One of the best times of day is when it is time to eat. Being fully present during this sacred time of bliss is of utmost importance. What we consume, how much, and what time we eat affects how we digest, along with our sense of wellbeing. Following a few simple guidelines for mindful eating can go a long way in maintaining a robust digestive fire and cultivating a feeling of satiation and contentment. Pure, wholesome foods, when consumed in the wrong state of mind or circumstances, may generate impurities. The following tips for mindful eating can help us stay on track.
- Eat in a quiet, clean, still environment. Stillness in our environment contains our senses and allows us to focus more on our meal, and less on our surroundings. It also allows us to be less distracted and enjoy our meal more. Putting away our laptop or phone and sitting away from an office desk or crowded area are great ways to be fully present while nourishing ourselves. Sharing meals with friends and loved ones can be sacred and one of the best times for bonding. When dining in a group, aim to keep conversations soft, sweet, calm, and harmonious.
- Eat to one-third of the capacity of your stomach. Your stomach should be filled with 1⁄3 food, 1⁄3 water, and 1⁄3 air at the end of a meal. The space left empty for the air element to reside ensures that the churning action, Samāna Vāyu, has enough room to mix food with digestive enzymes and mucus to create chyle. With a dry meal, a small quantity of warm or hot liquids can be sipped. Drinking lots of water right before, during, or after a meal will put out our agni. Instead, we can “drink our food and chew our water.”
- Serve yourself a portion size that you could fit in your cupped palms. It is no wonder why an elephant can easily eat a pound of peanuts but if a human does, they will fall sick. Stomach sizes vary depending on the frame and stature of our body’s size. The general rule for filling 1⁄3 of our belly with food is by eating approximately the portion size that fits in our cupped palms. Some days our body requires more food than others but, you can use this as a general guideline for visualizing how much is enough and how much is too much.
- Stop eating at your first burp. You may not realize it, but every time you eat, you have a little burp. It may take two or three tries to notice this, but start paying attention to it, and it will appear. This burp is Udāna Vāyu letting us know that our stomach is already one-third full of food and one-third full of water. If we keep eating after that burp, we risk overfilling our stomach and causing indigestion. Overeating taxes agni and takes away from the space our digestive fire needs to cultivate itself. When that happens, we will not digest as efficiently, nor will we be hungry in time for our next meal. Overeating results in the need to fast or skip a meal so our agni can catch up. Start noticing this stop-signal and experiment with it, then watch the magic happen.
- Sit cross legged when you eat. Eating with our legs in a comfortable cross-legged position, also known as “easy pose” or Sukhasana, opens the nadis, or energy channels of the body, and improves our capacity to digest. When we sit in this posture at mealtimes, the space in the stomach decreases and we become full and satiated more quickly and have less likelihood to overeat. Good posture allows our vital organs to function optimally and promotes awareness so we can eat mindfully. This posture also encourages us to breathe while we eat, as opposed to simply inhaling our meals.
- Eat breakfast like a yogi, lunch like a bhogi, and dinner like a rogī. Eating breakfast like a yogi means breaking fast with the appropriate amount of sustenance that you will need for your activities that day. If you are going on a 50-mile bike ride, you may need a heavier, sweeter, saltier, oilier breakfast. If you have a low appetite and are going to work at a desk job all day, you may skip breakfast altogether. Yogis are wise and eat their meals in preparation for the day’s activities. Eat lunch like a bhogi means to eat a lunch that is satiating and pleasing to the senses. Lunch, according to Ayurveda, is the largest, most filling and substantial meal of the day, as agni is at its peak. During this time, we can better digest caloric, dense, hardy, rich, and delicious foods that provide energy during the day but take more time and digestive power to break down. The word bhoga means sensory enjoyment. Eat dinner like a rogī means to have a nighttime meal that a sick person would eat. Roga means “illness” or “disease” so a rogī is a sick person. Ill people should eat meals that reduce ama by providing nourishment that does not strain digestive organs. Soups, kitcharis and stews are appropriate for dinner time, as they are simple, light, and easy to digest. Enjoy an evening meal that does not sit heavily in the gut, disturbing sleep. It is important to wake up feeling fire in our belly, as opposed to last night’s meal.
- For whom, when, and how much? There is no such thing as inherently “good” or “bad” food in Ayurveda, as all food substances can have a medicinal or damaging effect, depending on the quality and quantity. Use the rule of opposites to assess what you are ingesting. Feeling cold? Have something hot like cinnamon. Feeling dry? Go for an unctuous substance like ghee. Feeling dull and groggy on a cloudy day? Avoid “cloudy” foods like dairy or cheese and increase “sharpness” by adding black pepper to your meals. Make it a habit to check in with yourself, your agni, and the relationship to your environment before you make your food choices. To check the accuracy of your choices, observe the short and long-term effects. If you are feeling better immediately after eating, as well as the next day and week, this is an indicator that your choices were sattvic—balanced and harmonious to your physiological needs.
Enjoy your meal! Eating should be one of the happiest and most pleasant activities during our day. Be sure to consume your meal with all five senses and digest the entire experience of how wonderful it is to participate in eating. Listen to the crunching of your croutons or the slurping of your soup. Witness the brightness of the colorful vegetables on a white plate. Feel your body temperature rising as you sip tea in the cool autumn air. Give gratitude for your experience. When you are fully present and grateful during the time of eating, we simultaneously nourish and satiate our mind, body, and soul.
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