By: Katelyn Twardzik & Jedly Paredes
“Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.” – Richard Feynman.
Patterns are everywhere we look, from the smallest DNA particles to the wings on a butterfly, to the human experience of following time, schedules and routines. We get set in our ways and repeat similar actions and behaviors only to get similar results. While these results may or may not always be desired or intentional, the art of mindfulness can help us stay in touch with the life that is going on within us as well as around us. To be mindful is to be present, to reflect, and to be aware and thoughtful. Mindfulness can be applied to many areas of our lives to help us gain perspective and to help us take a step back and observe without subjection. This allows us to make needed changes that break us free from old habits, which can lead us to improved mental clarity and physical health. Taking a look at mindful eating and mindfulness as it applies to literacy will help us take a closer look at its benefits.
Mindful eating can positively affect our emotional and physical state. In the U.S., the lack of mindfulness in our diet and eating has caused many health problems. These problems range from diabetes, anorexia, heart disease, liver overload, obesity, stress, bloating and indigestion to name a few; not to mention that our immune system and nervous system are supported by a healthy relationship with food.
Mindful eating can be achieved by knowing what you are eating. You can start having control of what you are putting in your body by keeping yourself aware by checking the packaging label. Your body will react positively to avoiding unnecessary additives such as chemicals and preservatives. Selecting natural and fresh products from a local vendor is a great way to get more food and fewer ingredients. An economical advantage to this is that local farm stands are often much more affordable than the grocery store price since you are purchasing directly from the source. Another advantage is that local farm stand produce is usually sold within twenty-four hours versus the seven to fourteen day journey other produce can take to arrive at the grocery store. Being aware of the process that your food takes to get to you is an important part of mindful eating. This requires extra thought when eating at a restaurant where you are not preparing your own food. Getting your chicken grilled instead of fried will make a major difference in keeping more nutritional value to your food.
Another part of having a healthy relationship with food is giving yourself time to enjoy it. Eating with the company of others is a tradition that has occurred over centuries which validates that food should be enjoyed and can even be joyful and celebratory. Eating slowly allows you to take in the flavors, textures, aromas and presentation. Learning about your taste buds and how you experience taste through your tongue is an enriching way to sort through flavors, making eating an experience. On the very tip of your tongue you will taste salty and sweet flavors. On the sides of your tongue you will taste sour flavors and on the back of your tongue you will taste bitter flavors. Having a bite of food and deciding what you taste first allows you to truly have a mindful eating experience. Eating slowly also allows the food to reach your stomach in a timely way so that you are able to more accurately judge when you are content with the amount of food you’ve consumed. The key to eating a healthy amount is to stop eating once you are no longer hungry, not until you are full or on the brink of feeling like there is no more room in your stomach.
If you are still unsure of the effectiveness of mindful eating, why not ask your body how it feels? Experiment with eating more nutritional foods such as raw fruits, nuts and vegetables and see how your body reacts. How does your stomach feel? What is your energy level like after eating? What is your stomach telling you about the food you ate? Compare your results with more processed foods such as a bag of chips or fast food. Mindful eating does not mean to deprive yourself of food but rather to allow yourself to have a balanced life, eating more of what makes you feel healthy with more energy and less of what makes you feel bloated and drained. Having a mindful relationship with food will lead to a healthy mind and body.
Mindfulness skills are useful in an educational setting. Teaching children about eating mindfully will make them healthier and give them more mental clarity. Mindfulness can also be applied to improving literacy. Practicing mindfulness exercises such as breathing and memory games can strengthen focus and concentration, enable an ability to see a new perspective, reduce stress and increase metacognition. A student’s well-developed metacognition can influence self-monitoring skills, which would build their scaffolding toward independent reading. Having the mindfulness skills of breathing, noticing thoughts, noticing feelings and letting them all go are coping mechanisms that will help a stressed student remain calm. When students are able to keep their feelings, thoughts and emotions in check they will be equipped with the tools that will help them develop further academically. These tools can also be carried into their everyday life to help them with their relationships, job performance and over all well-being.
The idea of reading and mindfulness can be interchangeable because mindfulness can help a reader and reading can help with mindfulness. Reading is actually a way of being mindful. In a world where we are motivated by sensations, literacy is a great alternative that can broaden our awareness in a positive way. When you read a good book, it traps you in its pages. You can become engaged with the characters, the scenes and the atmosphere. You can gain wisdom from the words that you read while leaving behind your own personal judgment and worries. You can gain an outside perspective that you never would have had by meeting characters in a story. You can also experience and connect with feelings and emotions through another’s words that can transform and enlighten you. Reading can take you to a place in your mind where you can self-examine your own acts and reactions.
Mindfulness is so important because our thoughts are the cause of our actions and interactions. Thinking permits us to make sense and interpret the world in ways that are significant to us. Reading can expand our mindset and allow us to experience life in new ways. By reading mindfully, we are opening a door in our mind that connects new information to our own personal experience and gaining a new outlook. This gives us the opportunity to admire, discover and see the broader picture. To have a complete awareness of reality you have to transcend from the personal and leave aside ambitions, fears and old perceptions in order to be able to perceive the truth in front of you. A book does can do this for us. Like a good book, life requires you to be aware of your sensations, thoughts and most importantly, aware of the present moment. Mindfulness can be applied to many other areas in our lives besides eating and improving literacy. It is up to the individual how they can best maximize mindfulness to help them reach their fullest potential. So be full, be light, and be mindful.
Jedly Paredes, originally from Puerto Rico, is studying Spanish at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. She is enrolled in the Dual Degree to get the education license to teach Spanish at secondary level. She likes to cook and enjoys swimming. She has a part time job at a tire shop, where she loves the contact with customers. She can be reached by email here.
Katelyn Twardzik is currently working as a Paraprofessional with the 2nd Grade team at Atlantis Charter School in Fall River. Her undergraduate degree is in Fine Arts from Bridgewater State University and she currently attends the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth where she is taking classes toward becoming an Elementary School teacher. In her spare time she enjoys hiking, music, yoga, and arts & crafts. She has a webpage where you may view some of her arts & crafts.