga philosophy in any style of yoga, depending on the background and preferences of your teacher.
4. Chat with your teacher.
Here are a list of questions, excerpted from my book Every Bite Is Divine, (p 140), that will help you get to know your teacher better:
- What type of yoga do you teach?
- Do you work with individuals with medical issues or special needs?
- How long have you been studying yoga?
- How long have you been teaching?
- Do you have students like me (e.g., unfit, overweight, disabled, or with other issues) in your classes?
- Do you do individual instruction?
- How much does that cost and what would I get out of that?
5. If the first match doesn’t work, try try again.
Don’t be discouraged if you do not enjoy your first class. Try several before giving up your quest.
Here is an excerpt from Every Bite Is Divine (p 58) on beginning a yoga practice:
Before launching a new health regimen, talk it over with your physician. If you have an existing medical condition, work with your health team to adapt this work to honor your medical needs.
Professional yoga instruction is recommended for beginners. Wear loose, comfortable clothing that does not inhibit movement for practice. Find a quiet space large enough to stand with wide legs and to move your arms in all directions. A towel or yoga mat and a cushion or blanket can help make you more comfortable.
Principles for safe yoga practice include moving slowly and with awareness, maintaining smooth, easy breathing through the nose unless otherwise instructed, and not straining to achieve a position. Your yoga practice is a time to pay attention to your physical abilities and limitations and to make compassionate adjustments accordingly.
Please note that there are several types of yoga postures not recommended for an overweight body just beginning to practice. For example, inversions (going upside-down) facilitate the cleansing processes of the body, which is of particular benefit to those with hypo-digestion (slow digestion in relation to appetite) and the resulting buildup of body mass, toxins, and so forth. But the primary inversions of yoga—headstand and shoulder stand—can be injury-inducing for beginners with excess body weight and low muscle strength. So, if you are overweight, especially if you are not regularly physically active, you may need to adjust postures in order for them to be safe and beneficial. But, no matter who you are, each asana (posture) may be done safely with skillful adjustments. Working with a skilled instructor will help you learn how to make inversions and every other yoga posture safe and beneficial. Enjoy! It requires awareness and an attitude of taking your time to cultivate a beneficial practice.
If you are not regularly physically active, begin slowly so that you prevent injuries related to overdoing it. One yoga principle says that practicing for 10 minutes every day is preferable to practicing for 3 hours once a week. It’s showing up for regular daily practice that holds the magic.
A yoga practice usually contains a period of centering or settling down and turning your awareness inward, warming up or preparing the body for practice, a period of asana (physical postures) with pranayama (awareness to breath and energy movement), and relaxation/integration. There is, however, no “recipe” for a practice, and the elements listed often blend together. A period of meditation often follows a yoga practice.
May you have a life-long yoga practice that leads to happiness, health and your own true self.
Getting the balance of eating and yoga practice down is a challenge for anyone. We overdo it, we under-do it, we practice when we’re full. We under-eat and don’t have the energy to perform. Sigh. Our energy, as well as our hunger peaks and valleys – getting it right is a dynamic dance.
Understanding and experiencing your own subtle body (in yoga, that includes your thoughts, intuition and energy bodies) takes practice. When you practice skillful navigation of your subtle body, particularly balanced with the knowledge of your nutritional needs, it can help prevent you from falling off a nutritional cliff of over- or under- doing it. This is especially handy once you begin the esoteric energy practices and learn that you have greater control over hunger and satiety that you’d realized. Then, having the wisdom of science to anchor you in adequacy is even more important to maintaining physical health.
That’s subtle body nourishment.
Why Bother? Benefits of Energy Practice
When you learn eating meditation techniques you are learning how to turn inward and participate in your body’s guidance systems – you have the option of taking more control – be it breath or eating or even thinking. That’s what all the hoopla is about. If we don’t understand that we are taking the steering wheel of hunger and satiety, it’s easy to under-eat once prana (life force, or energy as in your breath) starts expanding and getting excited. Then, it’s easy to overeat through your inevitable energy contraction.
Many a yogini seems to get into eating trouble when learning these more esoteric practices. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Life is an energy experience. Meditative practices are energy practices, and require that you spend time within your inner landscape – the more time you spend there exploring and curious, the better you will know and be able to navigate that landscape.
By learning how to operate your own subtle body, you can ultimately better navigate the chaos without getting overwhelmed by static. You can operate in a more intentional way.
This sort of practice brings consciousness to your personal energy ecology; the conditions under which you shine, for example.
Energy practice, meditation, mindfulness can help you learn how to improve your digestion – how to basically give your bodies what it needs (time and calm, primarily) to digest properly.
What is the Subtle Body?
In yoga philosophy, the subtle body is the aspect of you that is unseen by the human eye. It includes your thoughts and emotions, the wisdom aspect of you – your intuition, and your energy body.
The subtle body profoundly determines how you feel, react and respond to the world around us. When you learn how to guide your own thoughts, for example, you can literally change your perception of your own life. When you learn to ground your energy body, you can handle the spiral of chaos that the world at times seems to be, rooting in the real rather than swirling away in yet another frenzied tweet.
