9 surprising ways mindful cooking supports your yoga practice off the mat

Read Time:   |  6th August 2020

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Here are 9 ways practising ‘mindful cooking’ reinforces your yoga practice beyond the mat.

During lockdown, many of us have rediscovered the joys of home cooking and have been surprised by our skills and creativity in the kitchen. We have also noticed its therapeutic quality – by allowing us to stay focused on the present, cooking can help manage challenging emotions and distracting thoughts.

Jon Kabat-Zinn in the mindfulness classic, Full Catastrophe Living describes mindful cooking as ‘bringing mindfulness to the food we buy, how we prepare it, what we eat, and how we feel after eating – and to the messages that our body gives us after we have eaten.’

Mindfulness and yoga reinforce each other. Through the regular practice of yoga, yogis cultivate an awareness of the unity between mind and body.

Stephen Cope, author of Yoga and the Quest for the True Self says reconnecting with the needs of our bodies results in ‘a brand new capacity to warmly love the self.

We experience a new quality of authenticity in our caring, which redirects our attention to our health, our diets, our energy, our time management.’

Here are 9 ways practising ‘mindful cooking’ reinforces your yoga practice beyond the mat.

1. Setting an intention

Before we start moving on the mat, we often take a few moments to set our intention for the practice. In mindful cooking, we also bring awareness to our energy before we start to cook.

When we are caught up in our thoughts and feelings, we’re so much more likely to become distracted in the kitchen – leading to a whole host of culinary disasters!

By bringing to mind who we are cooking for, or simply experiencing gratitude for the ingredients we are cooking with, we can manage our energy and bring our awareness to the present moment.

2. Awareness of the environment

Before we step into the yoga studio, we eliminate distractions. We leave our phones behind and enter a space that is tidy and calm, collecting the equipment we need for the next hour.

With mindful cooking, we make sure that our ingredients and equipment are ready, and the kitchen is clean. Our environment impacts our ability to engage with the task at hand fully.

3. Uniting breath with movement

During yoga, we use the breath to ground ourselves and appreciate the quality of our physical sensations and mental reactions. Cooking is also intensely physical, involving a range of repetitive motions that we practice over time.

After a long day, preparing a meal can be an opportunity to build a mindful moment into the day – an opportunity to check in with the breath and ask, ‘Where am I holding tension? What mood am I in? How is the process affecting me?’

We might feel our temperature rising as we strive to ‘get dinner on the table’ or we may feel ourselves become calmer, as we focus on the process.

4. Awakening the senses

Yoga can sometimes trigger intense emotions. It allows us to build awareness of what is going on inside our body and approach these sensations with curiosity and acceptance.

Rather than feeling numb, our senses are awakened. Mindful cooking also offers this opportunity. Imagine the aroma released by cutting a ripe strawberry, the sound of popping corn, or the velvety texture of podding peas.

Cooking is a play of colour, texture, sounds, scent and taste. By involving all our senses in the cooking process, we use our whole being to experience the moment.

5. Awareness of where food comes from

Many yogis follow a vegetarian or plant-based diet, in keeping with the principle of ahisma (or non-violence), as described in the yoga sutras of Patanjali.

‘Choosing foods that create nourishment while not harming the earth, animals, nor your body is the essence of the yogic diet,’ says Stacie Dooreck author of Ahimsa: nonviolent eating.

Mindful cooking also encourages an understanding of the impact of food production and the benefits of following a diet that is seasonal and sustainable.

6. Entering the learning zone

In yoga, we are often working with ‘the edge’ –balancing where the body feels some intensity, with its limits. Cooking is also a practice that provides learning opportunities.

Compare chopping a vegetable for a rustic soup, with the knife skills required to julienne a carrot. In seemingly simple tasks, there is mastery.

Experimenting with new cooking skills and techniques gives us a chance to see how willing we are to give something a go, even when we aren’t sure of the result. It gives us insight into our inner narrative. Do you rely on the positive feedback of others to feel satisfied? Do you chastise yourself for making a mistake and let your perfectionism get in the way of enjoying what you’ve made? Do you shy away from trying a recipe you like because it looks hard?

Observing our emotional reactions through mindful cooking reveals the mindset we are bringing to other areas of life.

7. Awareness of what your body needs

Yogis tend to be in tune with their bodies and their needs. ‘I have always tried to be an intuitive eater. I don’t subscribe to any particular meal plan or diet but instead, try to connect with my body and give it what it’s craving so I can feel my best,’ says Kelly Smith, Founder, Yoga For You.

This seems to be supported by a study led by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, that observed that yogis were more aware of their satiety cues (eat mindfully) and experiencing a range of better health outcome as a result.

Jon Kabat-Zinn explains that what’s important, is not following a particular diet, but ‘your overall way of eating and living, and the degree of kindesss and self-compassion you bring to the whole undertaking.’

8. Giving thanks

At the end of our yoga practice, we connect by saying ‘Namaste,’ sending gratitude to our teacher, the other people in the room and all beings.

Mindful eating encourages us to pause and give thanks for the meal we are about to eat, the people we are eating with, and a chance to remind ourselves of the complete journey that it took to get the food from nature onto our plates.

9. Observing the ‘ripple effect’

Yogis train themselves to notice the impact of their practice beyond the mat. When we bring this awareness to mealtimes, we are more likely to express thanks to others and take the time to connect—acknowledging their effort to make something that has pleased us, with a specific compliment, rather than a generic thank you.

We are more likely to be aware of our mood afterwards, our energy levels and digestion, making it easier to make better choices in the future.

Both yoga and mindful cooking seek to honour the wisdom of the body. ‘One of the clearest lessons from contemporary neuroscience is that our sense of ourselves is anchored in a vital connection to our bodies,’ says Bessel Van Der Kolk, author of  The Body Keeps the Score.

Yoga and mindfulness help to ‘sync’ our body and mind, allowing us to feel safe in our own body. Practising mindful cooking allows us to extend this awareness into our daily activities, so that we can continue to inhabit the body with kindness and self-acceptance, beyond our formal yoga, meditation or mindfulness practices.

Adamantia Velonis is the founder of online cooking journal Marmalade & Kindness. Her mission is to encourage people to find moments of mindfulness and creativity through cooking.

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