Chewing On Mindfulness: Gum Is Your Secret

My grandmother, a feisty and athletic woman in her younger years, was a gum-chewer. She was never without a pack or two of Wrigley's Doublemint gum. She wasn't a snapper or bubble-blower--she viewed that as highly uncivilized.

Grandma kept her mouth closed, thank you very much, and her chewing silent. She insisted that it helped her concentrate. It turns out that she was right. Research has shown that chewing does indeed increase our ability to concentrate and to retain what we've learned.

In fact, studies indicate that, for both kids and adults, mental tasks are completed up to 20% more effectively when we chew gum. Here's why: When we chew--whether it's food, gum or just air--we respond by salivating, which releases a surge of insulin. Our body gets ready for a meal. The insulin leads to an increased heart rate and sends glucose and oxygen to our brain.

The result? This blast of brain food helps us learn faster and retain this information longer. If that's all it takes to boost learning, I'm all for it! In fact, I'd like to suggest that we chew gum as a mindfulness exercise. Really. Perhaps instead of "Om" we should be chanting "Grom-grom-grom".

Why not? We already know that mindfulness can be very effectively practiced during repetitive physical activity. It's hard to find a more repetitive and less demanding activity than chewing gum!

Try this: Sit comfortably in any position that allows you to breathe with a relaxed belly. Pop some gum into your mouth and begin chewing. Pay attention to the burst of flavor and accompanying saliva. Feel the texture of the gum as it softens and stretches.

Focus on chewing the gum on only one side of your mouth ten times, then switch to the other side. Continue as you slowly chew, allowing yourself to count to ten before switching sides again. Keep this up for about two minutes while concentrating on the chewing motion.

Simple? Sure. Mindfulness IS simple. And it can become pretty easy to focus for short periods, especially if we have a particular physical activity as the center of our attention.

Many people find this a much easier and more effective way to experience mindfulness than simply sitting and watching thoughts. There's no need to make mindfulness difficult, uncomfortable or woo-woo. If chewing gum is good for your brain, take advantage of it as an easy way to practice mindfulness.

On a bus? At your desk? Take a two-minute break to chew gum. Nobody needs to know what you're doing. It will be your minty little secret.

Salvation? Okay, maybe not. Here's to salivation!

Maya Talisman Frost is a mind masseuse in Portland, Oregon. Through her company, Real-World Mindfulness Training, she teaches fun and effective eyes-wide-open alternatives to meditation. To subscribe to her free weekly ezine, the Friday Mind Massage, please visit http://www.MassageYourMind.com

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