mindful eating

15 ways to practice mindfulness

mindfulness reminders

Each and every day we have many opportunities to practice mindfulness.

Here is a list of ways to practice mindfulness. Choose one to practice for a day or a week and give it your wholehearted attention.

1. When you wake up in the morning, notice your breathing before you get out of bed. The quality of our breath tells us a lot about our state of being. When the breath is slow and steady we are calm and peaceful. When the breath is constricted we are tense.

2. Before you get out of bed, notice your thoughts. What was your first thought upon waking? This practice helps us get in touch with what is on the mind and in our dreams

3. When possible, eat silently. Before you eat, consider all the people involved in providing the food on your plate – farmers, truck drivers, people in supermarkets. Offer gratitude for all these people.

4. Notice your environment: sunlight, rain, the wind, trees, sights and sounds. On your way to work, school, an appointment or your daily errands, be mindful of driving your car, walking, sitting on the subway, arriving at your destination, your state of mind and your thoughts. Are you in the present moment or thinking ahead to what you will be doing next? Notice your body, and let your breathing help you relax your shoulders, soften your face.

5. Notice when you can stop the pressure of pushing to get where you are going and simply enjoy the process of getting there.

6. Practice mindful, conscious breathing throughout your day: at work, while sitting down, at your desk, at your computer, while speaking on the phone and in person.

7. Allow yourself to be calm and peaceful. Use daily cues as reminders to be mindful: the doorbell, the telephone, a mindfulness bell on your computer, turning on a light, checking your watch or a clock for the time.

8. Approach meals with mindfulness and gratitude.  Really taste what you are eating.

9. As you leave your daily activities, take a moment to appreciate what you have accomplished and consider how you have interacted with others.  Wash your speech kind, helpful and appropriate to the situation?

10. Consider your trip home as a transition time between your daily activities and your time at home.

11. Become aware of your breathing, smile, notice the quality of your thoughts and feelings.

12. Approach your homecoming and the people you come home to, with peacefulness and kindness.

13. You can use conscious breathing – awareness of the breath – as a foundation to encourage mindfulness in all of your daily activities, just as you use it as the foundation for your sitting and walking meditation practices.

14. Eat meals without doing anything else. Eat them sitting down, rather than standing up or in your car or on the run. Taste every morsel of food and enjoy the aroma and texture of your food.

15. As you go to bed and prepare for sleep, breathe, become aware of your body and relax, and let go of daily activities and of your anticipation of tomorrow.

Wishing you the gift of mindfulness each and every day.

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Meditation as a doable, daily dose of mental wellness

wildmind meditation news

Hannah Trumbo, Smith College Sophian: When you think of the word “meditation,” you might imagine a guru sitting under a tree for several hours, just breathing. Or maybe you think, “I don’t have time to sit and do nothing; I have so many things to get done.”

That’s what I used to think. I was the person who always wanted to meditate, but every time I tried, I could never stick to a practice. That is, until I went to the Helen Hills Hills Chapel’s weekly meditation group, which meets every Monday from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Yes, the concept is similar. We do sit quietly for an hour, but the environment is open and accepting of all different meditation backgrounds – whether you practice an hour a day or are a complete beginner.

Interfaith Program Coordinator for the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life Hayat Nancy Abuza defines meditation as “involving the shifting of attention to a still point of focus, with the aim of increasing calm and peacefulness.” The idea sounds simple, she said, but meditation isn’t necessarily easy. Like any activity, “practice will help.”

Practicing meditation does not have to involve sitting on a cushion for an hour. According to Abuza, “one can meditate while walking to class, before sleep, doing yoga, while standing in line at the post office and while eating.”

Yes, even eating.

Abuza encourages students to attend the “Mindful Munching” lunch workshop in the King/Scales private dining room on March 7, 21 and 28. Eating meditation can be particularly helpful for those who chow down on Smith’s pierogies on their way to Neilson.

Any kind of meditation can help alleviate stress, improve sleep, and mental focus overtime, stated Abuza. It’s especially good for students who can get wrapped up in the whirlwind of homework, extra-curricular activities, jobs and internships.

