A Science of Sleep

My infatuation with Ayurveda still feels new, it’s only been a few weeks. That’s why it’s so amazing to me that it already has made such a huge impact on my life. The biggest change Ayurveda has led me to – perhaps like a lot of significant changes – is concerning something seemingly banal: my sleeping rhythm.

I already knew about myself that I really am a morning person. I have always loved the early hours, rising with the rest of nature. Most of all I have the best energy to get things done in the morning. Already in the early afternoon I feel like I can’t work/be productive anymore. After 4pm I really want to be done. The evening hours are definitely not mine, I get like a little kid: way too tired but still throwing because some part of me doesn’t want to go to bed. It’s a What?!-Surely-this-can’t-be-everything-something -more-needs-to-happen kind of mood. Do you know what I mean?

Yet when I had no external reason that forces me to get up early, I simply could not bring myself to do it. I have tried many times, and failed. I was trapped in that vicious circle of not being able to go to bed early, then for fear of lack of sleep not being able to get up early, either (or maybe it’s the other way around, you know, the hen and the chicken).

For some reason not getting enough sleep (enough being about 8 hours for me) bothered me a lot. I used to make myself even more anxious by checking out the clock, and thinking “I still have seven hours left – if I fall asleep RIGHT NOW”. I realized that that never helps (yup, I am that smart!). There is just something I resent about this tired state that you walk around in the day after, which makes it really hard to function even when you have to. Thus, whenever I could let myself sleep in, I did.

Thanks to these amazing Ayurveda books (man, am I sounding like a salesperson on a teleshopping channel or what?), I came to understand why my way of trying to compensate for lack of sleep did not work. Also, I’ve come to understand that being tired is not so much connected to actual lack of sleep but depends on what time of day you get up. After about two weeks, I now get up between 5 am and 6 am – without even setting an alarm. I try to make a point of going to bed between 9 pm and 10 pm, which works for the most part (and when it doesn’t turn out that way, it is now more often than not a deliberate choice because I choose to meet up with friends or something). The more important point: I am now able to fall asleep within minutes of going to bed, which has NEVER been normal for me. Even as a kid I often was the last person laying awake in their bed.

Before I go into what the Ayurveda take on sleep is, I just want to say that if you are not familiar with Ayurveda, then a few of the terms will probably be confusing. I am aware of that, and I do want to write more about the basic stuff – but I just felt like writing about this today, so I am just going be so bold as to refer you to “the internet”. I assume that that’s what you all do anyway – look up stuff you don’t know. Although it would obviously be much neater if I wrote everything in “the right order”, one post building on the next, it would not be very authentic (I know there is a better word, but I can’t come up with it right now). I don’t know about you but I am not really used to this concept yet, so I need to remind myself of this: You don’t need me to explain the world to you, and I do not need to sacrifice the impulse to write about anything to formal or stylistic rules. This linear way of expressing things/ourselves is no longer necessary today. We are free. To make the reading not completely aggravating, I will probably insert a few short explanation here and there anyway, but I will not go into too much detail. You would probably have found it yourself but here’s a link to an Ayurveda 101.

So what is the Ayurvedic take on sleep?

There are very few universal Ayurvedic recommendations, since we are not all the same in most regards. We do have different needs when it comes to how much sleep are good for us (ranging from six to eight hours, give or take), also depending on the season, where we are in our lives, etc. One thing that does apply to everyone, however, is that we are all part of nature, who “awakens” in the morning, and that lays down to rest in the evening. So should we.

Ayurveda knows five elements (space, air, fire, water, earth) and three natural forces or energy forms (doshas) which reflect the energies of the five elements in different ways: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. This relates to sleep not only in so far as these doshas describe our own constitutions (which in turn determines how much sleep we need). The doshas are also linked to different phases of the day.

Each of the three doshas is dominant during two periods in a day:

6 am to 10 am – Morning’s Kapha period

10 am to 2 pm – Mid-day Pitta period

2 pm to 6 pm – Afternoon’s Vata period

6 pm to 10 pm – Evening’s Kapha period

10 pm to 2 am – Nighttime’s Pitta period

2 am to 6 am – Morning’s Vata period

Have you ever noticed that you woke up early in the morning – but then decided, “Nah, it’s too early!”, went back to sleep – and woke up hours later, even more tired?

That’s happened to me many times. The explanation, according to Ayurveda, is, that if you sleep through the Kapha period (Kapha having qualities like “heavy”, “stable”, “earthy”, etc.), that dosha rises in your own constitution – meaning, that you feel “heavier” = it gets harder to wake up. This excess Kapha then influences you throughout the day. (Of course a lot of other factors play in, like always. The extend of the effects are different depending on your dominant dosha(s) in the particular situation.)

