Last thanksgiving, before putting on my apron and diving into the intricate meal I had planned for months, I took my dog for a run. When I was growing up, getting outside to exercise before the feast was a family tradition. My mother, father, two border collies and I would pile into the truck and head out for the first cross country ski of the season. While running, for the first time surrounded by a big city and hundreds of people doing the same thing, I was intrigued by the conversations that wisped by. Quips of sentences pieced together in my head beneath the heavy breathing and visions of other people’s thanksgiving traditions flickered through my head. Diet, stuffed, gross, so much food, hectic, disaster; people’s words were frequently disheartening. I have definitely had my fair share of thanksgiving disasters and oh so stuffed moments on the couch, so this year I have decided to change gears and focus on the word thanks, which I hope to bring more of to the table, to the food I eat, to the nourishment I give my body and to the people I share it with.
Thinking about thanks was spurred, not just by last years run, but also by a sentence that I came across that read, “Think of bringing nourishment into our bodies rather than just feeding ourselves.” I realized, while reading this, that the stressing, organizing, feeding and rushing that is so commonly associated with Thanksgiving is not making for a nourishing tradition but a frenzied feeding one. We rush around trying to time everything in the oven just right. The television is often blaring in the background, the table needs to be set, guests need to be organized and people swarm the kitchen looking for something to do.
In a technical sense, all of this sends the nervous system into the sympathetic state of alert. The natural reaction to stress puts an emphasis on all systems in your body used to fight or flight in reaction to stimulus. Your heart rate and air intake increase and other systems, especially your digestion are put on hold. When we sit down to eat a meal in this state it is difficult to truly receive what you are putting in; you feed yourself, but do not nourish your body. In the sympathetic state that our nervous systems are too frequently in, the body pushes food through but does not absorb nutrients. Hormones that are essential to the digestion, absorption and use of nutrients are not secreted and the body’s sense of satiation in diminished. We can simultaneously stuff ourselves silly and malnourish our bodies.
In a relaxed or parasympathetic state, on the other hand, breathing and heart rate slow, muscles relax, and the digestive process revs up. We are more inclined to chew slowly, think about the food going in, appreciate the flavors and receive the nourishment. These are the qualities that bring thanks. The physical body thanks you for providing it with the necessary sustenance it needs, every organ and system thanks you for giving them the energy and time they need to catch up and work efficiently, the mind thanks you for letting it rest and have time to think about the present, your emotions thank you for the peace and quiet, your friends and family thank you for a wonderful meal and you can step back and be thankful for it all.
This thanksgiving, wherever you are going and whatever traditions you have, take a moment to give thanks. As you sit down at the table take a deep breath and bring your mind and body to the present. Open your senses and take in all that is around you. Give yourself time to appreciate what you have and those you share it with. Let not just the food and flavors of each bite, but also the family, community, rest and celebration nourish your body. Your body, mind and everyone you share your day with will be thankful.