What does mindfulness look like? What does it feel like? How does it work? Mindfulness as described by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. In the kitchen this is recognized most often with mindful bodies and felt through the subtle ebb and flow of energies.
Before beginning our cooking classes we take 10-15 min to practice mindfulness, led by a dedicated volunteer. Sometimes this looks like intentional breathing with a multi-colored collapsible sphere, sometimes we find ourselves in child’s pose focusing on ourselves, reading our internal weather reports, sending positive thoughts inside and out, and sometimes we assume tree pose and create a forest with supporting branches. Just as important as understanding and seeing how we all support each other, is how it makes us feel.
One afternoon while practicing before cooking, one of my students mentioned he was nervous about the evening’s upcoming band performance, and stated that he had to introduce a composition that they would be performing. This made for an excellent opportunity to teach about the benefits of intentional breathing, as up until this point we had been focused on technique.
According to Esther Sternberg, a physician and researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health, rapid breathing is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system, while slow, deep breathing stimulates the opposing parasympathetic reaction. Ultimately, we can put on the brakes to our natural ‘fight or flight’ response simply by slowing our breathing.
Our volunteer led the discussion and everyone shared their own strategies for what they do when they are nervous, and we talked about the benefits of intentional breathing in everyday life. I’m looking forward to continuing this discussion next week when he returns to tell us how it went.
“Breathing is the most natural thing in the world, the foundation of our lives… the swinging door between… inner and outer worlds.” – Susan Kaiser Greenland