Archives for posts with tag: sleep
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

Yosemite Gateway

Yosemite Gateway

No one can deny the great health advantages to living in a mountain community. There is clean air and less stress from over crowding. My husband and I moved to Pine Mountain in November. He was born in Pasadena and I hail from the great white north. I return in my mother’s stead who was born on a Canadian mountain in a cabin without electricity or running water. It is my first winter heating an all-electric summer cottage with a pellet stove. Perhaps this kind of living is in my blood? Each of our reconnaisance trips to the mountain was more welcoming than the last. I heard a lot of people wax poetic about the beauty of four seasons when we were looking for a home. In this case beauty is more than skin deep. Isn’t it usually? Did you know that the majesty of four seasons has benefits for your well being too?

Trusty Pellet Stove

Trusty Pellet Stove

Answers in Chinese medicine come from an ancient source written in 300 BCE: The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine. My quarter century teaching and practising seem like a drop in the bucket comparatively! The Yellow Emperor is a sage who generously explains the subtleties of medicine to his inquisitive student. The first page decries the unnaturally short lifetimes of the Emperor’s contemporaries. Why it asks did ancient people live to be over one hundred years when they are now sick by fifty? It is a book way ahead of its time! Abandoning suspense, the second chapter reveals the secret of longevity: living in harmony with our nature and the four seasons. It is worth noting that in our language ‘season’ is also defined as maturing through exposure to the weather.
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Imagine if you had the energy of Bambi bouncing through a sun-dappled glade in spring? I say to dissenters, “You are never too old for lofty goals!” Winter is not just an opportunity for bears to hibernate and stop looking for food and water in our neighbourhoods. People are healthier when they slow down in the colder weather too. Give yourself more time if you have any control over your deadlines at work. Winter is the night of the year and summer its day. It is just as vital to rest now, as it is to get a good night’s sleep. Winter blues are the body’s way of keeping us closer to home so we can get that extra downtime. If depression persists with more rest, then other factors may be complicating the situation such as a lifetime of overwork or an unsuitable diet.

Dappled glade, from Kevin Quinn

Dappled glade, from Kevin Quinn

In the winter the Yellow Emperor admonishes us to go to bed early and sleep late until the sun rises. In the canyon I would say that is a good long winter’s nap! During sleep energy retreats in our bodies the way sap drains to a tree’s roots, causing its leaves to fall. Resting in winter is the same as putting money in the bank for a pleasant retirement. You will have a healthier spring when your winter is well spent. Add those winters up and you will have the vitality to enjoy your retirement, not just the money. Keep your body warm so cold does not damage the energy you are stockpiling for spring. Do not expect to make huge strides in your exercise routine. Save your workout goals for the summer when it is warm. Winter is about maintaining rather than making progress. Choose to spend the season living as if all your desires have been met.
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