Wine Tasting and Mindful Eating
As I’ve discussed in my earlier post, wine tasting as a practice is an exercise in sensory discrimination and control. In yoga, this practice is called Pratyahara. It’s considered to be so important in the yoga tradition that an an entire limb, the fifth, of the Eight Limbed path of classical yoga according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is attributed to it. The goal at this stage is mastery over what the yogis call “chitta vrtti” – the ‘whirling thoughts’ of the mind (what Buddhists call the ‘monkey mind’ and what I like to call ‘the nonsense mind’) activated by the sense mechanism and move towards a place of inward calm. It is believed that in order to find this inward calm, you must explore your mind’s relationship to your sense mechanism and become a witness to it. In essence, you learn to control your senses so they don’t control you.
Yoga chitta vrtti nirodah
The restraint of the modifications of the mind stuff is yoga.
-Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Chapter One Sutra1.2
Sensory discrimination and control is at its very essence an act of mindfulness. Training the brain to function in this way is a powerful exercise that can allow you to access deeper levels of intuition and wisdom. We can develop this important skill when we taste wine. It does not take long to notice that the main task confronting you in wine tasting is dealing with the distracting thoughts inside your head. With practice, you learn to recognize and navigate beyond these distracting thoughts in order to move towards the truths you seek. You learn to distinguish between what you “think” you taste and what you are actually tasting.
Strengthening these skills through a practice such as wine tasting may also provide benefits elsewhere in life, such as increased mindfulness while eating. According to an article from Harvard Medical School, “a small yet growing body of research suggests that a slower, more thoughtful way of eating could help with weight problems and maybe steer some people away from processed food and other less-healthful choices.” Just as yoga has been proven to provide mental tools on the mat that can help you in life off the mat, it has been my experience that wine tasting does the same.
Slowing down, paying attention, and approaching a glass of wine with awareness and the intention of study can retrain your brain to more easily perform these same actions in your everyday life. I compare a glass of wine in this context to the yoga mat for asana. It’s something you can use to give you feedback so you can deepen your knowledge of your own inner landscape and change the way you relate to your senses. This can assist you in making positive changes in the way you respond to triggers elsewhere in life, such as at the dinner table, in social gatherings, and in the workplace.
For the yogi and the wine enthusiast, wine tasting not simply tasting. More appropriately, the term should be wine “sensing.” You must harness your complete sense mechanism in order in order to identify and distinguish between very subtle elements that normally go unnoticed in everyday consumption. Instead of letting the senses control you, your challenge is to bring them under your control and learn how they can work for you.
So the next time you raise a glass of wine to your lips, pause. Admire the color. Notice how the light refracts through the liquid in the glass. Inhale the aromas deeply, sticking your entire nose in the glass and drawing air in from the bottom of your lungs. What do you smell? Try to identify three things you associate with the aromas. A fruit? A spice? Does the aroma trigger an involuntary memory or emotion? Witness your response. Now, taste the wine. Notice how it passes over the palate, the front and back of the tongue and sides of the mouth. Is it acidic? Sweet? What tastes present themselves? Savor the moment and then let it go.
Harvard Medical School and Mindful Eating: http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/mindful-eating