Ritual has been known to give people a sense of connection and presence. In cultures far and wide, various types of ritual have been celebrated, cherished, and passed down through the generations. As with any other area of your life, you can create ritual with your eating.
One of the most important ways to ritualize your eating is through customized rituals that match what you are intending for yourself and what inspires you.
- A traditional ritual may be passed down through your family or culture, warming your heart and reminding you of your grandmother. Traditional rituals could include a specific holiday meal or blessing that has been part of your family for years.
- An intentional ritual may help you be more focused on and accountable to your daily health goals. Intentional rituals could include making a weekly broth or routine structured meal preparation.
- A habitual ritual may help you feel structured, secure, or rhythmic in your eating. A habitual ritual could be eating your meals at the same time each day.
One study showed that eating with rituals (e.g., savoring the food, delaying eating) led to an enhanced experience and an increased level of enjoyment during a meal.
Rituals are considered a healing practice in many cultures around the world. Rituals can engage you more fully—body, mind, and soul—in your eating experience.
Here are seven healthy (and simple) eating rituals for you to explore.
1. Be Mindful When Preparing Your Food
You may focus your attention more on your eating and less on the act of preparing your food. In the tradition of Ayurveda, attention is encouraged in both activities. Sadhana is a common Ayurvedic practice of being present in everything you do. Food prepared with sadhana is food prepared with intention, prayer, mindfulness, and awareness. This kind of preparation is said to enhance the potency and vibration of your food.
Traditionally, Sadhana is seen in examples such as the grinding of masala in the mortar and pestle while chanting, praying, and being surrounded with community and love. Notably, the kitchen is often considered the heart of the house. The kitchen is where food is created to nourish your whole self, where your love for your family (and yourself) can turn into a nourishing meal. One study showed that people chose healthier foods when the food was self-prepared.
- Start with simple foods and recipes.
- Set an intention for the food you are cooking.
- Bring your attention to creating healing food for yourself and others.
- Think of your food preparation as a sacred act to nourish those who will enjoy the food.
- Chop your ingredients slowly and mindfully.
- Create a sacred space in your kitchen through creating ambiance, praying, chanting, singing, or meditating.
2. Set a Seasonal Table
Every season is full of opportunity for a decorative seasonal table. From simple to complex décor, you can bring your own creativity and flare to the table. Whether you are sharing a romantic meal with your beloved, entertaining your favorite friends, savoring a quiet moment to yourself, or enjoying a family meal celebration, take a moment to set your table.
With a sacred seasonal space to sit and enjoy your meal, not only will you connect more deeply to your mealtime, but you will also honor nature and the seasons in the process. Sitting down to a pretty table (of your choice and style) can set the stage for you to feel comfort, intention, and presence when you eat.
- Clear away the clutter, papers, and various things that pile up on your table.
- In the fall, gather pinecones and place them in a pretty bowl as a centerpiece, or create a cornucopia of fall harvest vegetables.
- In the winter, decorate your table with holiday colors, a sprig of fresh pine on each napkin, and a candle lantern in honor of the winter holidays you celebrate.
- For spring, adorn your table with spring flowers and colorful napkins to brighten up your meal.
- In summer, set an outdoor table, use your garden or your local farmers market to add floral touches, and fill your table with the seasonal produce, local wine, and the full flavors of summer.
3. Light a Candle
There are many traditional rituals of lighting a candle that span cultures all over the world. The thread they all seem to have in common is presence, gratitude, solace, and a deep honoring. The flickering light of the candle is known to soothe the soul. The dim light the candle radiates relaxes your nervous system, which prepares your digestion for optimal function. One study showed that in a group of elderly people, the addition of dim lighting enhanced and calmed the overall mood of the group.
Lighting a candle each time you sit down to enjoy a meal is a simple yet effective ritual to remind you of whatever feeling or tone you want to bring to your meal. Lighting a candle reminds you to pause, slow down, and create a beautiful ambiance in which to sip and savor.
