Peace at the Table

The Ayurvedic practice of food sadhana restores mindfulness to mealtime

Article written by: Amelia Glynn from Conscious Choice Magazine

Cooking and eating have always been high on my list of all time favorite things to do. Visiting local farmers’ markets to pick out seasonal produce and concocting beautiful, healthy meals were two pleasures my ex and I often shared together.  So when we broke up last summer, my connection to food felt broken as well. My enthusiasm for cooking vanished overnight, and I found myself on the infamous “break-up diet,” consisting of pretty much anything I could pop in my mouth, sans heat or preparation of any kind.

After two months of this hand-to-mouth existence, I couldn’t bear the sight of another container of cottage cheese or bag of trail mix. I was in desperate need of  a good, home-cooked meal.  I also realized I could benefit from rediscovering food as a source of nourishment and comfort rather than anxiety and sadness.

This was my impetus to sign up for a series of “conscious cooking” classes at my local San Francisco yoga studio. Taught by longtime culinary artist and yoga instructor Jeremy Moran and certified Ayurvedic practitioner Abbie Scianamblo, the classes were founded on the Ayurvedic practice of food sadhana, or cultivating a more mindful approach toward growing, buying, preparing and enjoying food.

Moran and his wife Amanda (also attending the series) kicked things off by sharing experiences of practicing food sadhana together. There were definitely a few bumps in the beginning. “I’d come home from work late in the evening and Amanda would want to dive into exchanging the day’s info,” Moran describes – adding that all he wanted in those moments was to relax and have something to eat. Food sadhana allowed him to decompress during his meal and be more open to hearing what she had to say.

Amanda wouldn’t always take this so well. “I’d feel shut down when he didn’t want to talk, ” she admits, adding that the practice initially seemed very “somber and serious.” But over time and many conversations, she began to appreciate the positive impact of food sadhana. “When we weren’t in such a hurry during meals, we had a lot more time to think about how precious and valuable our food is,” says Amanda. “This practice has been very nourishing.”

According to the principles of Ayurvedic medicine, eating in silence lends more energy and focus to digestion. “When we talk, our blood is directed to the brain rather than the stomach,” explains Scianamblo. She and Moran both take Ghandi’s advice of “chewing your soup and drinking your food” to heart. “It’s important to take time to slow down and enjoy,” Moran advises.

While neither Moran nor Scianamblo expect students to institute a completely silent dinner table, they do recommend keeping conversation light and relaxed (e.g. put the kibosh on religious and political debates until after dessert). Other simple ways to practice food sadhana include making your kitchen a clean, organized and happy place; learning where your food comes from and utilizing what’s in season; enjoying regular meal times; and preparing and eating your food in a calm, quiet and positive state of mind. “Anger and emotions can easily get transferred into the food you are preparing, so treat it with love,” says Scianamblo.

From an Ayurvedic perspective, disease or “lack of ease” in the human body is rooted in the digestive system; 75 percent of effective digestion, assimilation and elimination can be attributed to how we eat and 25 percent to what we eat. “Using our food as our medicine can be our best source of daily health and balance,” Scianamblo says.

The notion of avoiding guilt and feeling confident about everything you put into your body had particular resonance for me, reminding me that if I’m going to have my cake, I should relax and enjoy myself while I eat it, too. And while grocery stores will continue to offer everything under the sun, no matter where we live or time of year, the practice of conscious cooking urges us to shop locally, understand the seasons and tune in to our bodies. Says Scianamblo, “If everyone were more aware of these things, we could have such a positive impact on the world.”