Have you ever wondered why it is that you get terribly sleepy after lunch, around 2 p.m.? Or, if you are a woman, why your body tells you to procreate when you hit that magical age of 25? It’s not coincidence that we all have these experiences around the same time of day or age. It is known as circadian rhythms, also known as a metabolic clock or biological clock. Some call it mother nature.
Every living organism has an innate circadian clock. For us human beings, it is located in the hypothalamus of the brain. This tiny mechanism governs appetite, sleep, mood, hormone secretion, digestive system, and more. When you are in sync with your circadian rhythms, you have sustained energy, sleep well, and are more prone to have a healthy weight and healthy period. A healthier you means a happier you! Unfortunately, most Americans today are simply out of sync with these awesome natural cues. Hectic schedules, overstimulation, and overcaffeination (we’re talking about you, Red Bull and Five Hour Energy!) have pulled us away from our “natural programming". Are you out of sync? How can you tell? Here’s a simple test: When was the last time you woke up without an alarm clock? If it’s been so long that you can hardly remember, you are most likely out of time.
Here’s the good news: through practicing hatha yoga and meditation, we can be realigned with our circadian clock, restoring peace of mind, a healthier body, and a more balanced life. Here are some suggestions on how to use yoga and meditation to become one with your body’s natural cues:
• Begin tracking your clock. In a journal, begin noting at what points in the day you are most alert and what points in the day you are most tired. Compare it to this schedule to see how far off you are. Around 8 or 9 p.m., melatonin secretion begins. You should begin to become sleepy and prepare for sleep around 10. If you are used to falling asleep sometime after midnight, this adjustment might not come so easily. Attending yoga nidra classes can help you to train your body to slow down. Or, try a guided meditation for sleep to tune into your body’s cues.
• Wake up to sun salutations. The body wants to wake up around 6-7 a.m. Wake up with the sun and reinvigorate your daily routine with a swift and powerful series of sun salutations early in the morning. These asanas, linked with the breath, will give you a boost of energy until the early afternoon and help you link into your biological clock.
• Siesta break! If you can, a short (30 minutes or less) nap in the afternoon with appease the body. Clearly, this is not always possible if you are working. Instead of a coffee or espresso, try a cup of green tea and a short meditation in the breakroom. Carving out a little bit of personal time in the afternoon, dedicated simply to doing nothing, can decrease depression and anxiety as well as leading to a more restful sleep.
• Portion control. Eat small, regular meals every four hours. Try to eat at the same times every day. Eat healthy foods like fruit and vegetables that will provide ample nourishment and cut down on meat, sugar and caffeine. These concepts have their roots in yogic philosophy and are a great way to boost metabolism and regulate your digestive system. Healthy eating habits also keep the body light and the mind sharp!
How have you tuned into your circadian clock? What advice can you provide other members of the yoga community to tune in for optimal health?