When the world around us right now is unpredictable and ever-changing due to Covid-19, we benefit from focussing upon the things we CAN do to maintain our own health and wellbeing. If you’re self-isolating or social-distancing, if your children are off school and if you find yourself spending lots more time at home, this time can serve as a way to reflect upon how your daily habits and routines contribute to your physical, mental and emotional health. Everything we do has an impact upon us, so how can we make the most of this turbulent time right now to actually make a positive difference to our lives?
Early Morning & Awakening
In the early hours there are high levels of blue light waves in the atmosphere, and these help the body recognise exactly when its morning, therefore kicking the body clock into action. As humans, we’ve evolved for millions of years to react to the sunrise and wake up with it – these morning light levels are literally a natural alarm clock! When we expose our eyes (and also our skin) to natural light in the morning, the body wakes up the digestive system, increases alertness and cognitive function, begins pumping blood to the muscles more efficiently, and helps the body’s circadian rhythms (the body clock) ‘tick’ at the right time.
Each cell of the body has a clock, and in order to work ‘on time’ they require us to interact with natural light in the morning. If we don’t get that natural light first thing after waking however, we’re essentially walking around half asleep, with melatonin (the sleep hormone) still hanging around in body’s systems, and a brain and digestive tract that are nowhere near prepared for the day ahead. Sunlight gives us energy too – if you’re feeling tired and not entirely satisfied by your food choices throughout the day, try to get more natural light and notice whether you start feeling ‘fuller’ and more energised.
For more information on how we can use light levels to benefit us, have a read of this pretty in-depth blog.
The morning is also a key time to set an intention for the day. An intention can help focus the mind’s energy and provide a reference point to return to if we happen to face challenges throughout the day. Your intention can be anything you like, but of course it helps to choose something simple, realistic and positive, such as ‘Today my intention is to be kind to myself and others’, ‘My intention is to focus on the positives today’, ‘I set an intention to notice the little things that bring me joy today’. You could even write down your intention and place it somewhere you’ll easily see it throughout the day.
Whether it’s a quick few minutes or a substantial set amount of time, a meditation practice first thing in the morning can serve as your way to start the day from a place of being more connected to yourself, aware of how you’re feeling, and with less chatter in the mind. Your morning meditation practice doesn’t have to be difficult to do – in fact, try to make it as easy as possible so you’ll be more likely to do it often. When you wake up, sit up in bed and take a couple of slow breaths in and out. As you do this, observe the feeling of the air flowing in through the nose and expanding the lungs, ribs and stomach. As you exhale, consciously relax your body. Continue focussing on the rhythm of your breath for a few minutes. If you mind wanders or chatters, simply notice what it’s chattering about, acknowledge it, and then re-focus on your breathing. The key is to not become attached to any particular thought, but to actively choose where you place your focus. The more your practice, the more you’ll be able to translate this into the ability to choose where to focus your mind throughout the rest of the day.
Learning from ancient wisdom traditions like Ayurveda and Chinese medicine can give us very effective insights into how the different times of day support different activities. According to Ayurveda, the hours of 6am-10am are governed by Kapha energy. Kapha refers to the sort of energy that holds things together; it has the qualities of being heavy, dense, cool, soft, stable, slow, loving, cohesive, loyal and enduring. Think of a thick muddy puddle during Springtime, a beautiful big-eyed, curvy aunty, the muscles, ligaments and fat tissue of the body, and the sensation of having a mucus-y cough. All of these things – even though they may seem different initially – are all representations of Kapha energy.
As Kapha’s slow and steady energy governs 6am-10am, it’s especially important to do something active to prevent too much ‘heaviness’ from building up and turning into lethargy. Take part in an online class if you’re staying indoors, head out for a jog, dance around in your kitchen, or step into your garden to move in a way that feels good to you. Consuming bitter herbs like dandelion root or Spring greens, spices like cayenne and ginger, and things that are stimulating like tea or coffee are also best tolerated by the body at this more stable time of day, so use this to your advantage.