Ideally one should get up in the beginning of the morning’s Kapha period. And, looky there: the second Kapha period is between 6 pm and 10 pm, which is when nature prepares to “call it a day”. Here we should take advantage of the Kapha qualities, and do the same: finish up and unwind, so that we can go to bed, and ideally go to sleep by the end of that period.

Because the period that follows is dominated by the firy Pitta-dosha. When I read this it suddenly made sense to me how I could be tired, yet feel like I didn’t want to go to bed: I had pushed past Kapha period, and my Pitta dosha was rising again (Pitta also happens to be my dominant dosha, thus re-enforcing the effect).

So how do you break the cycle? And how do you compensate for lack of sleep?

The first rule seems to be: Whatever changes you are going to make, make them gradually. I somehow missed that part, so I went straight from sleeping until 12pm to getting up at 6 am. I had a burning stomach after every meal for over a week (still do, sometimes), and if I am connecting the dots correctly, that is the result of the sudden shift in my doshas. Before, when I slept long hours and through the morning Kapha and half of the morning Pitta period, Kapha naturally was more dominant in me. I really did have less energy then, despite getting so much sleep, as I thought. After the switch in my waking hours, my Pitta energy basically went through the roof, and all the spicy things I usually ate, that were before ok with my Kapha dominance, suddenly were too much. Sounds complicated, I know, and in a way it is, when you believe that everything is connected, which is what Ayurveda is all about. But it makes sense. Therefore:

Don’t quit any behavior “cold turkey”.

Get up 15 to 30 minutes earlier every day, and go to bed 15 to 30 minutes earlier every day – until you’ve got your ideal rhythm.

If you do get too little sleep, still get up at your usual time, and no later than 8 am. Don’t try to make up for it by letting yourself sleep in (the reasons have hopefully become apparent by now). Instead make sure that you do go to bed earlier the next day, and try to go easy on yourself during the day. I suppose for some it’s ok to take naps in the afternoon, I just know that that doesn’t work for me at all. But again, Ayurveda is all about being your own expert, so you really know what works best for you.

Well, this has turned into another long post with no pictures. I am sharing this anyway, hoping that you find this information as helpful as I did. I wish you the best for whatever changes you are making or hoping to make in your life. Remember to be kind to yourself, and forgiving if you find yourself not able to make certain changes.

Claimer

Whenever I check out blogs, I stumble over the disclaimer part. One part of me is all: Oh shit, I don’t have one! Better fix that. It almost seems like that’s the first thing you should write before you start posting! Another part of me wonders: Really? Is it necessary to tell people that I am not responsible for what they think about, and do with what I write? I mean, sure, words are powerful but this seems kind of insulting. I don’t want to assume that my readers are idiots. But I don’t know, maybe I’m naive.

I am curious, though, what would happen if I did the opposite – made a claimer. IF I were to write such a thing, it would look like this:

I hereby declare that I, and I alone am responsible for your thoughts and actions. I am an expert on everything (which is why I write a BLOG). So please do exactly as I say, don’t even bother thinking for yourself, and by all means: sue me when something goes wrong!

What do you think would happen IF I made such a claimer? What would a lawsuit look like IF I did? “Well, I am sorry Miss W. but you DID say on your BLOG that you were responsible for anything anyone thought. So when Mr. Schnickelfritz, after reading one of your articles, cut off his left thumb to see if he could transcend physical pain, it’s really your fault. You did write that claimer, so – this one’s really on you.”

Is this how things work?

No Poo!

If you can’t eat it, you probably shouldn’t put it on your skin, either. That’s the philosophy behind “No Poo”, which obviously both stands for “no shampoo” and/or shampoo without “poo”.

I learned about No Poo in the current issue of åter (meaning “back”, “backwards”, “again”), a Swedish magazine about self-sufficiency and alternative life styles. Although I didn’t find out about this concept until yesterday, I am not surprised that it exists. As a lot of people clearly do, I have been thinking along those lines myself: when you are concerned about your health, you realize after a while that it’s not just about what you eat.

The stuff we use on our body is as important as what we put into our body, since that’s actually were it all ends up. (I am not even going to open the can of worms that is the clothes we buy which are treated with all kinds of chemicals – another reason for buying second-hand.)

When I still lived in Germany, I was really excited when organic became popular and affordable thanks to franchises like the dm-drugstore or the Alnatura organic super-market. Being on a university student budget, I was glad that I could buy organic food and cosmetics (not all the time and all my food/products, but still). I became aware that these products weren’t ideal, and that the whole franchise concept of these stores also meant that they probably weren’t as humane and great as they seem.

You shouldn’t fool yourself, these kinds of stores and their products really only fulfill a minimal standard. I don’t know about dm, but I remember that Alnatura seemed less great to me when a friend told me that the notes with customer questions (Alnatura apparently has a blackboard for comments in their stores) about the wages for Alnatura employees always disappear “mysteriously” – and unanswered.

