Even a title with the words "slow-living" may evoke a sense of impatience in any reader, and if this is you, I invite you to take a moment to set aside 5 minutes. Five minutes to check in with your breath and read on to see if this post resonates.
What does it mean to create more presence in our life? How would it be for you to allow yourself the time to experience simple tasks with greater meaning? Why can it be beneficial to become more attuned to seemingly insignificant details?
Cultivating a greater presence in our lives allows us to living more fully. With our fast-pace moving lifestyles of rushing from one task to another, trying to get as much done to maximise productivity, taking in the unassuming details of life can not only sound mundane but seem like a waste of our precious time.
And yet, this is where the magic lies.
Here I explore some of the benefits of slowing down for our physiological, emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing. We'll explore simple ways to cultivate more mindfulness in our day to day, and how the role of food, eating and nutrition can offer an integral opportunity to slow(ing)-down.
Before I go any further I feel it is imperative I acknowledge and note my level of privilege. There can be this polarised sense of "don't sweat the small stuff "and the "there-are-so-many-deeply-troublesome-realities-in-this-world", AND I feel I need to hold space for how we can move through our lives with compassion for the challenges of others whilst honouring those of our own that seem to pale into insignificance.- do let me know your thoughts on this.
The Benefits of Slowing Down
Sociologist Dr. Nick Osbaldiston describes how disentangling ourself from the contemporary speed culture by embracing slowness, and changing the way we undertake activities in our every day lives can offer resource in our radically stressed-prone lives. I love this idea of disentangling ourself as so often we can easily get "caught up" in the need to multi-task, achieve a minimum of 10,000 daily steps, answer technology messages and mails immediately, or thinking that a laundry list of activities will full-fill our sense of "productivity".
I'll be the first to raise my hand with falling into this idea of productivity. Often by the time my children have gone to school it can feel I've had half my day and its not yet 9am! Having an endless task of things on my to do list, simply to keep home, family and work life moving in a forward direction can have me spinning the many proverbial plates. I am no organisational pro, in fact I'm not sure it flowed into my genetics at all- it takes my brain quite the resource to meet and (partially) fulfil all the aspects that my life requires of me.
Our fast-paced way of living has an accumulative impact by keeping us activated in the sympathetic arm of our autonomic nervous system. This continuous "activation" creates a heightened production of cortisol- a hormone released by our adrenal glands which essentially helps us to "keep going". It raises our blood sugar levels so that our muscles have fuel to move, it constricts our blood vessels to maintain a narrow range in our blood pressure, and overall keeps us alert. Cortisol production is an essential part of our physiology- of which we have evolved to keep us alive! However, as with all things physiology, hormonal production has its place and too much of anything can counterbalance our health and well being. Continuously elevated levels of cortisol can lead to irritability, fatigue and anxiety. When we consciously decide to slow down a task, or the need to be and do, we can have influence over our physiology and lower the levels of cortisol produced.
Not only does this help our internal state of calm, but the more I slow down, the more easeful and delighting my experience of certain things have become.
I'm not sure I'm getting more done, but I'm getting the sense that the tasks that I thought couldn't wait are not always the priority I gave them. This seems to reduce the urgency, stress and high expectation, and foster a sense of trust that it will get done in its own time. Years ago I would never has said that mindfully picking flowers for tea would have been an essential part of my day. And now- consciously building activities into my day that gently pave a way for me to slow down are non-negotiable. My nervous system tells me so :-)
The Role of Nutrition in Slow(er)-Living
We don't live life in a vacuum- and in our home, dinners reheated from the freezer are a God send when there is sport training, piano lessons and extracurricular commitments. Slowing down isn't always about taking the longer route to do things. For me it is simply attempting to be more present and mindful with tasks and just not rushing to get them all done, whilst evaluating where I can take more time and space.
So although at times it is simply necessary to put quick and easy snacks and meals on the table, consider the possibility of carving out the time to prepare your food in a different way. Whilst appliances serve a wonderful purpose, if time and ability allows, returning to more traditional ways of preparing foods, can offer us the opportunity to slow down.
Choosing your favourite curry spices such as cumin and coriander seeds to crush and blend in a pestal and mortar to warm through in the pan before adding coconut milk and a tin of tomatoes. Makes a delicious base for adding any chopped vegetables and a tin of chickpeas.
I guess growing food can also be considered slow-food! With a pot, some compost and a packet of seeds- the simplest of crops to grow are radish and salads. Radishes come in many varieties, my favourite is the French Breakfast. Delicious dipped in humous or sliced to top crackers and cheese.
I'm a huge fan of tea and preserving fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers from the garden. The process of picking and/or foraging our own food to then preserve in some way is a wonderful mindful practice, giving thanks to Mother nature for her bounty, in the knowledge that you can enjoy your pickings at a later day.
Lots of herbs can be grown in a container such as mint, chamomile and lemon balm. Simply collect the leaves and or flowers to use either fresh or dry them for a few days before storing in a jar. For making a slow paced cuppa, I've lots more ideas here.
Foraging is a beautiful activity that will have you exploring the great outdoors for hours. In Ireland there are different edible species to forage every month. The rosehips are always particularly beautiful and delicious.
Simmered in water and sugar, blended and strained to make a light syrup, mixed with sparkling water for a refreshing drink or added to water kefir for its second ferment. It reminds me of my childhood, drinking 'roosvicee' (a traditional Dutch cordial) in my Oma's garden.
For the ultimate in slow food preparation and preservation, sourdough baking, dehydrating, and sprouting foods are all kitchen activities that need a little planning and time. I feel that the planning of making something that needs time can be a mindful process in its self. Knowing I have to wait a good while before I see the fruits of my labour, so to speak, helps me cultivate patience. I simply love baking sourdough bread, with my favourite recipe (by far) from Nicola Galloway. Dehydrated flowers and herbs are jarred up to use in teas and baking (calendula flowers are a great addition to the menopause loaf) and sprouted seeds such as broccoli seeds, are added to stuffed pitta breads or baked jacket potatoes.
And so finally, this wouldn't be a nutrition blog post about slowing down if I weren't to mention the benefits of mindful eating. Placing our awareness solely on what we are eating, chewing slowly and taking the time to consider the flavour, texture and temperature of our food can have wonderful benefits for both our relationship with food and our digestive comfort.
The simple phrase I share with clients includes the invitation to...
and chew well"
I plan to write a more in depth and evidence based post about the benefits of mindful eating, but until then, I invite you to slow down with both the choosing and preparing your food, and then also the eating. See if you notice a difference.
Because that's what mindfulness is, giving yourself the time to notice. And by cultivating the practice of slowing down, it offers us more space to do exactly that. Simply notice.