Sugar cravings. We all know how powerful they can be, whispering to us that we MUST have that chocolate, that glass of wine, that cake! It’s like a voice in our ear – and an impulse felt in the body too – distracting us from our goals to be healthy and vital. Yet we all know where acting on our cravings too often leads us. The cycle of trying to resist, then indulging, feeling guilty and even sick, berating ourselves when we know our behaviour isn’t good for us … and then setting up the sugar craving pattern to be repeated all over again.
Most of us have heard of the benefits of meditation, how it can slow down a busy mind and calm the nervous system. But meditation is more than just focusing and relaxing. It is a powerful tool for self-awareness that can help with food cravings on both the physical and mental levels. The ancient yogis understood that much of what creates our suffering as humans stems from the mind and the way we become stuck or limited by our thought processes and habits. What meditation is designed to do is to liberate us from the patterns that don’t serve our wellbeing – a great example of this is our relationship to cravings. The most extreme case of someone enslaved to their cravings is the addict, whose whole life becomes about the ‘fix’.
5 Ways regular meditation helps break the cravings cycle:
1) Resetting your physiology. Meditation switches on the parasympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as the relaxation response. When we’re stressed we don’t metabolise well, our endocrine system which controls hormone production becomes compromised, our gut can become dysfunctional, immunity can become impaired and the mind ‘fuzzy’. Regular relaxation boosts metabolic function and overall wellbeing and reduces our need to soothe our stress with ‘quick fix’ hits of alcohol and comfort foods.
2) Learning to witness your thoughts. During meditation we consciously cultivate our natural ability to observe our own thought processes. This creates the necessary mindfulness to watch when we are forming thoughts around acting on our cravings and nip them in the bud!
3) Enhancing positive thinking. Several studies in recent years have confirmed what meditation practitioners already know: that regular meditation increases feelings of happiness, positivity and resilience. Permanent changes to the left frontal lobe (responsible for positive emotions, creativity and higher thought) and increases in levels of ‘happy hormones’ are two of the documented changes to subjects who regularly enter the meditation state. When we operate from idealism and optimism we feel more resolute and in control about changing our addictive patterns.
4) Improving body awareness and sensitivity. Focusing our attention, body scanning techniques and relaxation practices all enhance the mind-body connection. Regular practitioners of yoga and meditation report feeling more in tune with their body and the impact of foods on their system. When we become more sensitive in this way, it becomes harder to overeat or eat foods that don’t make us feel great, precisely because of how bad it makes us feel.
5) Creating mental clarity. When we meditate, the mind clears, becomes calm and refreshed, cognitive reasoning is improved and we tend to reflect on our life purpose and the ‘bigger picture’ more. This helps us to keep perspective on how we want to live life and maintain a connection with our goals, including our wellbeing goals, as we go about our day to day.
Tips: Meditation is often misunderstood to mean emptying your mind but you will never stop the flow of your thoughts! Instead, think of meditation as learning to direct your attention in a relaxed way. There are endless techniques but the simplest and most direct method of meditation involves the breath – just observing your breathing and returning to it when your mind wanders. The key to the meditative state is that we need to be aware, focused AND relaxed. For many people sitting cross-legged on a cushion is the opposite of relaxed! So try lying comfortably or sitting in a chair.
By Geraldine Coren
Geraldine has taught extensively in Yoga studios, corporate, health, private and retreat settings in Sydney and Newcastle since 2000. Geraldine also has over three years’ experience teaching Yoga, Meditation, Mindfulness, Breathing, Stress Management and Sleep Promotion at the Golden Door Health Retreat – Elysia, where she is known for her nurturing teaching style. She brings energy and passion to sharing the teachings and benefits of Yoga, along with her own insights from nearly 20 years of practice, with her students