“Even for a short time, it is very valuable in a hectic setting like Smith to learn to leave behind one’s outer concerns and focus on one’s inner life,” Abuza explained.

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standing in line at the post office and while eating.”

Yes, even eating.

Abuza encourages students to attend the “Mindful Munching” lunch workshop in the King/Scales private dining room on March 7, 21 and 28. Eating meditation can be particularly helpful for those who chow down on Smith’s pierogies on their way to Neilson.

Any kind of meditation can help alleviate stress, improve sleep, and mental focus overtime, stated Abuza. It’s especially good for students who can get wrapped up in the whirlwind of homework, extra-curricular activities, jobs and internships.

“Even for a short time, it is very valuable in a hectic setting like Smith to learn to leave behind one’s outer concerns and focus on one’s inner life,” Abuza explained.

Alex Grubb ’11 agrees.

“When I know I have to stay up late to do homework but am really tired, I meditate on my bed or in the shower and it’s very rejuvenating and it helps clear my mind,” Abuza and Grubb are not alone in their opinion on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. Research suggests that meditation has potential psychological and physical benefits. In a study conducted by the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers found that subjects with generalized anxiety disorder were able to reduce their symptoms of anxiety by following a meditation-based stress reduction program.

While Smith students might not have the opportunity to participate in a formal program, just a few minutes of mediation a day can be very helpful. I recently started meditating five minutes a day, five days a week, for five weeks, called the “5-5-5” meditation practice, that Zen Buddhist Priest Ryumon Baldoquin described to me in December.

While I know that I won’t reach nirvana anytime soon, the five minutes do calm me down after a long day of studying.
So how does one begin to meditate? There is always Google, where you are bound to find millions of sources just by typing “meditation” in the search box.

Or, you could drop in on Monday’s meditation. Led by Baldoquin, the hour-long practice includes tips on how to sit with good posture as well as a walking meditation. The environment is safe, accepting and open – an hour to breathe, walk slowly or just sit peacefully before tackling the mountain of homework. Grubb said.

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“Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life,” by Thich Nhat Hanh

On New Year’s Day, many of us will resolve to lose weight. But before we finalise our weight loss plans, writer Mandy Sutter recommends taking a look at Thich Nhat Hanh’s interesting new book, Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.

For millions of us, overweight is a seemingly intractable problem. We start diets and exercise programmes with good intentions, and may succeed in losing weight. But our new, low weight is hard to sustain and the pounds creep back on, sometimes gradually, sometimes indecently quickly.

According to Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr Lilian Cheung, authors of Savor, our difficulties aren’t entirely of our own making. The ‘obesigenic society’ we live in makes it tricky to live in a healthy, balanced way. There’s a proven link, for example, between the rise in obesity and the rise in TV watching. And food manufacturers are generally more concerned with turning in a good profit than with safeguarding people’s health.

A significant part of Savor is devoted to observations like these, backed up by intelligent discussion and reference to up-to-date scientific studies. The emphasis on interconnectedness is no accident (we Buddhists tend to bang on about such things) and marks the book out as more than just another book on weight loss. It takes the sting out of one’s own struggle too, and relieves the self-blame that strikes as one reaches for another chocolate in front of the afternoon film.

But having put our problems into context, the authors don’t let us rest on our laurels. The book is stuffed – perhaps a little surprisingly – with practical advice on eating and exercise.

A seasoned dieter will have seen much of this before, but what’s different about Savor is that the benefit of following the advice is described not just in terms of the self but also the wider community. Interconnectedness again. For example, it’s pointed out that riding a bike to work will not only help you lose weight but safeguard the clean air in your town, as will your next step: trying to persuade local government to build cycle paths.

Another thing that marks Savor out is the meditation exercises peppered throughout, the reference to Buddhist sutras, and gems like ‘the 7 practices of a mindful eater’. The exercises and references to Buddhist texts are well explained and justified within the weight-loss context, and therefore accessible to non-Buddhists.

I do wonder, however, if exhorting us to recite Thich Nhat Hanh’s Five Mindfulness Trainings once a week (pg 209) isn’t a bridge too far for the non-Buddhist reader (at whom the book seems to be aimed).

