Slow Down and Explore Your Senses

(Adapted from Savor Every Bite: Mindful Ways to Eat, Love Your Body, and Live with Joy (2021; New Harbinger Publications)

In an age of acceleration, nothing can be more exhilarating than going slow. —Pico Iyer

If you feel a lot of urgency to fix the way you eat, fix your body, or fix your life, you probably have the feeling of going around in circles without getting anywhere. The truth is there is nothing to fix, but much to explore with curiosity and kindness. By first slowing down, you are placing yourself in the perfect position to hear the answers from within that tell you what you need to know about the food you eat, what your body wants and needs, and the truth of who you are.

Slowing down and exploring your senses as you eat is only the beginning. As you learn to luxuriate in the moments you have with food and your body, your entire life naturally becomes suffused with the beauty of mindful attention and love. Slowing down helps you notice more, and what you notice can teach you volumes about the most important aspects of life. The answers are already waiting for you; all you need to do is slow down to listen.

I often teach what I need to learn, and, boy, is this lesson a big one for me. I move fast, talk fast, think fast, and drive fast. The faster I move, the more lost in thought I tend to be and the harder it is to fully experience the present moment.  This accelerated pace also prevents us from knowing that we ate, how much we ate, and whether we even liked what we ate. How many times have you stopped after being lost in thought and found the potato chip bag empty without even realizing that you ate them all?

It’s not completely my or your fault if we find ourselves moving a little too fast to pay attention. We live in a culture that encourages us to move too fast, do too much, and consume too much. As a result, we lose connection with ourselves, with others, and often with what’s important in life. Instead, we are caught up in trying to stay on top of email, texts, and phone calls. We’re working harder to “get it all done,” when in fact it never will be. We’re trying hard to feel good about ourselves by following the latest fads, diets, and other ways of reaching some unachievable ideal. Coming to terms with the impact of this acceleration is the first step in taking back control of your life.

What if we could be more satisfied with doing and trying a little less? Our dissatisfaction largely comes from trying to live up to some standard generated by marketing staffs paid to feed our anxieties—to be smaller, smarter, taller, thinner, quicker, younger, and better-looking. The idea of perfection is both unattainable and, frankly, unnecessary, but the conditioning that tells us we aren’t enough is extremely strong and pervasive. Slowing down and experiencing the moments of our lives is ultimately more satisfying than striving for an illusion of success or perfection.

At one point in my life, I went fast because slowing down meant facing things about my life that I didn’t want to look at. I thought if I ran fast enough I wouldn’t have to face the pain and disappointment of divorce. Of course, that strategy didn’t work well at all, and I ultimately ended up in the hospital to recover from drug addiction. Slowing down requires that we be willing to face our lives and our conditioning unflinchingly. You might not like the first image you see in the mirror, but as you begin to spend time with yourself, with kind attention, the truly amazing person you are can begin to shine back at you.

To live fully in the present moment and wake up to our senses requires that we put on the brakes a little. You can’t experience the ride when the landscape is whizzing by and you’re missing the essential information you need to create the life you want. Slowing down helps you to notice how you are feeling, what you are thinking, and the sensations in your body (such as hunger and fullness) as well as the sights, smells, and sounds around you. These messages are guideposts to your life.

In my yoga classes, I often have people take a deep breath in as they bring their arms overhead. Then I ask them to lower their arms very slowly on a long out-breath. This turns out to be so hard for some people that I repeat it a few times until everyone can experience the exhilaration of moving slowly. It’s amazing how much this one simple act of slowing down begins to reverse the stress response and creates a sense of greater peace, relaxation, and presence.

Even if you think you move slowly already (and maybe too slowly), it’s not as much about the physical act of slowing down as it is about being present for what you’re doing. Mindful eating, for instance, happens only if you’re present for your food and your body. The present moment is where your life is happening, and if you aren’t here, you aren’t really living!

Savoring Practice:  Practice slowing down in other activities. Slow down when you eat (you’ll enjoy it more and probably notice you eat less!). Slow down when you’re driving and actually drive the speed limit, if traffic allows (I’m still working on this one!). Slow down when you’re talking (people might understand you better). Think of other things you do too fast. Slow down, even a little, and notice the difference in how you feel.

For more Savoring Practices that help you get more out of life, check out my book Savor Every Bite: Mindful Ways to Eat, Love Your Body, and Live with Joy. Ask your local independent bookseller to get you one!