If you're in San Francisco, you probably know for a fact that we don't feel the effects of the different seasons much, but I know you all felt the following phenomenon - the days are shorter, night comes faster, and waking up in the mornings seems to be a little harder than usual.
Our bodies are set to cyclical natures, much like the cyclical natures of day and night, the waxing and waning moon, the incoming and receding tide, summer and winter. In fact, almost all metabolic processes within our bodies are cyclical, working in feedback loops that are triggered or stopped by internal and external (environmental) cues.
Trees and flowers follow the cyclical patterns of Nature, animals follow the cyclical patterns of Nature, and even in agricultural cultures, the cyclical patterns are observed. However, those of us living in more urban environments seem to want to defy the forces of Nature. In late autumn and winter, a time for rest and reflection of the year, most people push themselves harder and harder to finish projects before the year's end. In addition, festivities that require output of energy that are placed closely one after the other - Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year - put further stress on the body and the mind when it is a time for withdrawing and conserving our energies.
The Yogic sciences place great emphases on following these internal and external cycles. The ancient scriptures detail specific times to rise, to meditate, to eat, to sleep, and even to engage in sexual activities. Diseases arise when we become out of sync with these patterns - when we continue to work and exercise hard when the body wants to rest, when we consume a cold juice on a chilly, windy day, when we sleep at 2am and rise at 10am, and when we eat a large, heavy meal at 9pm.
If you've been feeling "out of sync" of some sorts recently, I suggest you consider the following steps to help you come back "in sync." Even when seasons are not as clearly defined here in the Bay Area, our bodies ingrained wisdom still follow a pattern, and these practices will help guide you back to the beat.
1. Go to bed between 10pm-11pm. I can already hear some of you saying, "But that's impossible! I have to do X, Y, and Z before bed. There is no way I can get to bed before 11pm!" Well, I urge you to look a little more closely at your evening routine. How much of it is spent aimlessly browsing through social media or replying to emails that are not important? How much of it is spent watching 2, 3, or even 4 episodes of your favorite TV shows? I enjoy TV shows and social media browsing just as much as the next person since it gives my brain a time to be "switched off" or change focus, but I have a hard-stop for all screen-related things by 9pm, an hour before my usual bedtime (so if you are aiming to sleep by 11pm, switch off your TV and phones by 10pm). Yes, that might mean I am sometimes left in suspense after one episode of a TV show, but I never regret it after I switch off my TV and opt for some quality down-time. Usually that means a book, some journaling, a long shower, a mini facial, and/or light stretching/restorative yoga. Give yourself at least 30 minutes to an hour to get back in touch with your body and your body's internal clock to help you get into a deeper, restful sleep.
2. Opt for soups, stews, and lighter fares for dinner. One of the biggest mistakes people make is having their largest meals at night. Having a large meal at night is not inherently "bad," but the bigger mistake is having a large meal way too late. Ideally, you'd want to finish eating at least 2-3 hours before bedtime to give your body time to digest your food. When you sleep, your body should NOT be predominantly focused on still digesting your last meal. Rather, your body should be focused on digesting and eliminating your emotional and mental imprints from the day. If you've seen the movie Inside Out, you would have seen that during sleep, our brain is actively processing the experiences and memories of the day - keeping ones that are important and eliminating those that are not. In addition to this "brain cleansing" activity, the rest of your organs are being repaired and maintained in preparation for the next day. Therefore, if for the first 2-3 hours of your sleep your body is still trying to digest physical bits of food, you are inherently taking away precious organ repair time. Soups and light stews are great in that a) they are easier to digest, and b) they are grounding in nature, which can help put the body into a more relaxed mode.
3. Balance your intense workouts with grounding practices. I know many people feel obligated to workout more around the holiday season to "make up" for the large quantities of food and calories consumed around this time of year. However, as I've mentioned above, the body and mind are not primed for intense output of energy in late autumn and early winter. Excessive exercise and activities can ultimately burn you out at this time of the year when your body and mind crave more rest. So if you want to keep up with your workout regime, I highly encourage you to balance that with restorative yoga practices and meditation.
4. Reflect and express gratitude. Last and final step that I think everybody should practice all the time regardless of time of the year is to reflect on your accomplishments and express gratitude. The human brain is wired to focus more on faults and negativities, which can bring on a whole 'nother baggage of problems with overall well-being when left unchecked. Whether you want to spend 5 minutes before bed to mentally list your top achievements and grateful moments of the day or physically write them down, you'll be amazed that all this time you haven't been giving yourself the credit you deserve! If you're looking for a more structured approach to starting and ending your day with gratitude, I highly recommend the Five Minute Journal.
As with all goal attainments, the most important thing is to take small steps at a time. Try just ONE THING from the list above for at least 3 weeks and observe how that feels in your body and mind. Do you feel more rested? Do you feel more connected with your energy? If not, try another suggestion from the list and repeat. Once you find one thing that works and that you feel really good about, you'd naturally want to continue with this new habit and perhaps even try another one.
If you'd like some help establishing a home yoga, nutrition, and lifestyle routine, you can set up a complimentary consultation with me to see how we can work together to help you create a life and body that you feel confident and connected with. I also invite you to attend my upcoming Holiday De-Stress Restorative Yoga Workshop to help you get started on a grounding autumn/winter routine.