Still, I thought, as long as I can’t print my own money, getting the stuff that at least abides to a minimal standard of eco-friendliness is better than no standard at all. (I am aware of the issue with small producers not having the financial means to get their products certified as organic, and the possibility of certified organic stuff being a bluff – but for the sake of keeping one train of thought, I don’t want to go into that right here right now, either)

After I moved to Sweden, where everything is more expensive in comparison, and a lot of organic products I see in stores are actually imported from Germany, I started stocking up on organic cosmetic products (not that I use a lot, mainly shampoo, conditioner and some mascara) on every one of my visits to Germany. Friends and family knew, so whenever I get care packages, they’re filled with organic soap, tea, deodorant, all that good stuff. I had a box in our bathroom cabinet filled with alverde stuff to last for years.

You read right: had. Like I said, I already knew that organic products that only have the EU certificate that guarantees a minimal standard are not necessarily ideal. There are all these rules like if so and so many ingredients are organic, the product is organic – meaning, there can be crap in there but they can still call the product “organic”. Then Peter told me about one ingredient, sodium “something” sulfate (the “something” being interchangeable), which may cause cancer. Although the fact that this may be didn’t come as a surprise, having heard someone (whose judgement I trust) say it so straight out made it impossible for me to shower and not think about it. First I cracked jokes about my “cancer soap” and my “cancer shampoo” but then I stopped. Stopped joking AND and I am on my way of stopping applying poo, too. Even if I believe that the equation isn’t as simple as shampoo = cancer, why take a risk?

Another reason for why I have been wanting to make my own shampoo (and other related products) is: I like making things myself. So in a way this really doesn’t feel like it’s going to be a sacrifice but one more fun thing to do.

For those of you who speak Swedish, I cannot recommend åter, and Tanja Thuman’s No ‘poo article in the current issue (1/13) highly enough. Same goes for (her?) website, nopoo.se (also Swedish). Obviously there’s lots of stuff in English to be found if you just search for “no poo”.

Here are just three links that seem interesting and inspiring to me (note though that I haven’t actually tried any of this stuff yet – feel free to beat me to it and tell me about your results):

Teeth whitening and hair care – Yolanda Bertaud’s blog is full of health related recipes and diys – love it!

The Oil Cleansing Method – No poo skin care.

Skin Deep – A database with lists of ingredients for skin care products and their health risks.

Blog love

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On a more technical note, related to blogging: as a reader, I have been using Bloglovin for a while. You just create profile, add the blogs you follow, and then you’ll get notifications (depending on your settings: instant, daily, etc.) when there’s a new post being published on of those blogs. Pretty nifty.

Edit: Gosh, I am so sorry for all the updates, I am just trying to claim this one on Bloglovin’. Not really working out, and I don’t know why – I think something’s trying to tell me to go do something else for a while …

Edit: Finally!

Quick home-made Ayurvedic herbal tea

The Ayurveda book that I like the most out of the bunch I picked up at the library is Judith H. Morrison’s The Book of Ayurveda. It gives a great overview over pretty much all aspects of life, has lots of info boxes and lists, which appeals to me.

I found a simple recipe for some herbal tea that is supposed to be good for those of us with a dominant Pitta dosha or excessive Pitta (over the past week’s reading I have realized that I have both right now, almost freakishly textbook definition thereof!).

So this is it: mix equal parts of fennel, cilantro and caraway seeds. Use one teaspoon per cup. Just boil some water and add. Done!

fennel, cilantro and caraway seeds

Due to the hot water the tea as such is obviously “hot”. But according to Ayurveda, the quality of the ingredients (the seeds) and therefore: the quality/effect of the tea is “cold” or “cooling”. Ideal for me because I prefer drinking warm stuff but I really don’t need to pour any more gasoline on that Pitta fire right now!

Pitta-friendly tea

Going with the flow

It may not look like it but there is actually a lot going on that I would like to write about. Mostly Ayurveda stuff, since I’ve really been hooked, not just on reading but trying out stuff. I’ve noticed some amazing changes that I want to write about. Now that I am off work for the next eight days, hopefully I will get at least some stuff out there.

In a way, this post is connected to the Ayurvedic train of thought – and not just because according to Ayurveda, everything is connected. Being a person who loves planning stuff ahead, making lists and such, and often being frustrated when everything doesn’t go according to plan, (= a person with a dominant Pitta dosha, if I should express it in “Ayurvedic”), I decided I wanted to take a break from locking myself into a fictitious schedule, and just go with the flow instead. Do what I felt like, when I felt like it, instead of doing what I had planned out the night before simply because I HAD A PLAN. Yes, I was going to follow my intuition. I know that I am going to state the obvious here when I say: it worked amazingly.

