Food Matters: Nature of Nurture |

Food Matters: Nature of Nurture

by Amanda Rae

I pick up the orb and study it, as instructed, with the wonderment of a toddler. It’s small, smooth, and about the side of a large, oblong marble. The color is semi-transparent maroon that turns pale greenish-yellow at one end near a tiny brown circular indentation. While I can tell that the inside is soft, it’s firm overall and doesn’t yield to pressure when I squeeze it between my fingers. It smells faintly sweet.

I pop it into my mouth and roll it around with my tongue for ten seconds. It is slick. It doesn’t have much flavor…until I pierce the skin with my teeth. After the faintest snap, I taste an explosion of sweet juice. The flesh is slippery, like jelly, but has structure. As I chew slowly, its essence turns astringent. Slowly I mash the tart skin into a single mass of pulp. It seems to scrape across my palate like chalk, drying it out.

Never have I ever eaten a single red grape so slowly and with such thought.

“Become aware of how things change,” Gina Caputo had instructed us, at the beginning of “Meditastion,” a workshop combining yoga, meditation, and food that caps the four-day Lead with Love: A Mind Body Spirit Rx Retreat at the Aspen Meadows Resort last Sunday, Oct. 29. Caputo created the class, in which she combines yogic teaching with other personal interests of food and cooking, meditation, and the Indian wisdom of Ayurveda (“science of life”) as a way to foster greater awareness in our daily lives.

Before the grape adventure, we flow through a five-minute sequence of yoga postures (asanas) that corresponds to the “astringent” taste element, according to Ayurveda: air and earth. Since the chakras, or energy centers in the body, related to air and earth are located in the human heart and back, we begin with our hands in prayer position. Breath representing air, we take long, deep inhale-exhales. As slow, sober cello music reverberates around the room, we push into our feet, consciously rooting into our mats, and float our hands forward in a swan dive toward the ground.

After we finish the sequence, sit, and chew our single grapes in silence, we close eyes for a one-minute meditation to reflect on the sensations we feel. Indeed, I feel…grounded. Mellow. Solid.

“It’s a way to understand the energetics of life,” Caputo explains of the exercise, “to cultivate extraordinary awareness around the simple things we do everyday: breathe, move, eat.”

This is the fifth step in Meditastion’s six-part sequence, one for every taste: sweet, sour, salty, pungent (spicy), astringent, and bitter.

“Ayurveda’s six different tastes correspond to the taste buds on your tongue,” Caputo explains. “It’s not some mystical, woo-woo thing. Where it gets different from the taste buds on your tongue is that each taste corresponds with different qualities, or gunas. When you begin to see things through the lens of these qualities, it helps us understand how foods impact us on levels beyond biological.”

She means emotional or psychological ways, of course. And since Ayruveda dictates that like attracts like, the goal is to seek balance by choosing foods based on how we hope to feel.

“If I am stressed out, I want to nourish myself with things that are grounding and cooling,” she says. As we all know too well, however, often that isn’t the case. “What do we do?” Caputo asks. “We drink coffee, which is heating and stimulating!”

Tuning in to these feelings and sensations, then, takes the first step on a path toward wellbeing. “So, if there are times in your life when you need a feeling of building up your stamina,” Caputo says, “that’s a great time to be pounding sweet potatoes.”

As it turns out, food serves as an easy entry point to explore meditation. We learn that the salty taste (fire and water elements; solar plexus and sacrum chakras) is linked to inspiring, motivating, activating qualities. I roll a few flakes of Maldon sea salt onto my tongue and focus on how the crystals feel rough on my palate before they melt in saliva. Its intense for a moment — super saline! — and leaves a distinct minerality that takes a couple of minutes to dissipate. I feel refocused by this simple act — tasting — and check back in with my energetic response. It’s a small awakening of something, I can tell that much.

“I look around and I feel there is a disconnect,” Caputo tells me later, when I call to discuss how Meditastion applies to everyday life. “I see so many people on special diets related to their physical appearance, which I think is a limited perspective. There’s an emotional or psychological aspect to nourishment that we’re not exploring as fully as we could. (Meditastion) is not giving you rules, it’s giving you tools, so you understand the impact of your food, the impact of your movement, of what you’re looking at and listening to, so you practice self-awareness.”

That’s what the Lead with Love conference, a fundraiser for the nonprofit Aspen City of Wellbeing, which completed its second year on Sunday, is all about: Living with intention. Simply slowing down during a meal, considering taste closely, is a simple way for folks to live with more awareness right away.

At the end of Meditastion, Caputo calls out Gina Stryker, of Gina Cucina in Carbondale, who provided the foods in the workshop as well as recipe cards for a dish incorporating all six Ayurvedic tastes, and Margot Elena, who gifts participants with a blend of essential oils related to the unexplored seventh chakra, or crown chakra.

“There is so much care going into what they do and I felt there was a good synergy,” Caputo says. “Nothing that you do with your body escapes your mind, and vice-versa.”