And although the book’s approach will fall like manna from Nirvana to some, it will alienate others (including Buddhists fat and thin alike) who don’t buy the idea that our society is in a bad way or even that our planet is in need of saving. Very occasionally the text degenerates into hectoring, as if one is attending a very right-on party and has been trapped (on the other side of the room from the food and drinks table) by an earnest bore.

But these slips are minor ones in a book that’s thoughtful, concerned, well researched and pleasingly wide-ranging.

Ignore the blurb on the cover, which makes mindfulness sound like the new ‘fix’ to help people lose weight. In fact, the book gets it the other (right) way round: our problems with weight offer us a golden opportunity to learn to live more mindfully.

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Newest weight loss strategy: Meditate before eating your meal

Jimmy Downs, Food Consumer: Weight loss needs a reduction in caloric intake, which can be realized by simply practicing some meditation before eating meals, a new study suggests.

The study led by Dr. Carey Morewedge from Department of Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University shows people tended to eat less of a food if they imagined the eating process repeatedly before they actually ate the food. And the study found the more food a person “ate” in his imagination, the less food subsequently he would eat.

In the study, according to what Dr. Morewedge told NPR Science Friday radio program, study participants were told to imagine the process of eating M&Ms, including moving the candies into a bowl, and then asked to eat the real food. Those who imagined eating 30 M&Ms ate much less real M&Ms than those who imagined eating only 3 M&Ms.

Dr. Morewedge said simply imagining moving the food did not help.

He said you also need to imagine eating what you are going to eat to reduce the consumption of the food. The study showed when participants imagined they were eating M&Ms, and then when they were assigned to eat cheese cubes, no matter how many M&Ms they ate in their imagination, they ate the same amount of cheese.

What works behind this trick is a process called habituation, according to Dr. Morewedge. According to this theory, people are less responsive to what they got habituated to. In the study case, after the participants imagined they ate lots of cheese cubes, they felt less urged to eat the food and they ate less of the food as a result.

But Dr. Morewedge told NPR that this imagination method does not work for other habits like smoking, which involves a more complex mechanism and imagining smoking could actually boost a smoker’s craving for smokes and the smoker could actually smoke more.

Dr. Morewedge used cheese and M&Ms for the study. It is unknown whether this method would help people cut their consumption of a real meal which consists of multiple foods. Should the diners, like people going to have some Chinese buffet, imagine all the foods they are going to eat to reduce the consumption of the variety of real foods? Or would this method work at all in this case?

The study was published in a recent issue of Science, a prestigious scientific journal.

In China, two idioms describe two pitiful situations in which people don’t have water to drink to quench their thirst and don’t have food to eat to satisfy their hunger. In these situation as the idioms suggest, people may “look at prune to quench your thirst” and “draw a cake to satisfy your hunger”.

Original article no longer available…

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Can mindfulness help manage pain and mental illness?

In the German night sky, there were hundreds of parachutes falling in a routine army training exercise.

It was this jump that would cause former United States Army Ranger Monty Reed more than two decades of pain. Reed fell from about 100 feet after another parachute interfered with his descent. He broke his ankle and back and to this day has trouble walking and feels discomfort when he breathes.

“I felt like the physical pain that I deal with every day was an enemy I had to fight,” says Reed, 45, of Seattle, Washington.
But eventually, says Reed, a therapy technique that incorporates mindfulness helped him deal with this pain and the flashbacks he got from various army training situations. Mindfulness as a concept comes from Buddhism and is key to meditation in that tradition. It means being present and in the moment, and observing in a nonjudgmental way, says Susan Albers, psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Mindfulness encourages you to accept who you are, and trust yourself. Don’t judge yourself for having the feelings you have — just allow yourself to feel them.

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Sweet reasons to clear the head

Meditating using chocolate is a sweet way to experience bliss.

Kew East [Victoria, Australia] author Janet Etty-Leal has been using chocolate mindfulness meditation to help teach children awareness and relaxation techniques.

