Archives for posts with tag: hibernation
Mother and cub curled up, from bear.com

Mother and cub curled up, from bear.com

It is all well and good to recommend getting more sleep but what about those of us with insomnia? Until recently I have woken at 4 am every morning. Needless to say I ran out of steam at around 2 pm every afternoon. I credit mountain living with eventually helping me to sleep until 7 am. A major benefit of country life is the lack of light at night. This is not just a boon for stargazers but for insomniacs too.

Chinese medicine uses nature as its template for health. The twenty-four hour day has a specific circuit that begins when our eyes open in the morning. Western science has a name for the body’s twenty-four hour clock: the circadian rhythm. Similar to Eastern ideas, the eyes relay the time of day to a clock in the brain. The biological clock coordinates sleep, wakefulness, body temperature, thirst and appetite. Without artificial light, the sun leaves our eyes at nightfall and our eyelids close for sleep. On Pine Mountain I call it permanent camping, once the sun goes down I crawl into my ‘tent’ AKA my bedroom. After twelve hours of wakefulness it is time for your body to wind down and prepare for sleep. It is this dedication to rest and the natural darkness of my surroundings that restored my sleep cycle. Those of you having trouble falling asleep should keep light sources in the house down to a minimum at night. Avoid backlit technology such as computers and televisions after sunset. Save that kind of work or entertainment for the daytime. Record Jimmy Fallon! Reading a book with a single light in the ambiance of a naturally dark home is a better choice. Black-out blinds or curtains keep the light pollution out of our bedrooms. I am sensitive to the power lights on electronics and cover them too. To be perfectly honest, my husband has been having a hard time finding that darned pea under his princess’s mattress. He also has difficulty finding his way to the bathroom because it is so dark (speaking of pee).

Sleepy eyes, from bear.com

Sleepy eyes, from bear.com

Go to sleep when you feel tired. A fatigued person who forces their energy to rise for too long past a certain point cannot sleep. The energy that should be sinking into the organs loses its way in the bustle of mental activity. Do not hold your eyelids open despite their overwhelming desire to close. If this happens during the day, and you have the luxury, take a 20 to 30 minute nap. Any more and the twenty-four hour cycle gets reset and some organs lose their turn for refreshment. Have you had the experience of waking from a long nap and feeling even more tired? This is the circuit restarting itself as if it was morning again.

Fast asleep with a blanket of snow, from bear.com

Fast asleep with a blanket of snow, from bear.com

According to the sages, some bedtimes are better than others! When our eyes shut for sleep at night, energy starts to circulate into the deep parts of the body for repairs and maintenance. My martial arts teacher, Shīfù Kenny Gong, used to say, “No fix bicycle while riding it!” Each organ receives a dispensation of energy for two hours before the cycle moves on to the next one. The best time to turn in is between 9 and 10 pm. At that time the liver starts to receive its share of attention. The liver is so active that it produces most of our heat. Going to sleep between these hours is your assurance that the hardest working organ in your body gets its well-deserved rest. And I bet you thought it was your brain! Sweet dreams!

The liver in a Chinese woodcut from the Ming (1368-1644 CE), from wellcomeimages.org

The liver in a Chinese woodcut from the Ming (1368-1644 CE), from wellcomeimages.org

The next installment will have advice for those of you who wake up at night and have trouble falling asleep.

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Alignment

Alignment

The goal of meditation is to quiet the mind in order to hear the truth spoken by your clear consciousness.

We sink into deeper and deeper levels of consciousness as we fall asleep. For those of us who do so easily, the different states may shift too quickly to discern. We slip through the same tiers in meditation without the goal of sleeping. Some people may fall asleep when meditating. They are just tired. Eventually they will catch up on their sleep. Following the body’s inclinations is the key.

Meditation is like putting your oxygen mask on first, before helping others, in a depressurized plane. The first step in any meditation practice is to love your self. If you cannot look in a mirror and honestly attest your love to the image reflecting back at you, start here. In meditation a mantra is one or more words you remember to repeat in between being distracted by extraneous thoughts such as the electricity bill. Self-love is fostered first by the trust developed as a fetus, when all your needs were met. Repeat the phrases: “I trust myself. I love myself. I am a good person. I do good work.” Fear is overcome by love. No matter how traumatic the life, self-love conquers all.

Meditation is a way to hibernate on a daily basis. The breath moving through the nose connects to the depths of the body at the kidneys. These organs are considered the seat of the self in Chinese medicine. Meditation reconnects us with our own deeply held beliefs, whatever they are. For this reason it is nondenominational. It provides a regular break from the constant input of the outside world telling us what to do. It is a chance to relax in a culture that bombards us with information and often asks us to do too much.

Meditation is commonly practiced twice daily for 20 to 30 minutes. The best way to foster the habit is to do it at the same time everyday. Healthy routines are just as easy to develop as poor ones. If you need, start with once a day and make it 10 or 15 minutes for some real baby steps. It is a good idea to dedicate the corner of a quiet room to the practice. Do not meditate after eating. Our digestion is responsible for the ability to focus in Chinese medicine. It cannot do this effectively while digesting too. Meditation is not necessarily suitable for everyone. Look at the area below your nose where there is a groove running down to your lips. If it is a deep cleft, you will benefit from exercise the most. If the lips are full, you respond more to dietary interventions. If the chin is strong, meditation gives you the biggest bang for your investment. Ultimately you are the one to decide where you dedicate your time for self-care.

