Mindful cooking – before even considering bringing mindfulness into the kitchen, let’s just make sure we all understand what the concept means. I love this explanation of ‘mindfulness’ written by Pema Chodron, American Tibetan Buddhist, ordained nun and author. It’s simple to understand:
”Essentially, mindfulness means wakefulness—fully present wakefulness.Pema ChodronLiving Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change
[If you want to explore other definitions of mindfulness, both by secular and Buddhist practitioners, visit my post Mindfulness: What’s in a Word.]
I think a kitchen awakens the senses and helps a person to be wakeful there. In your daily life – particularly during working hours – you probably unknowingly filter out sensory details such as taste, touch and smell in favour of sight and sound. This is especially true for desk-bound workers.
Creating a ‘sensory’ pause to help manage stress
In a kitchen, all five senses: taste, touch, sight, sound and smell are fully mobilised. It’s very hard to keep worrying about work or feel anxious about a life problem once your brain is flooded with so much sensory input. In this way, mindful cooking can support your stress management by giving you a much needed ‘pause’ and often the necessary mindset shift to return to your challenge afterwards.
Disengaging the logic, thinking mind
Cooking is a creative endeavour. Even if you are a beginner or nervous cook, you will engage your artist’s brain. You will need to figure out how to replace ingredients you don’t have, how to adapt a dish to your tastes, how to get the timing right. All this effort encourages your creator to take the wheel. Meanwhile, the logic brain, the one you use for work, takes a back seat. Your inner critic – leftover from your survival brain – is a mere passenger.
Being present as you prepare food can be an immersive, meditative experience, one where you disengage your thinking mind, tap into your creative mind and reap the rewards of your creative labour in the form of tasty snack or meal.
Building confidence and self-worth
A lot of anxiety stems from not feeling in control of parts of your life. Mindful cooking allows you to take a break from those anxious thought loops and feel in control for the time you’re in the kitchen. Cooking is about process, about having an end-goal, about breaking the recipe down into manageable tasks and focussing on each step in order. With intention and purpose, you can immerse yourself in the cooking process – mindful of your work – and in so doing build your confidence and self-worth.
Can the little wins in the kitchen encourage you to chunk down and approach challenges in other areas of your life where you’d like to feel more in control?
Connecting with self and your wider circle through food
Preparing and sharing food with friends and family is an act of love. Eating together encourages connection, exchange and support. Food is also comforting because many of the smells trigger childhood memories of dishes we loved at our parents’ or grandparents’ home. Sometimes seeking out this comfort is what pushes us to spend time in our kitchen – a time to connect with and feed our inner child. This is a beautiful act of self-care.
Cooking together to strengthen bonds
On my stress management course and yoga retreats, I always cook at least one meal with my guests – on the Finding Space retreat we cook the last brunch together. Apart from being a lot of fun, this shared cooking session unites us in our quest to feed ourselves. As we gather around the table to share the brunch, you can feel the bond between us, and everyone feels valued as a contributing cook.
Tips on developing a mindful cooking habit
- Try leaving digital devices out of the kitchen (or turn off notifications if you’re using a tablet or phone to follow a recipe) to create a distraction-free environment.
- Redirect your attention to the present moment: the chopping, slicing, stirring etc., when your mind wanders back to your to-do lists or a worrying issue.
- Pay attention to all your senses – especially taste, touch and smell which are filtered out by a busy work brain.
- Set an intention to be ‘mindful’ and assess how you benefited from a ‘mindful cooking’ pause afterwards.
Most of all – enjoy the tactile, tasty, aromatic escape from your thinking mind.
When you next enter your kitchen, I invite you to try some mindful cooking to feed your body and soul.
P.S Here is a favourite winter warming recipe of mine – Chipotle bean & veggie chilli.