“They come to their senses, they feel it, smell it, taste the flavours and notice all the sensations,” Etty-Leal, 55, said.

Etty-Leal uses novel props, visual aids and games to help children master their minds.

“We don’t just sit or lie down, we do walking meditation, feeling fabrics under our feet,” she said.

“If you’re going to teach it in a dull and serious way, you’re not going to capture their hearts and imagination. When you make it fun and use things they’re not expecting, then they become still and focus.”

Etty-Leal said meditation was helpful for students, including children with ADD, aspergers and hyperactivity. She has written Meditation Capsules: A Mindfulness Program for Children to help adults who want to teach children the skills of mindful meditation.

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Three books on mindful eating: a review

The Zen of Eating, by Ronna KabatznickWith so many of us being overweight or having “issues” with food, there’s been a welcome interest in — and a slew of books about — learning to eat more mindfully. Freelance writer Mandy Sutter gives us a “taste” of what three of these books has to offer.

As a former yo-yo dieter, ‘mindful eating’ was an idea I skirted around when first encountering Buddhist practice. It sounded too much like a diet. But the phrase still lurked in a corner, like a giant spider you can’t help looking at. Eventually I had to coax the spider onto a piece of cardboard, cover it with a beer glass and take it outside — in other words, buy three books on mindful eating: The Zen of Eating, by Ronna Kabatznick, Ph.D, Eating the Moment by Pavel G Somov, PhD, and Meal by Meal by Donald Altman.

Kabatznick presents herself as a specialist in weight management first and a long-time mindfulness practitioner second. But The Zen of Eating is a book about spiritual practice: she sets out to show how accepting the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths can stop you overeating. She goes on to analyse the Eightfold Path in terms of its relevance to food choices. It’s a worry that the Middle Way might end up being pressed into the service of fatties everywhere, and sometimes the text creaks as detailed aspects of Buddhist practice are forced into relevance with eating, but most of the book works very well. In her section on ‘Right Aspiration’ for example, Kabatznick talks about how mindful eating can be undermined when motivated by vanity. If a choice to restrict certain foods is made to benefit others though, there can be meaning behind the action. She suggests dedication of merit: offering any benefit that comes from your commitment to healthy eating to specific people or groups of people (for example cutting back on red meat could be dedicated to heart disease patients).

Verdict: although contrived in places, The Zen of Eating is a thoughtful, intelligent read.

Eating the Moment, by Pavel G. Somov

Pavel G. Somov’s Eating the Moment offers a completely different take on the subject. It’s practical and it’s funny. Somov has the florid, enjoyable writing style of a raconteur, addressing us as ‘dear reader’ and advising us to phone in sick to make time to experiment with all the different ways of cooking eggs.

His book is a collection of varied suggestions to overcome overeating: 141 in all. Some relate to spiritual practice as much as to eating: for example, he suggests watching a lava lamp as a visual metaphor for the morphing nature of thought. Another suggestion ‘The Admittedly Annoying Thorough Chewing Exercise’ is geared at self-awareness, and another ‘The Carrot Cake Fight’ has us throwing ‘snowballs’ of carrot cake at a tree in order to stop carrot cake saying simply ‘eat me.’

Verdict: delightful to read, but will you practice the techniques? I tried three then got overwhelmed by the number of suggestions.

Meal by Meal by Donald Altman

Meal by Meal by Donald Altman offers a third approach: a year of daily meditations. I’m a sucker for being told what to do on certain days, even though in voracious frames of mind I’m capable of reading and even doing a whole week’s worth of suggestions. In dilatory states I fail to pick up the book at all, of course, and am tempted to time travel if I don’t like one particular day’s suggestion. So, right from page one, the book’s format brings you into contact with yourself.

The meditations themselves are quite lengthy, exposing you to a quotation, asking you at least one probing question, then suggesting an action. Some are beautiful, if pious. On March 15th, you quiet a diet-crazed mind by repeating a meaningful word, like Om, to yourself at the table. Some verge on the polemical, and are therefore complicated. On July 21st you’re asked, ‘do your current food choices leave you wanting fewer side effects and discomforts? Is temporary food pleasure worth discomfort or even long-term health problems?’

