Meditating Your Way to Healthy Digestion

In my previous post, I described 4 ways that yoga can support your nutrition and weight loss goals. Here, I’ll offer some advice about how a mindful meal meditation might move you along in these endeavors as well.

About Meditation & Mindfulness

Meditation is essentially a practice in training one’s mind, so it can be done anywhere, using anything as a point of focus. Applying meditative techniques when moving throughout one’s day can be thought of as mindfulness. Since we eat at least 2-3 times a day, meal times are a natural opportunity for meditation, using food as our focus.

A Mindful Mealtime Meditation to Try

Light some candles, dim the lights, maybe put on some relaxing background music. Ensure there are no potential distractions, nothing within reach to multitask with. Then, sit down at a table in front of your plate, and take a moment to connect with your meal. Look down at your food, noticing the different colors and textures, as well as the arrangement of the food. You might like to use a simple statement, like, “I eat this food to be healthy and happy, to care for and nourish my body.” This prepares your body for a relaxed eating experience.

Take only enough food as will comfortably fit on your utensil. Notice the first contact of the food with your tongue. See if you can identify the flavors: sour, salty, sweet, bitter, and so on. Notice how the food changes form as you chew it slowly. To help you focus on this, it may be helpful for you to place your utensils (or food, if it’s hand-held) back down on your plate between bites. If you get distracted or find yourself hurrying, simply notice, take a deep breath and start again.

When your plate is empty, observe that. Bring your attention to your belly, and notice that you are nourished and satisfied.

Note: A nice book for bringing meditation into your daily life is Making Space by Thich Nhat Hanh, from which some of these concepts were adapted.

Why This Matters

In Inside Tract, Mullen et al. state that “mindful eating is one of the most important techniques you can use [to improve your frame of mind and prepare yourself for excellent digestion].” In Digestive Wellness, Lipski posits that “focus[ing]…awareness of the favors in each bite…can dramatically enhance [people’s] total digestive function more completely than can enzymes, bitters, or other digestive supplements.”

Why? Because eating mindfully and with presence not only activates the relaxation response, but also initiates the first phase in the digestive process, called the cephalic phase. Cephalic means “of the head”, and it’s how the brain registers that the body is about to receive a meal. It’s how the brain knows to “turn on” digestion by doing things like releasing enzymes and activating stomach acids, as two examples. When we don’t pay attention to our food as we eat it, we bypass this phase, meaning:

  • our digestive capacity (i.e. ability to break down, process, and assimilate nutrients from the food) is hampered by 40-60%
  • we are more likely to overeat because we are not aware that we are full
  • our digestive system has to work harder overall, which can result in issues like gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and over time, more serious ones like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Note: Why Being Mindful Matters is a nice, readable article on this topic.

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