Food & Yoga Practice
The truth of the matter is that everyone is different – physically but also nutritionally. How well you can perform right after you eat, and the ideal makeup of a meal to fuel your practice is individual. There are, however, guidelines – rules of the road. Ayurveda practitioners say that certain foods create certain energies. Western science has their own version of the same idea – in a very different language. The language of macro and micro nutrition, and meal timing.
Ultimately, the way to figure out what works for you is to do the experiment. Notice how it works for you.
I’ve been thinking about subtle body nourishment and how food and practice interact in preparation for a gathering of souls at Kripalu July 8-11, Sunday through Wednesday morning. If these topics get interest you, consider joining me to practice, explore and learn about what the yogis and Western nutrition has to say about it.
Be well, practice on.
Mindful eating is a mindfulness meditation practice that has the ability to transform your relationship with food and eating. This simple (though not always easy) practice has done nothing less than revolutionize nutrition therapy, when combined with evidence-based steps that shift lifestyle toward health.
So, What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a meditation practice wherein you:
- Adopt a meditative mindset. We humans have the capacity to change our consciousness from our everyday distracted state to a calm, clear relaxed and open one. With this change, you focus attention inward and relax.
- Pay attention to what is happening moment by moment. Mindfulness is meditation while…(whatever you are doing). So, you get curious about whatever you are doing – be it walking or eating. Slowing the process down so that you can get fascinated enough that you lose yourself – you lose track of time – is mindful meditative absorption.
- There is a particular attitude of mindfulness called non-judgmental awareness. As you practice, you become aware of judgements like comparisons (this food is heathy therefore good, that food is less healthy, therefore not so good, for example). In mindfulness, you aim for a direct, sensory relationship with what you are eating.
Now, Apply it to Eating
In eating meditation, you slow down, breathe and relax, and enjoy your food. Just how might that unfold?
Here’s are a few steps to get you going:
- Make an intention to meditate while eating. Clear distractions (like TV, phones, internet).
- Eat with all five senses. Enjoy the beauty of your plate and each food item on it. Take in the aroma.
- Notice what thoughts and emotions come up for you, as you practice. Breathe, relax and resist the temptation to ‘push away’ thoughts. Just note – there’s a thought. Feel it, honor it, release it.
- Chew and savor. Can you chew each bite 10 times? 30?
Here is my Kripalu video on Mindful Eating.
Do you need to eat like this evermore? Nope. Think of it as a practice – something you do regularly, and build like you might build a muscle.
When I teach mindful eating at Kripalu, I encourage people to begin where they are, so if you don’t currently do this practice, and you take a few mindful bites each day, terrific.
If you find that you are not practicing, chunk it down until it is ridiculously easy. So, can you take one mindful bite each day? How about one mindful bite on your day off? One mindful breath? If you don’t have the 10 seconds it takes to take one mindful breath, well…you are indeed a busy person, and there’s hope for you yet! Try try again.
What Does the Science Say?
When I wrote my first book, Every Bite Is Divine, there really wasn’t much research explaining the mechanisms by which mindfulness eating meditation or yoga, does what they do. We just knew it worked. Times have changed! Now, places like Harvard are summarizing the science of why mindful eating can be helpful for weight management. Cecilia Clementi of The Center for Mindful Eating compiled a comprehensive list of references on mindful eating last year. Impressive!
If You Liked This…Check out:
Yoga’s East-West Moderation
Let’s Get Coherent
What Has Mindful Eating Done for You?
We want to know! What keep you practicing? Share your tips and reports!
What (and where) Is Moderation?
In order to lead a reasonably happy, healthful and productive life you need to practice a certain amount of moderation. We all know when we don’t have it. Just what is moderation, and how can you be moderate in our anything-but-moderate world? Moderation seems both out of style – sort of quaint – and our lack of it the reason for so much that ails so many.
Many of us can reel off the basics of a moderate lifestyle: generally sticking to a way of eating rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, things like maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding too much sugar and salt, and working with a nutrition professional if your medical condition necessitates lifestyle change.
Physical activity is another anchor of a moderate lifestyle. National fitness organizations recommend we get at least 30 minutes of moderate (there’s that word again) activity on most if not all days of the week. Yet most Americans are not moving this much.
Definitions and examples of a moderate lifestyle are clear and widely available, but the majority of Americans can’t seem to incorporate it into our daily lives. Cultural norms present moderation as passive, a little boring, and even undesirable, as Oscar Wilde’s famously observes: “Moderation is a fatal thing” and “Nothing succeeds like excess.”
Something one of my agents said, a gal who works with big writers, haunts me to this day. She said not to say that word – moderation. No one wants to talk about that, she insisted. We’re not working together anymore, though she’s an amazing agent, but I am so very clear that I’ll gladly leave some worldly success on the table to insist that we need to relax, mellow out and cultivate the middle path between too much and too little.
Yogic Moderation: Standing in the Fire
Yoga’s philosophical framework of the yamas and niyamas richly and clearly describe the mental framework of a moderate approach to lifestyle. While national health recommendations provide general outlines as to what a moderate lifestyle is, the actual how-to is much harder to find. Yoga gets into the nitty-gritty.