Others are imaginative: on October 21st you reflect on how cookbooks and diet books are often placed opposite each other in bookshops. It’s a metaphor for your conflicting desires: can you walk through the aisle without grabbing either?

Verdict: overcomplicated, but containing real gems.

All three books are worth a look. The Zen of Eating came top for me, because I loved its rigour and commitment; the way it reached into all the little corners of its subject. I trusted its author the most. But if you want something practical I’d recommend Eating the Moment and if you value answering questions about yourself as a way to awareness, I’d recommend Meal by Meal.

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Vegetarian diet for five days reduces levels of toxic chemicals in the body

People who adopted a vegetarian diet for just five days show reduced levels of toxic chemicals in their bodies. In particular, levels of hormone disrupting chemicals and antibiotics used in livestock were lower after the five-day vegetarian program. The pilot study suggests that people may be able reduce their exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals through dietary choices, such as limiting consumption of animal products like meats and dairy.

Twenty-five participants lived in a Buddhist temple and adopted the monks’ lifestyle – including their traditional vegetarian diet – for five days.

At the beginning of their “Temple Stay,” participants completed a questionnaire about what they had eaten in the previous 48 hours. They gave a urine sample to provide information on level of exposure to antibiotics and phthalates before the program began. None of the participants had taken any antibiotics or pharmaceutical drugs in the previous month. After five days of following a traditional Buddhist monk lifestyle and diet, participants again gave a urine sample so that levels of chemicals in their bodies after the program could be assessed.

Because it is difficult to measure levels of phthalates directly, researchers typically measure levels of their breakdown products in the urine samples. In this case, the scientists looked at levels of six different phthalate breakdown products as well as concentrations of three commonly used antibiotics and two of their breakdown products.

The researchers compared levels of phthalates and antibiotics in the body before and after the program. They also examined how the foods eaten in the days prior to the start of the Temple Stay related to the before levels of chemicals in their urine.

Participants varied greatly as to which antibiotics were detected in their bodies at the start of the study. By the end of the study, in many cases, participants’ antibiotic concentrations were too low to be accurately measured. For those samples that could be measured, moreover, both urinary levels of the antibiotics and the estimated daily intake of antibiotics had decreased after the Temple Stay.

Every participant had measurable levels of all six phthalate breakdown products at both the beginning and end of the study. However, after the five-day program, levels of all but one had dropped significantly, as had the estimated daily intake of phthalates.

The researchers also found that the foods participants ate in the 48 hours before starting the program were related to the concentrations of antibiotics and phthalates in their bodies. Beef, pork and dairy were associated with starting urinary levels of the various antibiotics, suggesting that those foods may be major inadvertent routes of exposure to the pharmaceuticals. Similarly, levels of one particular phthalate breakdown product were related to number of servings of dairy products consumed in the previous 48 hours.

The dramatic reductions in antibiotic and phthalate levels resulting from the five-day Temple Stay program of lifestyle and dietary change suggest that the body’s chemical burden can be reduced even within a very short time frame.

At the same time, phthalates remained in the urine of all 25 participants, albeit at lesser levels, even after the five-day program. The finding reinforces current thinking that diet is an important source of phthalate exposure but not the only one. Other sources of exposure include personal care products, home furnishings and dust.

Antibiotic levels showed a more dramatic drop, suggesting that food is, in fact, the major route of exposure.

This study is among the first to look at how diet affects phthalate and antibiotic levels in the body and shows that reduced consumption of animal products may be important. However, it also leaves many questions unanswered. The specific type of vegetarian diet and the Buddhist monk lifestyle adopted by participants in the Temple Stay are not described in great detail by the study’s authors. Vegetarian diets can vary considerably and because no additional information on the Temple Stay diet was provided, it is difficult to make more specific dietary recommendations on how the public can reduce chemical exposures.

For instance, the authors don’t report on whether the Temple Stay diet was free of dairy products as well as meats. Whether the foods consumed by participants were mostly fresh and unprocessed is also an important question. When it comes to chemical exposures in the diet, the specific foods consumed may prove to be less important than how those foods are processed, packaged and prepared. Further research is needed to examine those issues, particularly in isolation from other lifestyle changes.

