Saliva was once considered a sacred fluid. Why? In our modern world it is regarded with disgust and suspicion, with revulsion, but never to my experience with a regard to the sacred.. If someone spits on us it is an act of dismissal and contempt. Saliva was sacred and teeth were called the Pearly Gates of Heaven. It's common among some to plate their teeth in gold, diamonds, platinum, ignoring what has been traditionally said and thought about those teeth and their function.
Growing up we had a round wooden table with a leaf in the middle that fit into the center and expanded when we had guests. It was crowded when we had four it was ridiculous with more. There was a low hanging lamp that someone always seemed to hit their head on when they sat up straight. It didn't hurt but was embarrassing. So we slouched when we ate, or at those time when we grew up enough to reach it.
The family diet consisted of TV dinners, fried hamburgers, tatter tots, milk, garlic toast on white "authentic" sour dough bread. Vegetables were carrots with sugar and butter, corn on the cob, lima beans with butter and salt, beef jerky, stead, smothered beef steak, muffins and deserts/snacks. We ate Hershey Bars, Snickers, Mounds Bars, Mars Bars, all variety of types of chocolate, chips and soda, but more often milk.
My mother was orphaned at five and had no role model for how to cook. So, as I described, we ate a relatively average Standards American Diet (SAD).
I chewed my food only enough to swallow and get to the next bite. I was a fat, if active child, gifted at those sports where I did not need to exert too much effort nor sweat.
My father died of heart failure at sixty-five in my arms. His father died at thirty-nine, my mother's parents were both dead from heart-related illness before forty. I wonder if we all ate the same or nearly the same way. I wonder what part chewing, or lack played in their demise.Why care about chewing? What can be done any way, doesn't all the food end up in the same place to be digested the same way? Doesn't the stomach secrete gastric acid which dissolves the food regardless of the way, size or shape that it enters?
Let me relate some stories that can shed some light.
During the Holocaust, in Auschwitz near the end of the war, the Nazis were running out of money and resources to actively exterminate the Jews, so they used the cheapest means possible; they just stopped feeding them. They did allow water but no food. But three prisoners thought they had a strategy to survive. For each sip of water the three treated it just like food, food in very short supply. They chewed each 'bite' over 300 times. In the process their activated their Polil glands with beneficial secretions. These three men were the only survivors of their section at the prison. One of them was a man named Victor Frankl who went on to write "Man's Search for Meaning," and began a new branch of psychology called "Logotherapy."
There is also the story of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico told earlier, adding the relevant later thought here. During their long runs they constantly chew on native plants. Could this be the source of their legendary endurance? It might be added to their legend that when they need to hunt they will find a deer and a hand sized rock nearby. They will take the rock and chase the deer until it falls over exhausted and will kill it and return with the carcass to their tribe.
Here is my story, and though far less dramatic that the proceeding two, may be of interest. I was introduced to the idea of chewing one thousand times by my Sensei (teacher) Cecil Levin. She said that it had been offered as a challenge to her by a senior teacher, I believe Michio Kushi. He said that it would be close to a spiritual experience. They had chewed and been amazed at the results. When asked what it was she said it was up to each, according to their condition to discover for themselves.
The first time I tried I could only make it to two hundred fifty. Next, I made four hundred, at which point all the solids were liquid and I couldn't resist swallowing. I learned I needed to tilt my heat forward slightly to keep from inadvertently swallowing. One substantial problem I had beside this was that I kept losing my count. I wanted to be accurate. I thought of a dual system which worked. With my fingers I could keep the tens. To count hundred, I used a row of ten pennies. Each cent counted one hundred chews. With this in place I began again. The next time I chewed until I got to six hundred, but swallowed some, and felt like that was all I could do, and swallowed the rest. I felt stronger and more alert physically. I rearranged all the pennies and began again.
This time, I really focused on keeping my head forward, on chewing fast and on counting every bite. At around three hundred chews the solid had become liquid, but lumpy at that. By five hundred the liquid was drinkable, and the temptation to swallow and be done with the experiment was great. From six hundred on it became a test of my will. But some strange things began to happen, as I continued at and above seven hundred I noticed that I was no longer counting one, two, three, four, but I was counting in musical type rhythm, and almost singing the count. The cont became one-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three, one, then one-two, one-two-three, one-two, one-two-three. My mind was not consciously choosing to do this, it was almost like I was on a musical/energy high. By eight hundred, I had to hang on, and count with whatever inspiration took me. I felt stronger, and determined, and the tilt forward of my head became like a badge of honor. I even felt a little high. The liquid in my mouth was totally liquid at this point, and it was like a very sweet drink, actually in a way like the sweet rice drink called amasake.
I reached one-thousand, and because of the musical counting wanted to make sure I had gotten there so did another one-hundred for accounting purposes.
When I finally tilted my head back and swallowed, I felt a little sad, but the liquid that I drank at that point was very sweet. It was just rice, and it didn't taste sweet when I started.
I felt very, very clear headed, content, full of energy, the type that is strong and long-lasting. I felt like I had discovered something. I felt like Columbus, only mine was an internal voyage.
Since then I have experimented with various uses for my new 'discovery.' I now used "Thousand-Chew Rice" whenever I feel a cold coming on. I generally add gomasio and an umeboshi plum to the rice before chewing. I have noticed that if I had the symptoms of a cold in the morning and I use this idea, after the fourth or fifth mouthful the tickle in my throat will disappear. I have used this idea on a hike when I was so exhausted that I thought I could not go on. After the chewing I found the energy to move to near the front of the hike and to continue the rest of the day without a visible energy deficit. I used this technique to gain clarity before an improv show that I had to facilitate. It went exceedingly well, and I felt clear and composed throughout. I offer it as something that has helped me. If you want to try it, I hope you might have the same results.
Here's the particulars of my take on chewing.