“We write to taste life twice: in the moment and in retrospection.”
When I think of taking a taste, I think of a sample. You want to taste this? someone asks. And then you take a small bite or sip. Sometimes you close your eyes to savor it. Sometimes you need another taste to decide if you like it, or decipher what’s in it.
You might wonder, what does taste have to do with yoga? Continuing with our theme of pratyahara play and the senses, taste is part of the picture and is a fun way to extend a yogic mindset into other activities throughout the day (no, I wasn’t about to suggest drinking a flight of beers or sampling hors d’oeuvres on your mat or meditation cushion! Unless that somehow brings you to a higher state...).
I’m talking about the simple everyday act of eating, but not just going through the motions of eating - actually savoring what you are consuming. As moms, it is so easy (and typical) for us to scarf down a meal while we feed the baby, or in the 5-10 minutes we have before we have to pick up our kids or take them to school. We spread ourselves thin and disperse our attention. For those of you that would appreciate a reminder from past posts on what any of this has to do with pratyahara, it’s about focused attention on a chosen object.
Traditionally pratyahara is seen as withdrawing the senses from the outer world to focus on the life and light within you. Sound a little too lofty? That’s exactly why I’ve been putting out this series of pratyahara play. It’s a more down-to-earth approach that still has the potential to bring us to that state of inner focus, but it is more a type of meditation in action rather than a formal seated practice. Usually the breath is highlighted as the best way to bring something automatic (breathing) to our conscious attention. Here I’m taking it a step further to incorporate another activity we need to survive and thrive: eating.
But it’s not just eating for survival; it’s tasting with our full awareness. We - and our minds, bodies, and souls - deserve more than these meals consumed mindlessly (if they are actually nourishing, full meals at all). A meal is so different when you eat it slowly enough to taste it, savor it, and really digest it thoroughly, beginning with the process of chewing. You feed more than your body when you slow down to eat in this way; you give yourself a chance to really be present during an activity we often take for granted.
Even if you feel you don’t have the time to sit and eat each meal slowly and mindfully, at least give yourself the luxury of sitting and drinking a cup of tea or coffee with your full attention. Start with that, at the very least. Taste it, smell it, enjoy it without even the simplest of distractions like reading or watching TV. Start small and get used to that practice of unitasking.
But before you do, it can help to prepare yourself to take in that nourishment with full presence. I was raised Catholic and growing up, we prayed before meals. Much later in my life, when I stayed at Satchidananda Ashram - Yogaville for several months, we prayed before meals, in Sanskrit and English. It’s such a powerful way to prepare your body and mind to receive the food you’re about to eat. If you don’t personally have an inclination to pray, there are other ways to pause and express gratitude before your meals. Even if it takes a few seconds.
If you’re sitting there thinking, “Come on Yoga Mama, I came to your newsletter for tips on yoga!” Mamas, this is real yoga - yoga is only partly about postures. But if you want a reminder or inspiration for the postural part of yoga, as you eat, sit up with a lengthened spine. Feel your feet on the ground, your sitz bones on the chair, your face and shoulders relaxing, and the crown of your head reaching upward. Feel your breath moving without effort as you chew, taste, and swallow. Not just chew and swallow, but taste the food, too. Savor it. Cut out distractions and hone in on the sensory experience of eating.
That quality of attention to your food is not only a great practice in body and mind awareness, but a perfect moment to remember your connection to other living things as you eat what the Earth has produced! Think of it as a moment to practice gratitude as well as appreciation that your life has come from something bigger than you. Food is the best mundane reminder of this.
And...here’s a nifty trick I learned first at a Yogaville, then learned again through an Ayurveda master class by Hannah Levin: lying on your left side. Not just when you sleep, but for 10 minutes after you eat. Relax. Breathe. I know this sounds marvelous at the same time it might sound unattainable because of the thousand other things we have to do after eating: dishes, clean the kitchen, you name it. But just try it. Maybe not after every meal, but now and then. Tasting and savoring go way beyond the contact of food with taste buds.
Tasting is not just about pleasing the senses. It’s about being present, slowing down, and honoring that the most basic things in life - eating, breathing, digesting, and having good posture while doing all these - are at the core of our yoga practice.
And they don’t require us to schedule a block of time to spend on our yoga mats.