Aside from the dietary changes during the Temple Stay, the adoption of a traditional lifestyle during the five-day period may have also contributed to reduced chemical exposures in the participants, particularly phthalate levels. Although lifestyle factors likely played a lesser role compared to food, without knowing more about the participants’ living conditions and surroundings during the program, it is impossible to rule out the importance of phthalate exposure through the environment. Nevertheless, this initial finding provides strong evidence that dietary and other lifestyle changes can reduce exposure to a range of potentially harmful chemicals even on a very short time scale.

[via Environmental Health News]
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Meditation for overcoming trauma

Award winning mental health blogger Seaneen Molloy sets out on a quest to meet people who have a different take on working with emotional distress. This month, Seaneen meets Valerie Mason-John, a writer and anger management coach who advocates ‘mindfulness’ practice for mental wellbeing.

With my feet firmly in the 21st century, I see Buddhism as something belonging to the past – irrelevant to the modern world, except perhaps to the most laid-back of hippies. As for meditation, I can’t even imagine assuming the lotus position, and humming, “Ommm…” without wanting to guffaw!

Mindfulness is said to encourage a calm awareness of, and connection to, the body and the world around us. Its practice has been used to help people suffering from depression, personality disorders, anxiety and eating disorders. I want to know if the techniques can help me, so I visit the London Buddhist Centre and meet experienced meditation teacher Valerie Mason-John.

She’s nothing like I imagined a Buddhist to be – casually dressed and with an authoritative, yet easy manner. But Valerie’s life wasn’t always so calm. She spent her childhood between an abusive home life and social care. It was a traumatic time and by her twenties she was living in the “fast lane”, clubbing and taking recreational drugs.

I ask Valerie how she made the transformation to ordained Buddhist. She says “I used to laugh at people who went on retreats and meditated. But in my late twenties, I knew I needed a change.”

Valerie recalls, “Transcendental meditation was a profound experience and after a month, I thought the world had changed. But I was changing and becoming more compassionate”.

I reflect that a lot of people with mental health problems often take anger out on themselves. But, I ask Valerie, does it always need to be destructive?

“Anger is an energy, but when we hold on to it it becomes this toxic luggage we carry”, she says, adding “mindfulness of anger allows us to be creative and constructive with it instead. When we become angry we lose mindfulness and the body sends us warnings. We need to be aware of our bodies to read these signs and realise the need to pause. Mindfulness gives us an opportunity to do something different.”

Seeing how peaceful and calm Valerie is, I can’t help but feel a bit jealous. This morning, I ate my breakfast while being beeped at by buses on the Holloway Road. Stress, for me, is a kicker into illness, but even Valerie’s story doesn’t make me want to go on a retreat to learn how to deal with it.

I want to see for myself how effective meditation is, so I ask Valerie to guide me through an exercise in body awareness. She stresses the importance of the sitting position. “You don’t have to sit in the lotus position”, she reassures me. Given that I’m short and relatively unbendy, I content myself with straddling a few cushions.

I’m self-conscious and have trouble sitting properly – I’m too tense. “Think of your body as an elastic band”, she advises. “You don’t want to be too taut, or too loose – you need that energy, and tension”.

I finally manage to get comfortable, and close my eyes. Under her hypnotically gentle instruction, I silently count one, then two, then three, breathing in and out, all the way to ten and back again. This is called mindfulness of the breath and I find it difficult not to respond to her voice. Occasionally she reminds me to, “explore quietness” – this isn’t something I’m used to doing.
I sit for a few minutes in silence, breathing in and out. Finally, Valerie tells me that if I’m ready, I can open my eyes. I do so, and it takes a moment for me to adjust to the room, even with its ambient, unthreatening lighting. I feel as though I’ve been asleep.

On my way out, I pass through the peaceful garden of the Buddhist Centre. I find myself back on the busy main road, feeling, if not transformed, then a little bit lighter. Part of me wants to rush home, to get back to work, but another part of me thinks, “What’s the hurry?”.