First I wrote a bunch of letters and e-mails to friends and family that I had been “planning” to do for so long but never could find the right mood to sit down to. Then the sun came out and I realized the light in our apartment was perfect to take some pictures of the jewelery I have been making. I uploaded them right away, and wanted to share them but – and this is really very unlike me! – I quit before I was done, because the weather still was nice and my boyfriend suggested we go for a walk.

We decided for Gunnebo castle, which we don’t do very much, although it is very pretty there. I forgot to bring my camera but I let it go, even though there was a ton of stuff I would have wanted to share on my blog. We ended up not walking around much either, since the ground was still covered with ice. It was still worth the trip: It turned out that the restaurant wasn’t on winter schedule anymore, and it just happened to be lunch time. I recommend lunch at Gunnebo castle to annyone who comes to Gothenburg, anyone who is into seasonal, locally grown food. Also, the atmosphere is very nice, old school Swedish “herrgård”.

All in all, this experiment of just going with the flow, following my intuition was a success, I want to practice it more often.

Ok, now for the part of the day where I did take pictures – the jewelery. I am not even going to pretend to be humble – I am really pleased with the results. Things that manifest as beautifully in the real world as we envision them are a great but rare pleasure. These are definitely in that category of things:

You’ve got the lock, pretty baby But I’ve got the key … (Johnny Lang)
Eyelets are not just for scrapbooking!
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And the earrings:

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Yes, one of the strings doesn’t quite look like it’s supposed to – but I luv ya anyway!
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Whaddaya think? I am thinking of selling them (and the pieces I have visions of but not created yet, hehe), like on etsy or something. Any of you have any experience? Cuz I don’t, so, tips and feedback are really appreciated!

Recipe – ginger elixir

Not that there isn’t anything to write about – quite the contrary. I have been so busy that the days seem way too short without spending time by the computer (no offense!). And yes, I do plan on writing about all that stuff but for now I’ll just leave you with a recipe I tried out today so that I can get some more thing done out in the real world without abandoning the site after the first post

Ginger elixir

This ginger elixir …

… is upposed to be great for the immune system and to get digestion going. Use about one tablespoon in a glas of water, drink before lunch and dinner.

You need:

1 big piece of ginger (about the size of a fist)

4 lemons

2 lime

3 Tbs honey

2 dl water

10 black peppercorns

Cut up ginger into pieces, process with a juice maker (makes about 1 dl juice), or grate ginger and squeeze juice manually.

Squeeze lemons and lime. Combine juices, add honey, water and pepper.

Keep refridgerated.

(from: Yogamat by Anna Gidgård and Cecilia Davidsson)

Ayurveda – Becoming your own expert

A few weeks ago I suddenly felt that I wanted to know more about Ayurveda. I only had a vague idea that it was an ancient Eastern healing tradition. I wanted to find out what it was really about, hoping that it might be helpful in this quest for deliberate living. I borrowed some books from the library, and the very first one was an easy to read and inspiring overview. It was a Swedish book, “Skapa din hälsa med Ayurveda” (meaning: Create your health with Ayurveda) by Maivor Stigengreen (it has been translated into German – “Ayurveda – Die eigene Gesundheit stärken”).

Maybe you already know all about Ayurveda (chances are you do, after all, it’s nothing new). In case you don’t, just a few words:

“Ayu” means “life” and “Veda” means “knowledge” – so, Ayurveda = Knowledge of Life.

The Charaka Samhita (one of the oldest, most well-known texts on Ayurveda, dating back to ca. 1000 –  600 BC) defines this Knowledge/Science of Life as follows:

“The science which describes advantageous and disadvantageous, as well as happy and unhappy states of life, along with what is good and bad for life, its measurement and life itself is called Ayurveda.”

In Sanskrit:

“Hita hitam sukham dukhamayustasya hita hitam
manam ca tacca yatroktamayurvedar ca ucayate”

Sounds like a useful science to me. What intrigued me about Ayurveda was that it is about becoming your own expert. Sure, you need to learn and you need guidance, especially in the beginning. But from what I’ve gathered so far Ayurveda acknowledges the individual, and is not about having a single set of guidelines for everyone. So it makes sense that no one can be more competent on concerning your life and your happiness than you yourself.

Back to the issue of change: according to Maivor Stigengreen, Ayurveda describes all change as a process consisting of four steps:

  1. Leaving the old behind,
  2. Thus creating a gap,
  3. Allowing for change to happen within this gap,
  4. Bringing about the new.

I have clearly been in a gap for a while now – but until I read this, and understood that there is nothing wrong with this state, I wasn’t very good at accepting this. For as long as I can think, I have been afraid that if I/ things don’t change right away, I/they never will. It had never occurred to me, that a transitional state is necessary for change to be happen. Then again, when I look back at my life so far, I have often been worried that things that I wanted to change might not – but they did. Despite of me and my worries.

How about you? Does this sound familiar? Do you recognize this four-step process in your life? How do you feel about that gap?