• Mindful Eating During the Holidays // part 2

    I’m diving back into the topic of mindful eating during the holidays (you can check out part one here). Today, I want to focus on what to *actually* eat.

    1. Make a whole foods, plant based diet a priority. As a yoga instructor, I view food through the lens of nourishing the body so it can function optimally for well-being. Every where we turn, there is a new fad diet and fanatical followers. I prefer to follow the advice of Hippocrates: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” The University of California Davis Integrative Medicine has coined this catchy couplet “greens, beans, berries and seeds” making it easy to remember what to include in our diets. You can download a free reference chart here.
    2. Do not restrict food intake. Deprivation leaves us feeling dissatisfied and sets us up for failure. Period.
    3. Start each meal with a serving of fruit or veggies. Studies have shown that eating an apple prior to a meal reduces caloric intake by 15% (see the study here). Another study showed eating a bowl of vegetable soup first reduced calories even more – 20% (read more here). This is especially useful during holidays when calorie dense foods are plentiful. In a webinar from Forks over Knives, Matthew Lederman explains the connection between satiety and calorie density. Satiety is the physical feeling of our stomach stretching which turns off the hunger signals. If we can fill our stomachs with nature’s “multivitamin” (i.e. fruits and veggies) high in fiber, nutrients, and water content, then we will be less likely to overload on richer, more processed foods.
    4. When indulging, be very intentional and present with your choices. Refer back to part one of this series. If it is worth the splurge, take the time to savor each bite, chewing slowly, and engaging in the present moment.

    As a side note, I am a huge fan of NutritionFacts.org for the latest updates on nutrition research. There are more than a thousand videos on nearly every aspect of healthy eating. It is a FREE, non-commercial, science based public service.

  • Mindful Eating During the Holidays // part 1

    Now that Halloween has passed, the holiday season charges full speed ahead. While some embrace this time with the utmost enthusiasm, others find it synonymous with stress (guilty!).  Increased stress and unraveling of healthy habits are two of the less glamorous products of the holidays. One of the difficulties this time of year is eating mindfully. Mindful eating involves tuning in to understand what our body is truly craving and how to nourish it. I try to follow the guidelines below year around but they are especially helpful in promoting well-being in times of higher stress as they strengthen the mind-body connection.

    1. Before reaching for the party hors d’oeuvres or a platter of cookies, I ask myself “What am I really craving?” Am I experiencing hunger? Or, am I looking for a way to self-soothe or alleviate stress? Do I need connection with others or, conversely, alone time? If tuning in to the mind-body connection is a new experience, answering these questions may not necessarily be easy. Try drinking a glass of water and possibly engage in another form of self-care (i.e. take a walk, give a heartfelt hug, engage in face to face conversation with a friend, read a book, meditate, and so on). Full disclosure: sometimes we just really want the _____ (cookie, pumpkin pie, latte…) and that is okay. Move on to step 2.
    2. Before sitting down for a meal, I make sure I am actually sitting down. Besides meaningful face to face conversation, no multitasking allowed! Turn off the television, put away the computer, and silence your phone. In our fast-paced culture, it is entirely too easy to down a plate of food with the only awareness being an empty plate. We miss out on the eating experience; without savoring each bite, we may eat past our hunger cues and finish a meal feeling dissatisfied rather than nourished.
    3. Take 3 deep breaths before eating. This helps us slow down. In our family, we begin meals with a prayer of gratitude, thanking God for his provisions. Both of these practices helps us become more present and aware.
    4. As we eat (yes, I’m finally to the actual eating part!), try to chew several times. Chewing each bite twenty times is a nice goal but not always realistic. Just do your best here. To facilitate this better, I set my fork down between every single bite. Possibly take a sip of water between bites. Small sips of room temperature or hot water can aid in digestion. If eating alone, savor each bite. Involve the senses: notice the visual appeal, the smell, the warmth of the plate, the flavors, and the textures. If eating with others, engage fully. Stop eating when you are around 75% full. 
  • “If you change your habits, if you change your experiences, you can quite literally change your brain.”

    The Science and Practice of Yoga, Week 2

    I have absolutely loved the lectures, interviews, and research studies in the coursework this week. The quote above is from Catherine Spann, Ph.D., a research scientist at Link Research Lab and contributing course instructor. This understanding of neuron activity is helping me better understand the powerful potential of meditation. Our brains are made of millions of neurons that are constantly reshaped by our experiences. A well known expression in neuroscience is “neurons that fire together, wire together” and scientific studies on meditation and mindfulness exercise have put this to the test. Our brain needs to continue to grow, learn, and make new connections throughout life. We have the ability to change our habits by focusing on our highest ideals. In the interview with Dr. Rick Hanson it is summed up well: “…drop by drop, breath by breath, synapse by synapse…” That is the process of well-being; continuing to fire neurons together to fill ourselves up so that we have more to offer to others.

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    As we make these changes, checking in frequently throughout the day is crucial in order to reinforce new neuropathways. With this week’s focus on “being well in a digital age,” instructor Stacy Dockins suggests stopping to take five deep breaths each time you grab your phone. Another option is to set alarms throughout the day as “mindfulness breaks.” My yoga mentor Courtney Thibault recommends a six time book. A miniature composition notebook works really well.  If you are interested in learning more about it, you can read her article here. I’m currently using a combination of alarm reminders and a daily task list in my bullet journal.

  • UTA Course: The Science and Practice of Yoga, Week 1

    I have been looking forward to this course for a while and I am so excited that it is finally underway! I have been practicing yoga and teaching for several years. Currently I am working towards my 500 RYT and I knew this course would be a great resource for my studies. Plus, students have the opportunity to partipate in a yoga research study. Awesome! This first week is meant to familiarize participants with yoga and meditation basics. Meditation has grown into the primary focus of my yoga practice over the last few months. Research Scientist Catherine Spann, Ph.D., is one of the  course instructors. She shares Dr. Dan Siegel’s Wheel of Awareness in our week one videos. I’ve read a couple of Siegel’s books and I especially like “The Whole Brain Child.” I use his SIFT mindfulness exercise for meditation and self-regulating my emotions (and my kids).

    The Wheel of Awareness takes the SIFT exercise to a deeper level. We first draw our attention to the five senses: what do I hear, taste, see, smell, and feel? The sixth sense invovles interoception or noticing the inner activities of the body: notice the heart beat, air filling the lungs, etc. The seventh sense is mental activities: what are my thoughts, hopes, worries, images, beliefs, and dreams?  The eight sense is interconnectedness outside the body: family, friends, neighborhood, state, country, and world. I like to think of this interconnectedness from the smallest, most intimate circle and then grow the reach of the innerconnectivity outwards. I believe finding a connection to nature, animals, and all of God’s creation is a beneficial step in this spoke of the awareness wheel.

    At the hub of the wheel is meta-awareness (basically awareness of awareness). Meta-awareness is incredibly difficult in our culture. Everywhere we turn, distractions are waiting to steal our attention. Further, we are taught to esteem multitasking. Where will we find room for intentionality? How do we bring mindfulness to the present moment? It certainly doesn’t happen over night but the journey is worth it!

  • The Science and Practice of Yoga

    I have the privilege of participating in a yoga research study while taking a UTA course to learn more about the science behind the mind-body connection. I look forward to sharing my journey with you!