Let's Eat

The art of breditation

Making your own loaf can feed your soul as well as your family


Stressed or anxious? You might feel better if you get your hands on some dough. So says psychotherapist, Gillian Levy, who has set up courses teaching what she terms as "Breaditation". "My nephew coined the term for courses of mine which combine meditation, mindfulness and bread making," she says.

Levy, a specialist in cognitive behavioural therapy has been practising as a psychotherapist for 16 years.

"I've always loved cooking and many years ago I used to make desserts for a restaurant. About 18 years ago, I ran an inpatients' baking group in a psychiatric unit at Hillingdon Hospital. I taught my patients how to bake cakes and before that we would meditate - they were in a much calmer place when they were baking and they made some beautiful cakes."

It was not until some years later that a Radio 4 documentary about asylum seekers inspired her to connect bread making with her therapeutic work. "They discussed that it is something that brings people together."

Levy feels that bread is a perfect medium for meditation and mindfulness. "The whole process is very soothing and calming and a great way of expressing your emotions. Kneading is hugely physical and lets you vent your frustrations as you work the dough - sometimes quite forcefully. During the process you are in touch with something both inside and outside of yourself as you watch the flour and water change from a lump of dough to being very elastic, which is quite powerful. It works on so many levels. You also need patience as you wait for the dough to be ready for each next stage."

During her courses, participants start their day with a meditation before they prepare the first of their loaves. They then meditate as they knead. "We talk about being aware of the feeling of the mixture and paying attention to what they are doing - they're learning about bread making at the same time while learning how to meditate. I also teach them how to use their breath to meditate, and how to use the kneading process as a way of focusing on being "in the moment".

While the bread is rising the group learn more meditation exercises before kneading again, shaping the loaves and waiting for them to prove. "The courses are good for people who cannot let go and who ruminate and for those feeling depressed."

Tami Isaacs-Pearce, owner and baker at Karma Bread has firsthand experience of the benefits of kneading dough. "I'm testament to the healing ability of bread making," says the professional baker.

"I came across bread baking by accident, having hit an emotional brick wall at the end of the fourth year of my masters in child psychotherapy," she says. The mother of two explains that she was forced to take a break from her studies to recover. "I wanted to do something with my hands and I chose to knead dough."

She took a course at the Hampstead Garden Suburb Institute and was won over. "I felt like I'd found the shell to my soul. There was something for me about the alchemy about what I was doing - creating something out of very little; it became compulsive -  I was struggling with insomnia at the time and spent all night kneading and baking bread.

"One Friday afternoon when I was kneading challah with music quietly playing in the background I felt at peace for the first time. I could feel the dough, see the light coming in through the windows and hear the birds singing outside for the first time. I was totally 'in the moment' and I was ok."

For Isaacs-Pearce, bread making is immersive - "It's different to any other sort of baking. It requires time, instinct, patience and for you to be totally focused - taking notice of your dough and the sensation of it in your hands, feeling what's happening to it."

Isaacs-Pearce was dismissive of her efforts when she started but with practice she has become an accomplished baker, first selling hand-crafted challot from her Bushey home and then - a year ago -  opening bakery, Karma Bread, in South End Green, Hampstead. She now has bakers to help her meet demand but never goes long without getting her hands doughy. "I feel the need to be in my bakery kneading bread at least three times a week. We have to make the bigger batches in mixers, but recipe testing of smaller amounts of dough or shaping loaves is done by hand.

"I still feel such joy each time I pull a loaf out of the oven - it's like putting your hand in the earth and pulling out potatoes," she says.

Another professional baker - Michelle Eskheri, owner of Margot Bakery on Finchley's East End Road - also finds bread making calming: "Sometimes I go back to making bread on purpose and away from the other demands of administration as it centres me."

Eshkeri started making bread when her youngest child was a baby. "Everything else felt out of control except the bread which I could control."

For her, the hands-on experience with her dough also has a calming effect. "When I'm kneading, all I'm thinking about is the bread. You can leave everything else to one side for a while."

She also believes that you need to pay full attention to your bread. "If I try to do something else at the same time, the end result will not be as good as if I gave it my full attention."

So if life is feeling stressful perhaps you should reach for the flour, yeast and water.;;

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