seated_meditation

Your comfort while meditating is important. Commonly one sits on a comfortable pillow cross-legged with the back unsupported. The pillow under your butt should keep your knees at hip level or below so the back lengthens and relaxes more easily. This is not necessarily something you may be able to achieve yet. Sit in a chair where your feet are flat on the ground. If your legs are short like mine, you may need a pillow on the floor under your feet. You may even require a pillow to support your lower back. As your physical flexibility increases with exercise and stretching, your goal is to sit with your perineum at the front of the chair. Your back needs to be strong for this step because the chair no longer supports it.

chair_meditation

hand

Your hands may be open on your thighs to absorb heaven’s energy, perhaps with only thumbs and middle fingers touching. Your thumbs can be interlaced to communicate with the divinity of the self. Alignment is important. Keep the tip of the tongue on the roof of your mouth to close the circle of energy you create. Feel the tailbone descend, curling subtlely and the top of the head rise as if a string pulls it from heaven.

The knob on Buddha's head where the heavenly cord attaches.

The knob on Buddha’s head where the heavenly cord attaches.

First and foremost you must sincerely love yourself, check out the mirror again if you want reassurance! If your face does not yet inspire these feelings repeat the mantras suggested at the beginning.

Defined by love, you are ready to let go of the thoughts that enter your head, pleasant or unpleasant. With compassion and understanding you acknowledge their existence. You may imagine them floating skyward or you might repeat the mantra “Let them go” in your mind. Letting go is a process unique to you. Transcendental meditation employs the repetition of certain mantras to discourage thinking. Some thoughts may not leave so easily. In this case just keep letting them go. Meditation can be a slow process because it removes the garbage we accumulate in our minds. How deep is your rubbish pile? Clearing the mind leaves it more open to being in the moment. If we persist in defining our experiences according to history, we will repeat it over and over again. The mind becomes flexible without the weight of all your previous assumptions. It becomes more finely tuned to your personal mandate on earth.

hands_meditation

King's Canyon, photo by Ginny Blades

King’s Canyon, photo by Ginny Blades

Many people on the mountain gaze at our clear blue skies this winter and shake their heads at the lack of snowfall. Winter is related to water not just in our community but in Chinese medicine as well. Snow brings frozen aquifers to the mountaintops that melt slowly providing year round water. Winter is the time of consolidation and storage for the coming seasons of growth. Our energy hibernates in the winter like a bear; it sinks down into our cave-like kidneys to sleep. Cold creates this downward movement, strengthening our bodies through solidification. Unseasonable warmth and dryness interferes with this process by encouraging excess activity in so-called ‘good weather’. This creates possible health challenges in subsequent seasons due to lack of rest. The effects occur on a microcosmic level in our bodies as well as in the big picture of the community and planet.

Snowy Glade

Snowy Glade

Winter dryness affects the health of our forest and crops. It also challenges our kidneys, where fluids are consolidated just as they are on winter mountaintops. Parts of the body become inflamed due to lack of irrigation. Other parts retain dampness, like puddles in a shrinking river. The American continent exhibits a similar dichotomy: currently the west is arid and the rest is cold and wet.

Though we can do nothing about the weather, we can make allowances for it in our bodies. The Yellow Emperor is the archetypal Chinese sage. He is credited with writing one of the oldest Chinese books still in existence, his Classic of Internal Medicine. He says that if an individual changes then the whole state is affected. The transmission of wisdom from a single individual to many people occurs like the contagion of family dysfunction. Isn’t it reassuring that functionality goes viral too? One person’s balance with nature resonates first throughout the household, then the community and ultimately, the planet. These personal insights continue to ripple outward like a stone dropped into the substance of the cosmos.

The Yellow Emperor

The Yellow Emperor

Assuming one believes in global warming, it might be said that these unseasonable weather patterns result from the burning of fossil fuels. Crude oils are like the energy reserves in our bodies. When our activity requires more fuel than we have available, we start to overheat like parts of the planet. We become irritable, we have trouble sleeping and our skin gets dry and itchy. Plundering resources through chronic overwork eventually creates hormone deficiencies. In other words the planet is a menopausal woman fanning a really big hot flash. Without sufficient hormones to handle stress, adrenaline from the kidneys kicks in to do the job and causes a flare-up. The hot flash is an important alarm for the menopausal woman because she is over-extending herself. It is time to stop and relax when it happens.

Healing Water

Healing Water

Dry heat leads to craving damp foods: sweets and dairy smother inflammation. Eating like this leads to weight gain. The solution is to start nourishing fluids more directly (some of us have started watering trees on the mountain). Drink a large glass of warm or hot water first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. It filters all the way down through the empty digestion to nourish the kidneys’ reservoirs. Before exercising drink two big glasses. Workouts not only can create more heat, they also help us get rid of it. Water flushes out anything unwanted and cools any friction generated by the exercise. If this amount of water is too much for you, build up to it gradually. You can only do things for which your body is ready. Take time to adjust to new habits (we want to turn the arid desert into a healthy forest rather than a swamp). Depending on your ability to absorb water, wait 30 minutes or one hour before you eat. You will digest your food better. Fruits build fluids too. They cause weight gain consumed as juices. The high sugar content comes from a lot of fruit concentrated in one glass. A single steamed Asian pear not only promotes fluid production, it helps get rid of excess damp. It is particularly beneficial for smokers or those who have coughs.

Asian pears, from eyewatering.wordpress.com

Asian pears, from eyewatering.wordpress.com

Meditation is also a way to train our energy to be calm and grounded rather than volatile. I will discuss its merits in my next blog.

Solstice Canyon

Solstice Canyon