Our digestive power (known as ‘agni’ in Sanskrit or the metaphorical ‘fire in the belly’) follows the arc of the sun. As we approach midday and the sun is highest in the sky, we’re more able to digest bigger quantities of food. Because of this, most holistic wellbeing traditions suggest consuming the largest meal of the day at lunch. If this works for you, cook up something delicious and seasonal to consume at lunch. If you really value sitting down to a full dinner with your family in the evening however, there’s another way to make the most of your digestive capacity here: By choosing not to snack at all through the day (therefore not spiking your blood sugar levels and weakening insulin resistance every few hours) and consuming slightly bigger meals. You can also consider which of the foods you eat that are difficult to digest (like raw foods, cold foods or heavy proteins) and consume them here.
The Chinese medicine body clock reveals that the afternoon is when the small intestine and bladder respectively are most active. What this means is that in order to feel our best, our actions ‘should’ go towards supporting the actions of these organs and not getting in their way. When the small intestine is absorbing food after lunch, we have a natural dip in energy levels (reflected in the dip in our natural circadian rhythms), which is conducive to doing something restful like light reading, napping or a slow walk. When we move towards 3 and 4pm, the bladder is more active, which means our energy levels may be restored and we feel drawn to creative tasks or studying.
The way we utilise light is again really important during the evening. Just as we want to expose our eyes and skin to bright light in the mornings, we want to stay away from it at night. Bright lights from screens and artificial lighting prevent the body from releasing melatonin (the sleep hormone) so we benefit from trying to turn off lights or limit our exposure to them. (iridescent lightbulbs, phone and lap top apps that dim screens and blue light blocking glasses are all effective ‘hacks’ you can use if you’re not able to turn off lights and screens). Remember; we’ve evolved for thousands of years to either be exposed to darkness or the natural red light waves of fire in the evening, so try to find ways of mimicking this as much as you can.
Slowing down and creating a barrier between work and home / leisure time is especially important now too – especially if your work is now happening within your home. Try taking a walk outside to mimic ‘walking home’ from work. Change your clothes, put on some music, or dedicate some time to an activity that signifies to you the end of a working day. Even more important now is to turn off your work emails and leave work duties alone until your next working day. The world is stressed enough right now, there’s no need to put yourself through any more of it!
Night time & Sleep
All natural health research points to the benefits of getting to bed around the same time each night – and the optimal time for that is about 10pm. Of course, humans haven’t always slept for eight hours straight, and in fact lots of anthropological data shows that lots of cultures sleep in a couple of smaller blocks of time, often waking in the middle of the night to be creative, to pray or meditate, or even to have sex. Sleep is so important for every single aspect of our minds and bodies. When we sleep, our cells repair, our brain consolidates memories and new learned skills, as well as processing emotions, which can help prevent trauma from being stored in the body. Especially at a time when we all know we need to look after the immune system, make sleep a priority. Effective advice for getting a good night’s sleep includes:
- Sleeping in a cool and well-ventilated room
- Stopping all work at least 2 hours before bed
- Not eating too close to bed time. If you struggle to sleep however, a healthy and carbohydrate-rich food like banana can help relax the mind and muscles and promote healthy sleep.
- Try magnesium to help relax the nervous system and aid in maintaining healthy muscles
- Opt for herbs like nutmeg, lavender and chamomile to help induce sleep. Add them to warm milk and sip before bed
- Stay away from any heated debates or emotional conversations before bed, as they can stop the mind from relaxing in time for sleep
- Practice box breathing to help get to sleep quicker: lay down comfortably in your bed and visualise the four sides of the bed. Linking the breath and your visualisation together; inhale as you slowly draw your awareness up one side of the bed. Hold your breath as you draw along the top edge of the bed. Exhale as you visualise drawing down the other side, and hold as you draw your awareness along the bottom. Do this until you fall soundly asleep!