Sunday, January 20, 2013

The importance of R&B (Rhythm & Balance!)

One of the most basic "take-aways" from ancient Vedic wisdom - as well as a growing voice in modern medical science - is the concept of finding balance in our life, or getting ourselves into a healthy rhythm. As children, others dictated our schedule and activities, and ensured that we had a good balance of time to eat, time to learn, time to play, and time to rest each day. We naturally woke up early and got tired as the sun set on the horizon; meals were well-rounded and served at consistent intervals; we got to run around outside and then take time to rest and have a snack before engaging in learning, communicating, and relating. But as adults we are left to make these decisions and timetables on our own -- and it's not always easy. Between the occasional thrill of getting to eat ice cream for breakfast ("because i'm a grown-up and i can do whatever i want!"), the now-accessible temptations that were forbidden in childhood (alcohol, tobacco, staying up late), and of course all the stresses that go along with running a household, it's no wonder that so many of us struggle with the loss of daily structure and the lack of restrictions on indulgent behavior.

Yet, falling into one's own rhythm is one of the most automatic ways to bring greater balance and well-being into your life. But you have to be ready to shake up your current habits in order to get that R&B (Rhythm & Balance) into your daily life.

The ideal yogic lifestyle might seem unattainable -- living in isolation, meditating all day long with no earthly pleasures to entertain you. While it's not impossible, this isn't even what I'm trying to "sell" here: we are looking for our own balance of modern worldly living and traditional introspection and awareness. By making a small effort to become aware of what you eat, what you think, the time of day and the weather, you will notice that transformations will occur with less and less apparent action on your part.

Ayurveda, the ancient Vedic Science of Life, recommends guidelines for living in balance with Mother Nature, as well as your own individual nature. My favorite recommendations are those related to food, and I will share some of this with you here. To start, simply take a moment before the next time you eat to really look at the food on your plate. Notice the colors and textures. Take in the smell. Feel or even express (out loud or just to yourself) gratitude for the nourishment you are about to take into your body. Chew that first bite slowly, carefully, savoring the taste and texture. Eat as slowly and consciously as you can through the whole meal, taking care to chew each bite thoroughly and thoughtfully. When you're finished, swallow your food all the way, take a sip of water and a few breaths before standing up or moving onto your next activity. You don't have to siesta, just be sure to give yourself a few minutes to allow the food to move to where it needs to sit and be digested.

Just try it -- for the next meal you eat, even if it's your short lunch break, follow those few steps and take note of how you feel during and after eating your food.

Not too hard, right? So what's going on here? Why would this make a difference?  

The Digestive Process 

Well, for one, eating slowly helps your digestion. We've all been told to chew our food, and that's not just our parents being overbearing -- in order for the maximum amount of nutrients to be absorbed into your body, the food needs to be broken down into easily digestible parts. This also helps separate the 'toxic' or unnecessary elements of your food from the nutritional elements, and direct the waste material to be eliminated and the nourishing materials to be digested.

Noticing the smell and initial taste is also important to your digestive system -- indeed, the digestive process begins when your nose picks up odors and starts to send messages to the rest of your body. This is why we might start to salivate from smelling a freshly-baked batch of cookies. :) (Saliva actually helps to break down the food while it's still in our mouths.) And when signals about the taste and flavor of the food get passed along, your intestines and other digestive organs respond by revving up to produce the appropriate acids and other chemicals needed to take in what your taste buds told them to expect. So, taking a few seconds to give your organs a "heads' up" can do wonders for how your body breaks down and absorbs food.

I also find it interesting that many cultures have a tradition of saying a blessing or prayer before each meal; they take time to recognize that survival depends on access to food, and express gratitude for the opportunity to nourish their bodies. While I don't personally identify with any one religion or spiritual practice, it does feel nice to appreciate a well-cooked, nutritious meal -- or even a decadent triple-chocolate cake. Granted, I am a bit of a foodie and take great pleasure in gourmet dining, but when I'm hungry I'll be really grateful for a simple bowl of cereal, too! The act of taking something that exists outside of us - in the "external" universe - and putting it inside of us so as to continue living, is pretty amazing when you think about it. See how it feels for you when you take a moment to reflect on or appreciate that your food came from elsewhere for your own enjoyment and well-being.

Whatever it is you eat, taking a little extra time to notice and appreciate that which you put into your body can help you form a better connection with food, enjoy it more, and digest it optimally. Try out some of the practices above and share your experiences!

¡Buen provecho!

No comments:

Post a Comment