One thing I discovered through my journey of recovering health, joy and freedom around food is how deeply connected eating is with breathing. My food issues were tied up with my breathing issues in a way that needed gently disentangling for me to find the relief and relaxation I sought.
In childhood, I reacted to stressful things that were happening in my family and school lives. In an attempt not to feel painful feelings, I unconsciously made the choice to keep my breathing shallow. This led to a lack of oxygen, vitality and clarity in my body and mind, and, in order to keep myself feeling energised, I sought and found sugary and highly-refined foods to give me the boost that calm deep breaths would have provided.
My healing has included learning how my body still held the tensions of those earlier times, especially in my tight belly. I have learned to relax my belly so that it can soften to allow for the deep breaths my body needs.
Breathing in a relaxed way while preparing and eating food is a vital step to learning more about and in time improving our relationship with food. I encourage you to try this practice:
Before eating, whether it’s a planned meal, an unplanned snack, and even (or especially) a compulsive binge, find your way to a seated position in front of the food, feet flat on the floor and spine relaxed and upright.
Now, before eating the food, take three slow, steady breaths in through the nose with energy (if your nose is clear!), and out through the mouth as slowly as possible. During each breath, I invite you to focus on these things:
Breath 1: “I am seated and resting. I have arrived. I am here.”
Breath 2: “I allow my body to soften, especially my belly and entire digestive system. My whole body is now softening to receive this food in a relaxed way.”
Breath 3: “I consider all the infinite number of humans and animals that have contributed to bringing this food before me. I thank them” [here you may wish to picture and silently thank specific real or imagined humans and animals].
This is a magical, life-changing practice. Don’t worry if you find yourself half-way through a meal before realising you’ve forgotten to begin the meal with this practice. If this happens, simply slow your chewing, forgive yourself immediately, and begin the process internally and silently to yourself.
I am sometimes asked how this practice is possible if we are sharing a meal with others. This practice was taught to me by a radiant woman I was sharing a meal with who didn’t mind openly preparing herself to eat in this way. Her energy of slowing down and centering herself before eating encouraged us all to do the same; she wasn’t shy to openly take care of herself in this way. In her openness and courage to be different, she changed my life.
When we take the lead with this practice, we allow the chatter in our minds to quieten, as well as resting from our external conversations for these moments. Every lucky person we eat with will benefit from the stillness, appreciation and ceremony we invite into the sacred act of eating.
Breathing deeply throughout the meal, snack or binge that follows is the continuation of this practice. This continuous deep breathing while eating allows the digestion process to be increased and enhanced. When enough oxygen is allowed into the system we naturally slow down and notice and taste our food far better. Our bodies then respond by releasing the digestive enzymes we need into our mouths, stomachs, and intestines. This way, our bodies are greatly supported in absorbing and assimilating our food, and this has massive knock-on benefits to our health, energy, and vibrancy.
When we breathe during eating, our bodies literally register that we ate and fully tasted and enjoyed our food. We are more satisfied from eating and therefore feel less peckish and restless between our meals.
If conscious breathing is a new practice for you, and if food is an area that has caused you much negative emotion for a long while – guilt, shame, or fear – you may wish to first practice conscious breathing outside the kitchen. Take time out for yourself to focus on keeping your breaths deep and steady – in through the nose and slowly out through the mouth if possible. Gentle yoga, a walk in nature, or simply sitting with a candle are all excellent ways of practicing conscious breathing and will greatly support your practice of conscious breathing before and during eating.
I encourage you to stay true to this practice every day. Conscious breathing during eating will greatly improve, and eventually totally transform, your relationship with food.
…. In next week’s blog, I’m going to be exploring with you the preciousness of creating Loving Boundaries in your food lives: those are Boundaries that are Loving, and Boundaries that you Love!