In yoga, moderation is not a passive state easily achieved.
The moderate yoga practitioner is a spiritual warrior constantly challenged by his or her own attachments (things he or she is drawn to, appetites) and aversions (things he or she pushes away from, dislikes). If the practitioner can begin to attenuate his or her appetites and dislikes through following the yamas and niyamas, and direct his or her passion (tapas) toward self-study(svadhyaya) or self-care, a more moderate lifestyle may be achieved, and his or her spiritual journey will proceed unencumbered. This cognitive restructuring, the re-weaving of your thinking process, is a difficult undertaking. In yoga it is sometimes referred to as “standing in the fire” between the two poles of attachment and aversion. Or, standing in the middle ground between too much and too little.
Modern yoga culture itself, unfortunately, is not immune to duplicity. With the tremendous gain in popularity of the practice and resultant explosion of commercial yoga endeavors, there is a booming yoga media culture that implies that if you purchase certain yoga products you will easily find unending bliss, happiness, and a perfect yoga butt.
In these image-pitches there is no hint of the hours of sadhana (practice) or the years of self-development necessary for the average practitioner to reach the states of bliss and physical perfection being peddled. This body-ism of getting overly attached to our physical appearance is prevalent in the yoga world (and is one reason we are seeing a jump in eating disorders in some yoga communities), but it is simply another distraction blocking your path to becoming a fully aware human. Look for teachers and practices that focus more on feeling great in the body you have right now, as opposed to practices and teachers encouraging you to aim for something you are not.
Enjoy your fit (or imperfectly fit) body, your vibrant (or somewhat less than vibrant) energy, but remember not to take it too seriously. The journey is the practice, and there is no goal or destination other than being in the present moment in practice and in life.
There’s been talk in the integrative wellness world about coherence, so here’s a bit about that. It’s about vibration and the waves created therein. Some scientists say that all communication comes down to vibrational waves – light, sound, movement – how animals and plants, the cells within them and much of the world itself communicates.
Let’s talk about waves and how to begin to discuss them. A good place to start is with few definitions.
Wavelength: A wavelength is the distance between two similar points of two waves – crest (top) to crest or trough (bottom) to bottom, for example.
Frequency: The number of waves produced per second. Speaks to speed and length.
Amplitude: Half the distance from peak to trough. It can also be thought of the height of a wave from the rest position (the inflection point in the middle where the wave is not moving) to the peak. How big it is.
Wave Speed: How fast it is moving (in meters per second).
Period: The time it takes to pass a point, in seconds. Speed.
Some of these sound close in definition and they are, but I am going to leave it there for the time being. If you are curious, do a little more research. Thanks.
So, coherence involves two waves meeting – they can meet in a coherent way (speed and frequency are similar enough to become in sync) and increase amplitude, or incoherently and decrease amplitude. When waves are incoherent, the waves can actually cancel each other out, or go a little haywire and splat (not a technical term but I hope you get the visual – plop!).
The metaphysical idea is that we are each born with a certain frequency (my teacher says we each come in on a different color of the rainbow of light). Our wavelength and frequency determine, to a great extent, to whom and what we resonate. What’s coherent to us, the thinking goes, is what gives us a boost and makes us feel stronger. Philosophers in this area go on and on, spiraling deeper and deeper in the dance of energy.
The human heart – that strongest muscle in our body – is an oscillator – it creates electical waves, and some believe it creates the human energy field. Get where I’m going?
What Might It Mean?
- When we do grounding practices in yoga we become more coherent with the earth.
- When we show appreciation for a plant, we are becoming more coherent with the plant.
- When we seek to understand what another person is saying, or feeling – when we empathize, we are becoming more coherent with that person.
- When we cultivate gratitude we become more coherent with our own life and life itself.
Coherence is a basis for communication – it is a connection. My teacher says it is a communion.
I say it is a way of understanding energy. Of understanding our subtle bodies (meaning our energy bodies, our emotional bodies, the aspects of us we can’t see and have difficulty measuring) and the world around us. The idea that cultivating coherence leads to and is akin to following our bliss. These ideas are consistent with both yoga and with positive psychology and with plant spirit healing. They are energy-competent lenses for experiencing life.
Is This for Real?
Is there Western clinical science that might back this up? From what I’ve see thus far, there are many interesting possibilities, but I have yet to see a really well conducted study that proves this all happens in the way I’ve presented. I want one, believe me – intuitively it makes perfect sense. But the science, well, it’s so young it doesn’t yet speak.
And yet. It’s worthwhile to study energy. Knowing how to operate your own energy field, how to ground yourself, how to expand when it’s helpful – these are clearly helpful skills in this destabilized and chaotic time. So, let’s keep studying. With a clear eye and an open heart.
Through my programs this year – in Costa Rica, the March weekend (Every Bite Is Divine) , my week with Jeremy and the program I’ll lead in July (Subtle Body Nourishment) at Kripalu, I will be diving into the how of coherence – there are practices that can help you live more from, and funnel life through – this magnificent organ at the center of our being – our heart.