This is one of my favorite times of year – the way the light changes, watching trees shed their skin, the natural world starting to slow down ...
Autumn is a giant invitation to all of us – human, animals, plants and soil – to begin the process of renewal, which starts with gathering the fruits of labor and ceasing new production.
In modern times, this call to slow down often goes unheeded. We use electricity to extend our days, rather than shorten them. We use technology to continue to produce at top speed, year-round. We move so fast that what we can consume mindlessly, including how we nourish our bodies.
Eating with mindfulness is something that takes practice. Seeing food as more than just fuel to push us through the next task invites a different state of mind. Paying attention to what we eat requires pausing and rushing a little less.
If someone asked you if you’d like more pauses in your day, I’d be surprised if you said “no.” Isn’t that we are all looking for – more spaciousness? More time? More ease? Through cultivating the pause, we are granting ourselves unlimited access to just that.
Food is an excellent way to cultivate the pause. Eating is something we do every day. It is already part of our routine, so isn’t something we have to “find more time” for. Practices such as taking three deep-belly breaths before eating can move us into a more relaxed state of being. This not only feels calming, but it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which controls digestion and in turn enhances digestive ability and nutrient absorption. When we eat on the run, while working or when we’re stressed, we greatly diminish the power of our gut to break down and assimilate nutrients.
There are five times as many nerve fibers that run from the gut to the brain than from the brain to the gut. Your gut is literally more able to control your state of mind than your brain. By breathing deeply into the belly, you are stimulating the vagus nerve – a major component of the parasympathetic nervous system – signaling your entire stress system to relax. There are also vagus nerve fibers that innervate the soft palate and parts of the tongue, so the simple act of mindfully chewing and swallowing has a similar impact.
Slowing down can also guide you in your food choices. When we choose what to eat from a place of reaction, it’s not always what is truly nourishing. It’s also an easy way to stay in old habits that don’t make us feel good. Before choosing what to eat, simply ask your body what would feel most nourishing right now. You might be surprised by what it tells you.
This week, can you notice the places in your day when things seem to speed up? And invite in the pause – maybe that is three deep breaths or getting a glass of water or simply stopping what you’re doing for a moment and noticing what’s present within you. Your mind might tell you there’s “no time” to slow down – I invite you to question that truth. Or check out pausing anyway and just see what happens. A little curiosity goes a long way on this journey.
Nicola Dehlinger is a naturopathic doctor at Pura Vida Natural Healthcare in Durango. She can be reached at 426-1684 or www.puravidahealthcare.com.