Mindful Eating & Mindful Walking

When it comes to meditation, many of us have an image that we are sitting on our meditation cushion, palms on our laps, our eyes closed, with a peaceful look on our face. If you think of the amount of time you spend on your yoga and your meditation practice, it is still a relatively small fragment of time compared to the rest of the day. Meditation is actually a state of mind in which we bring our focus on the present moment (usually it is accompanied by being aware of our breath because the breath is one of the aspects of our bodies that is ALWAYS present) with a total receptive and nonjudgmental mind. With enough practice (which might take years if not a life time), it will give us some peace and various insights about life. Understanding how life is an ever changing phenomena will eventually leads us to be able not to identify ourselves with the changes we encounter through life.

As mentioned, since meditation is a life-long on-going process, it would be wonderful for us to continue with our practice when we are not on our mat or our meditation cushion so that the practice of mindfulness (aligning the mind to the present) can be strengthened and enjoyed for a longer period of time (as opposed to only 1 hour after your yoga/meditation practice).

According to the Sutra of the Four Establishments of Mindfulness (Satipatthana Sutta), a wonderful text on meditation, the 5th and the 6th practices give us some guides to incorporate the practice of mindfulness outside of our mat or cushion:

5. Positions of the body

When a practitioner walks, he is aware, “I am walking.” When he is standing, he is aware, “I am standing.” When he is sitting, he is aware, “I am sitting.” When he is lying down, he is aware, “I am lying down.” In whatever position his body happens to be, he is aware of the position of his body.

The 5th mindfulness practice suggests all of us to be aware of our bodies in different positions: walking, standing, lying down, and sitting. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh has suggested a wonderful way for us to utilize our walking time and make it into the field of meditation. Here is a gatha (verse) for us to remember when we walk:

The mind can go in a thousand directions, 

but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace.

Breathing in, “I have arrived”; (arrived)

Breathing out, “I am home.” (home)

Breathing in, “In the here”; (here)

Breathing out, “in the now.” (now)

Breathing in, “I am solid”; (solid)

Breathing out, “I am free.” (free)

The purpose of walking meditation is to enjoy the walking for the sake of walking, not to arrive somewhere. We are paying attention to each step we take in the present moment, noticing the moment our heel makes contact to the ground, followed by the sole, and then the toes. We are paying very close attention to the feeling of the feet touching the floor, as well as our state of breath. Being very intimate with the breath and the sensations of the feet, we let go of all our worries, our anxieties, our mind is not thinking of the future, not dwelling in the past, just enjoying the present moment in front of us.

As we silently walk, we notice the quality of our breath. We might be taking two steps with our inhale and the exhale might allow us to walk three steps. The purpose is not to dictate the way we breath by the way we walk, but to pay close attention to how many steps one breath can take us. Some of us might be able to walk three steps on the inhalation, some might only be able to take one; some might be able to take four steps on the exhalation, while others might only be able to take one. We are not trying to see who has the longest and deepest breath, but rather, we are practicing to keep our attention on our breath and walking without being carried away by our busy mind. Our mind always jumps from one idea to another, from one thought to another like a monkey swinging from one branch to another without really stopping to enjoy the beauty around us. When we walk, we only think of our destination and it is more like a running rather than walking. Or sometimes when we walk, our minds are swept away by our worries and sorrow, and the Earth is printed with our anxious footsteps. Our thoughts have million directions and we are habitually pulled by them into the ocean of reactivities. However, we can use our walking path to water our seeds of mindfulness and to cultivate peace.

You can pick a path which you take everyday and make it into your walking meditation path. It can be the distance from your apartment to the bus stop; from the bus stop to your work place. It can be the time when you walk inside the yoga studio, it can be the time when you walk in your own apartment. Having a short practice each day is better than have an occasional long practice. Choose a path that you can work with.

The 6th mindfulness meditation is a natural progression from the 5th. Now, besides having awareness when we walk, stand, sit, and lie down, we become aware of all of our actions of our bodies:

6. Bodily actions

When the practitioner is going forward or backward, he applies full awareness to his going forward or backward. When he looks in front or looks behind, bends down or stands up, he also applies full awareness to what he is doing. He applies full awareness to wearing the sanghati robe or carrying the alms bowl. When he eats or drinks, chews or savors the food, he applies full awareness to all this. When passing excrement or urinating, he applies full awareness to this. When he walks, stands, lies down, sits, sleeps or wakes up, speaks or is silent, he shines his awareness on all this.

Without mindfulness, our actions are often hurried and abrupt. As we practice like this, we will find ourselves slowing down naturally. Our everyday actions will become more harmonious, graceful, and peaceful. When our actions are combined with mindfulness, we will experience more joy and peace in the body, heart and mind.

You can apply the 6th mindfulness practice to the time when you eat and below are three gathas provided by Thich Nhat Hanh in which you can contemplate and practice with:

Looking at your empty bowl

My bowl, empty now,

will soon be filled with precious food.

Beings all over the Earth are struggling to live.

How fortunate we are to have enough to eat.

According to the information provided by the World Vision, the drought and famine in East Africa will continue for at least another 6 months. Many of us do feel for the victims in East Africa who suffer from hunger everyday. However, many people on this Earth besides the East African look at their empty bowl and their bowl will continue to be empty for a long time. This gatha is to remind us to be grateful for the food we have, and we vow to search for ways to help others who suffer from hunger.

Serving food

In this food

I see clearly 

the presence of the entire universe

supporting my existence

If you look at a piece of broccoli deep enough, it contains the whole universe. Without the sun, the broccoli would not be on our plate; without the cloud, there would be no water to nourish this plant; without the earth, there would not be a place for the broccoli to grow from; without the farmer, the plant would not be so beautifully harvested; without the driver, we would not have the plant with such convenience; without the chef, we would not be able to enjoy such wonderful tasty food. So the broccoli contains everything inside it.

Before you start eating your meal, pick up one piece of carrot without putting into your month right away. Look into the carrot and see for yourself that it contains the sunshine, the rain, the love and a lot of hard work by many others. Once you can see the inter-connectiveness of the carrot, then you can slowly place it into your month, chew it and taste it with mindfulness. Take your time to eat, just taking one bite at a time, put down your utensils so that you can be fully present to the food that is inside your mouth. Chew until the food becomes liquefied, which takes about 20-30 times of chewing, and this practice can lessen the workload for our digestive system.

Please be mindful to only chew the carrot, not your projects or your worries. Your carrot is present for you and you can also be present for your carrot. If you are occupied with your worries or your sadness, you can practice mindful breathing for a while until you can be present to your food. Spend time with your food, every minute of your meal can be a happy and joyful moment. Not many people have the time and opportunity to sit down and enjoy a meal like that, let our food reminds us how fortunate we are.

Finishing your meal

The meal is finished.

My hunger is satisfied.

I vow to live for the benefit of all being.

A lot of times we rush to the next agenda as soon as we finish our food. Instead, spend a few minutes to be grateful for the food that nourished you just now. Also, remember everything that came to be that gives you such moment of contentment. We can practice not to only show our gratitude before we eat but the entire process of eating and after.

The more we practice this way, our peace can shine upon everyone around us and this spreads the peace and joy to others who have yet to learn about peace and joy.

At last, make this practice adaptable and it should be enjoyable, not stressful. For beginners, you can invite your friends and family to practice mindful eating with you once a week to start. Slowly, as your mindfulness practice become more deeply rooted, you can start to expand your practice.

I wish all of you peace and joy in your practice.

Shanti. Om.