So I stop at a cafe, smile at the waitress and drink a cup of tea outside in the drizzle, leaving my laptop languishing in my bag. I feel like, oh dear, a bit of a hippy! The things that normally bother me, the roar of cars and the rain, don’t seem quite so important. I look at some of the leaflets I picked up and realise that I don’t need to be a Buddhist to meditate. It may not be a cure, but I did feel happier, if only for an hour.

About Valerie Mason-John
Valerie (also known as Queenie) won Mind Book of the Year award for her debut novel, The Banana Kid (previously entitled Borrowed Bodies). Besides being an ordained member of the Western Buddhist Order, she’s published a self-help book, Detox Your Heart which consists of meditation guides interspersed with her own personal stories.

Visit Valerie Mason-John’s personal blog explores issues around meditation, anger and identity.

[via BBC “Ouch!”]
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Buddhists say you aren’t what you eat, but how

With his round cheeks and ample belly, the Buddha may rank somewhere close to sumo wrestlers on most Americans’ list of go-to sources for healthful eating tips.

But the ever-present image of a fat and happy Buddha owes more to China’s ideal of prosperity and ability to mass-produce figurines than to historical accuracy. In Japan and India, the Buddha is depicted as trim and lithe, said the Rev. Jan Chozen Bays, a Zen priest and pediatrician, and his teachings may be key to overcoming Americans’ increasingly troubled eating habits.

Bays, who goes by the Dharma name Chozen (“clear meditation”), is a student and teacher of “mindful eating,” a practice that borrows liberally from Buddhist psychology and meditation techniques.

For calorie-counting Americans, mindful eating preaches an alert, moment-by-moment focus on emotions, food and fullness. Buddhism teaches that “right mindfulness” is a step on the path to nirvana; in mindful eating, it could be a step toward a smaller waistline, especially for people struggling to keep those New Year’s resolutions to shed a few pounds.

Bay says hunger is only one of several reasons people eat.

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Frustration, sadness, irritation, boredom, anxiety, anger and insecurity are all additional — if somewhat hidden — spurs to snacking.

“There’s no guarantee that mindful eating will help you lose weight,” said Bays, author of the 2009 book Mindful Eating. “But it will help you enter a balanced, helpful relationship with food again.”

Aside from the Buddha, mindful eating also draws lessons and inspiration from Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program, which introduced the masses to a secularized form of meditation in 1979. Since then, studies have shown the positive effects of mindfulness meditation on everything from substance abuse to psoriasis, and hundreds of hospitals have established mindfulness clinics.

Dr. Jean Kristeller, a psychologist and director of the Center for the Study of Health, Religion, and Spirituality at Indiana State University, has studied meditation for 30 years. As co-founder of the Center for Mindful Eating, Kristeller has also received two grants from the National Institutes of Health to study the effects of mindful eating. Though the studies’ results have not yet been published, Kristeller said she has seen firsthand that mindful eating works.

Some, but not all, proponents of mindful eating are Buddhists, said Dr. Brian Shelley, who developed a mindful-eating program at the University of New Mexico. And though advocates are open about the Buddhist roots of mindfulness, they are not out to gain converts.

“It’s more like a cognitive therapy than a spiritual practice,” said Shelley, who meditates and studies the Buddha’s teachings but does not consider himself a Buddhist. “We are very clear that this is not a course in Buddhism or spirituality.”

Many nutritionists — including mindful-eating teachers — now think the problem with American diets is not only the food we eat — it’s also how we consume it.

The Buddha told monks to take meals silently, with no books or conversations to distract them, only an awareness of what their body needs to get through the day. When they felt full, they stopped eating, even if that meant leaving food in the bowl, Bays said.

Studies have shown that people tend to eat more when they are given larger portions and are distracted.

Bays begins mindful-eating retreats with a single raisin, asking practitioners to consider how hungry they are on a scale of one to 10 while they investigate the color, texture and taste of the raisin. The goal, she said, is to replace thinking with awareness.

“In Christian terms, it’s called communion,” Bays said, “coming into union with everything happening at that moment.”

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