Each time you sit down to a meal, take a short pause and light a candle. If you share your table with friends or family (including children) have them take a turn lighting the candle and/or blowing or snuffing out the candle. Change your candles and candle holders based on the season, the holidays, your creative décor, or what you are calling into your life and health.
4. Practice Gratitude
Gratitude helps you the see the goodness in your life—even amid struggle or strife. While eating can be pleasure-focused and enjoyable, mealtime and eating can also come with confusion, stress, and even anxiety. Practicing a state of gratitude has many diverse and positive results that can benefit your eating experience, your health, and beyond.
Gratitude creates a positive state of mind. Gratitude elevates your body with loving thoughts and hope, while also reversing negativity and self-criticism. One study showed that practicing gratitude may lead to healthier eating habits in young adults. Bringing yourself into a positive state of mind is always helpful for creating a healthful eating experience for your body, mind, and soul.
When you sit down to a meal, either alone or with friends and family, take a moment to practice gratitude (you can do this for a few moments in your mind if you are not ready to share this with the rest of the table).
- Consider holding gratitude for the source of your food.
- Thank the farmers who grew the food.
- Honor the person who cooked the food.
- Celebrate the abundance of food to elevate the health and wellness of your body and your life.
Consider finding gratitude for all the good in your life, the highlights of your day, the overcoming of challenges, personal strength, and the well-being of those who you share your meal with.
5. Practice Breathing
One easy way to bring ritual and presence to your eating is through your breath. Slow, deep breaths activate the parasympathetic (calming) branch of your nervous system, and create an optimal state for digestion. Studies show that when you are in a more peaceful state, such as after practicing yogic breathing, you can improve the symptoms of IBS. Breathing before you take each bite allows you to pause, slow down, be aware of what is arising in your body and bring more mindfulness to your eating.
As you sit down to a meal, take a slow, deep breath in between each bite. Notice how this can slow down your eating, relax your mind-body system, and heighten your awareness during your meal.
6. Eat Outside
The simple act of taking your food outside can do wonders for your psyche. Clearly, not all days will be suited for this, nor are all outdoor environments, but there are likely more opportunities on your calendar and in your proximity than you may think. Consider exploring the inviting green spaces of your yard or garden, or the tree-filled park by your office. With the warm sun shining down on you, the shade of a big apple tree, or candlelight on your back patio on a summer night, you can soothe so many aspects of your soul.
One study showed an improvement in health issues (up to 7 percent of depression cases and 9 percent of high blood pressure cases could be prevented) when folks spend time in nature, or green spaces at least once a week for an average duration of at least 30 minutes.
- Take a picnic blanket outside under your favorite tree to enjoy a simple lunch.
- Set an outdoor table with candles for a romantic dinner with your loved one.
- Walk (or drive) to a nearby park on your lunch break to find a picnic table to sit and enjoy your break.
- Bring your morning coffee and breakfast outside onto your back patio to begin your day with some early morning sunshine and time to reflect and enjoy your breakfast.
7. Make It Sensory
Your senses are your vehicle for pleasure. The taste of each bite on your tongue, the smell of each unique spice, the beauty of the colors on your plate, the sound of laughter or silence as you savor your food, and the different textures of the assortment of food and you chew. Tuning in to the senses will accentuate your pleasure and your presence as you eat.
Your senses are alive in each moment. Therefore, observing your senses while eating can support you in becoming more present during mealtime.
Before you begin each meal, enjoy the beauty and abundance of the food on your plate.
- Smell the aroma of each item before you take a bite.
- Notice the variety of textures as each bite hits your palate.
- Taste the fullness of the flavors (salty, bitter, sour, spicy, and sweet) that stand out within each dish.
- Enjoy the sounds around the table—the laughter or chatter of those around you, or the stillness and silence of quiet space for yourself.
Bringing customized rituals to your eating is a wonderful practice for your health. The variety and uniqueness you create can be crafted just for you by you to enliven your awareness, intentions, mindfulness, and so much more. As always, start small and simple and watch your eating rituals evolve along with you and your family.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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Rituals of Consumption. Kathleen D. Vohs, Yajin Wang, Francesca Gino and Michael I. Norton R
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