Julia Child once said, “This is my invariable advice to people: learn how to cook—try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!” Child’s encouraging words have undoubtedly inspired countless people to pick up a whisk, whether to try a new recipe out of boredom or, as Child did, to embark on a full-out mission to find their life’s purpose in baking and cooking. Many people probably won’t write a best seller about their triumphs or inspire a box office hit, but cooking and baking have a myriad of benefits for the mind and the body.
Edward Espe Brown, author of No Recipe: Cooking as Spiritual Practice, aims to instill in readers what it means to view cooking or baking as meditative. In yoga practices, meditation means being in a state of stillness and looking inward to get to a place of total consciousness. It relies on breath, posture, and, more often than not, a quiet environment, none of which is usually synonymous with kitchen activity. But when you let go of what you typically associate with meditation, you’ll find that cooking and baking can have similarly calming results.
Something like baking bread can be especially therapeutic—as long as you accept that it doesn’t have to turn out perfect. Bread is a low-cost, high-reward food to make; water, flour, yeast, and a whole lot of kneading are the basics to making a good loaf.
In a society obsessed with time, however, perhaps the most important component to bread making is patience. You learn to view time as your friend, not your enemy. Time is what allows the dough to mature, eventually leading the way for it to become an artisan loaf. The process of making the bread itself—the rhythmic act of kneading the dough, waiting for it to rise, and eventually baking it in the oven—forms a meditative connection. When you allow yourself to be completely focused on the push and pull through kneading with your hands, this eases you into a state of mindfulness. While you’re not engaging in something typically considered meditative, with an open mind, making bread can be experienced as just that.
The mindful, meditative aspect of making something in the comfort of your own kitchen is certainly a benefit to your mental health, but it doesn’t end there. For some, it may even take a while before they consider cooking or baking meditative, and it could take a couple tries at a recipe before fully giving in to that sense of mindfulness. It may be helpful to learn about what other benefits can come from taking up cooking or baking as a hobby.
We’ve all experienced the feeling of satisfaction that comes from accomplishing something. It’s also used in a type of therapy called behavioral activation. This method of therapy is used to treat those suffering from depression by having them participate in activities that are attached to goal-oriented encouragement. Whether you’re a newbie in the kitchen or a seasoned chef, at the end of a recipe is the promise of something delicious you made with your own hands, and that has power.
If you’re looking to better your relationship with food, cooking your own meals is a great way to get on the right track. When you’re in control of what you’re putting into your body, you have greater influence to make it a healthy meal full of nutrients instead of something that will leave you feeling hungry (and guilty) hours later.
Setting aside time to do something creative is proven to positively impact your day. This could take form in writing, drawing, and, yes, cooking. And don’t think that this excludes you just because you’re following a recipe! Whether you swap out an ingredient for something you find more flavorful, add a dash more seasoning, or make dietary substitutions, cooking inspires creativity just by doing. Who knows? Straying from the recipe may lead you to create a new family classic.
Mix It All Together
A dash of meditation here, a sprinkle of stress relief there—cooking and baking may just be the hobby you were looking for to strengthen your mind-body connection. With Child’s famous sentiment in the back of your mind as you embark on the culinary journey ahead of you, it’s hard not to be excited! Learn to let go of the idea of perfection, and embrace every messy, mindful, and makeshift second of being in the kitchen.
For more info, visit choosemyplate.gov