Most people say the gift of sight is their most valuable sense perception – and almost everyone experiences decline in visual function with aging. B One of the most common symptoms of aging is the decline in accommodation, the process by which the eye changes (accommodates) focus to maintain a clear image of objects at different distances. This decline often begins before age 50 years. Accommodation acts like an automatic reflex, but it can also be consciously controlled.



The holiday season is filled with emotion for most people. While this emotion is often happy, positive and loving, for many people it can be very unhappy and even depressing. Holiday music can trigger emotional associations with the absence of a loved one or unhappy memories from the past. The gap between the smiling faces of holiday ads and one’s unhappy emotional experience can actually lead to a deepening of the emotional darkness that often accompanies this season of lights.



As you approach the new year, you may be making resolutions for positive health behavior changes. Birthdays and other anniversaries also prompt us to take stock and vow to adopt healthy lifestyle habits. Two of the most common promises we make to ourselves are to increase our physical activity level and our stress management skills. Research is now showing that combining mindfulness meditation and physical activity can dramatically improve physical and emotional health.


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Surely one of the best things about modern science is the discovery that chocolate can actually be good medicine!

Chocolate As Preventive Medicine?

Cocoa contains phytonutrients (plant chemicals) called flavanols that may help protect you against coronary heart disease (heart attacks). Compared to milk chocolate, dark chocolate contains two to three times the amount of these beneficial plant chemicals. A possible mechanism by which flavanols protect the heart may be enhancing the production of nitric oxide (NO) in the interior lining of your arteries, helping relax them and lowering your blood pressure. Flavanols may also reduce inflammation, which may play a role in the development of heart attacks and strokes.


The high calorie content from the sugar and fat in dark chocolate can lead to weight gain, which can adversely impact the heart. The saturated fat content can elevate blood fat levels, increasing cardiovascular risk. Be judicious and use moderation in your consumption of dark chocolate to achieve the great-est health benefits. Dean Ornish, M.D., founder of the Ornish Program for heart disease, loves dark chocolate and slowly, mindfully eats one piece daily.

Eating Mindfully?

Mindfulness is the world’s leading behavioral, mind-body practice for promoting health, managing stress-related chronic conditions and enriching your experience of being alive. Mindful eating and food preparation can be an important ingredient in your overall practice of mindful living and can enhance your overall relationship with food – its production, distribution, preparation and consumption. Those with eating-related conditions such as overweight, obesity, anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge-eating disorders, body-image disorders and night-eating syndrome can also benefit by including mindful eating in an overall treatment plan.

7 Types of Hunger

Based on her work as a pediatrician and mindfulness meditation teacher, Jan Bays, M.D., helps patients and families re-connect with health-promoting, physiologically based hunger signals and avoid the temptation of false appetites. She describes seven types of hunger:

1. Eye hunger. To avoid overeating and to satisfy eye hunger, intentionally appreciate the visual appearance of your food as you begin to eat.   

2. Nose hunger. Much of your sense of taste comes from your sense of smell. Honor this aspect of your eating experience by focusing on the smell of the food you are about to eat.

3. Mouth hunger. How would your food taste with fewer sweet, salty or spicy condiments? Experiment by adding more or less of different spices and seasonings and examine old eating habits and preferences.

4. Stomach hunger. Abdominal rumbling and growling may suggest hunger when the body doesn’t truly need to eat. Listen to overall hunger cues before trusting stomach hunger.

5. Cellular hunger. Becoming more attuned to your body through mindfulness practices can put you back in touch with your physiological “true” hunger.

6. Mind hunger. Practice attending to mind hunger by noticing the social habits of eating with others. But also eat some meals alone while really tuning in to the full experience – physical, mental and emotional.

7. Heart hunger. Rather than feeding emotional needs by compulsive overconsumption of comfort foods such as chocolate, consider psychologically healthier options, such as taking a hot bath with candlelight, journaling, talking with a good friend or walking in nature.

Chocolate Meditation

Here are some simple instructions for eating chocolate mindfully.

•  Select a piece of chocolate in a wrapper (you may also begin with an unwrapped chocolate). Without unwrapping it immediately, bring your complete attention to the various types of hunger listed above.

•  Reading the label, notice if this is a familiar brand or one that is new to you. Note its country of origin, if it’s corporate or grower cooperative, organic or not.

•  Feel the tactile sensation of the wrapping before unwrapping and then as you s-l-o-w-l-y unwrap the chocolate.

•  Once it’s unwrapped, see the shape, design and various colors of the chocolate. Bringing it to your nose, inhale its aroma deeply. Perhaps feel the sensations of this experience coursing through your entire body.

•  Holding the chocolate in your hand, sense its weight and temperature. Looking deeply into the biography of the chocolate, imagine the grocer, the trucker, the farming families, the sunshine, the rain and the topsoil that are all required to get this chocolate to you now.

•  Picking up the chocolate between thumb and index finger and placing it on the tongue, pay attention to your body’s remarkable musculoskeletal and proprioceptive ability and wisdom.

•  Allowing the chocolate to s-l-o-w-l-y melt, notice any urge to chew. Pay attention to all the tastes and sounds, salivation and swallowing, being grateful for your properly functioning digestive system.

•  If your mind wanders to other thoughts or images, just notice where it went and bring it back to your mindful chocolate meditation in this present moment.

•  Once your chocolate is completely melted, swallow and feel the swallowing as far as you can into the body, appreciating the fact that the energy of the sunshine, rain, topsoil and farm labor are all being biochemically converted into your physical body.

Practical, ancient meditation practices and modern scientific research on chocolate can be combined to help you delightfully and tastefully achieve a healthy mind and healthy body through mindful eating and chocolate meditation.

Sources and Resources

•  A detailed description of mindful eating instructions can be found on my Web site at www.mindbodystudio.org/

•  Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food by Jan Chozen Bays, M.D.


•  Chocolate Meditation (5 minute audio) http://franticworld.com/free-meditations-from-mindfulness/


Dr. John Patterson is past president of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians and is board certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine. He is on the family practice faculty at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Saybrook University’s School of Mind Body Medicine (San Francisco) and the Center for Mind Body Medicine (Washington, D.C.). He operates the Mind Body Studio in Lexington, where he offers integrative medicine consultations

more articles by dr john patterson