I have been talking to a lot of people recently who find cooking to be a chore, a bore, a burden. People feel overwhelmed by the prospect of having to make dinner. I get it, I really do!
But what if I told you that cooking could bring you more than just a meal on your table, it could offer you an opportunity to integrate a mindfulness practice into your day? Would that make this chore perhaps a little bit more palatable (no pun intended)?
Cooking as a Mindfulness Practice
Over the past few years I, like many people, have tried to decrease my stress and increase my sense of contentment by using mindfulness practices. I’ve tried meditation, guided relaxation, breathing techniques and more. Some of them have worked well for me for a bit, others not at all. None of them have stuck long enough to become a real habit.
But recently I had an epiphany as I was preparing dinner on an especially busy day that changed the way I look at my time in the kitchen.
You know those days when you can’t even seem to get a thought finished, let alone a task? Those days when you feel like your head might just spin right off your body? It was one of those days. But as I (resentfully) set to chopping and then sauteing an onion to get the meal started, I realized my mind was quieter than it had been all day.
And that’s when it hit me: cooking was the mindfulness practice I didn’t even realize I was doing on a daily basis.
Cooking requires mindful attention. If you let your mind wander to your to do list, your worries, your fears, your anxieties, you are much more likely to hurt yourself (as I did the other day when I was rushing through my to do list in my head and cut myself).
Cooking requires you to focus in on what you are doing. It asks that you put other things aside. It compels you to be present in that moment.
How to Use Cooking as a Mindfulness Practice
Before I share my tips on how to use cooking as a mindfulness practice, I want to acknowledge that this is not a classic approach to mindfulness since you are being active and are sometimes drawn in multiple directions, but I still maintain that using your time in the kitchen to focus on the task at hand and nothing else can help you to remain in the present moment, which is something so many of us struggle with.
Choose to Make Cooking a Mindful Time
Try your best to minimize other distractions. This means turning off the radio or TV, ignoring (or silencing!) your phone, and cooking on your own (in other words, if you want to use your time cooking as a mindful time, it isn’t the time to invite your kids to cook with you, just save that for another day).
Start with One Step
If you are following a recipe, think of each step in the recipe as an opportunity to practice a mini-mindfulness moment. Focus in on that onion as you chop it, take deep breaths and center as you whisk that sauce, and try to use all of your senses as you taste test the dish.
Each of those small moments is an opportunity to be fully present.
Accept and Move on from Interruptions
Using cooking as a mindfulness practice won’t be the same as meditating in a quiet room. So understand and accept that there will be interruptions.
Maybe a kid will need something, a timer will go off for the next step in the cooking, or your to do list will come roaring back into your head. Those interruptions are OK. The idea is that you acknowledge them and then return to your mindful and present state of mind.
For those who, like me, struggle with the acknowledge and let go of intervening thoughts piece of meditation, having the activity of cooking can really help because you are sort of forced to let those other things leave your mind if you want to stay safe and on top of the task at hand!
For someone like me who struggles a lot with meditation and getting my mind to slow down, I have come to look upon my time in the kitchen as a respite.
Now I will acknowledge that I really enjoy cooking. I like the creative outlet it provides. I like the ritual. But recently, I also realized that one of the things that calls me back to the kitchen over and over again is the mindfulness of cooking.
This is something that I think can be true for people who like to cook and also those who struggle with it because no matter how you feel about cooking the fact remains: if you don’t focus when you are doing it, something will likely go wrong.
We live in a society in which most of us are constantly rushing, multitasking, and cramming too much in. There are few spaces these days where we can shift our focus to just one thing. But one of those spaces is the kitchen.
So next time you are cooking, even if it is just making a salad or cooking a box of pasta and some jarred sauce, try to take a moment to notice that focus that is required, that mindfulness. Maybe, just maybe, you can breathe and enjoy the moment for what it is. Perhaps that shift will allow you to enjoy cooking just a little bit more, or maybe it won’t, but at least for that instant you will be completely present in the moment at hand. And just that is a gift.
Do you use cooking as a mindfulness practice or do you have a mindfulness practice that works for you? I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions in the comments!