Kneading Bread Is the Meditative Cooking Act That Gets All Your Senses Involved
Meditation looks like a lot of different things these days: meditation apps, meditation on your smart watch, Snapchat meditation, and meditation guided by celebs like Harry Styles. Needless to say, you can reap the benefits of meditation even if you're not meditating in a strictly traditional way.
Meditation can even happen in everyday activities such as baking bread. Pauline Beaumont, a trained psychotherapist and the author of Bread Therapy: The Mindful Art of Baking Bread, says that almost any activity can be a meditation. In her case, she began baking during a particularly hectic time of her life. "I remember feeling exhausted … and feeling instinctively that I needed to do something practical or physical—to make something real with my hands, to slow down," she says. "I see bread-making as a good example of the sort of activity that one can do mindfully [by] giving one’s whole self to the process and honoring the ingredients, utensils, and vessels used."
If you're someone who (like me!) has yet to sustain a long-term meditation practice and want to find a stress-relieving activity that helps you feel more mindful, kneading bread is worth a try.
How kneading bread can be a moving meditation
Even as someone who enjoys baking, I'm intimidated by the idea of making bread from scratch. Sure, I've tackled some complicated baking projects (French macarons, anyone?). But baking bread seems like a process that requires some real skill—and a lot of time.
"Making bread is one of those things that we might fear because we assume it is more complicated than it actually is," says Beaumont. "We might be afraid that we will mess it up, and so we avoid it." In reality, she says, bread-making doesn't need to be complicated, and if your bread doesn't turn out perfectly, that doesn't really matter.
In fact, if you mess up your bread, then consider it an opportunity to learn an important lesson. "One of the great life lessons of making bread is learning to accept the imperfections of our loaves," says Beaumont. (Picking up on a metaphor here?) If you can deal with a loaf that didn't rise quite right, you can get better at accepting your own imperfections and mistakes. "In this acceptance, we can start to become more compassionate towards ourselves, which is another foundation stone of good mental health," Beaumont continues.
Tips for making bread a meditative experience
Every step of the bread-making process is a chance to tune into the activity—and tune out your stress. While you prepare and measure out your ingredients, be sure to note everything you see, smell, and feel. "As we weigh out the flour, we can concentrate on the delicate scent and the sound of it pouring," says Beaumont. "The change in smell as yeast and water is added, the rough feel of sea salt in our fingers, the stickiness of the dough as we start to knead it, the increasing elasticity and smoothness as the gluten develops as you work the dough," says Beaumont.
Finally, there's the part I'm most excited about: enjoying the scent of freshly baked bread wafting through the kitchen. "Observe the gentle rise of the dough as it proves and smell the scent of baking bread from the oven," Beaumont says. While you may think eating the bread is the grand finale, there's one last detail to pay attention to. "When you take your bread out of the oven, listen out for 'the song of bread'—the tiny crackling sounds the crust makes as it cools," she says.
Now that bread making sounds way less intimidating than I thought, I can't wait to break out some flour and get my hands in some dough when things feel stressful. As Beaumont pointed out, all the steps of making bread lend themselves to mindfulness—and I can't wait to break off a slice of that.
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