Monday, March 30, 2015

Sleep is everything.

I loved Harold. It was reassuring to read about another child who had trouble sleeping. 

Sleep is everything.

If you google "benefits of sleep" as I just did, you will gather 192,000,000 results in a second. The stories I find most hilarious always have a headline like "Scientists Discover Surprising Benefits from Sleep." They're surprised? Funny - at least to me.

A lack of sleep will make you psychotic. Go long enough without sleep and you will die. It's that crucial to survival. Is it surprising to find out there are benefits to sleep?

Good, regular sleep makes you healthier, smarter, sexier, more alert. It improves immunity, helps stave off every kind of illness, physical and mental. While sleeping, humans integrate the adventures of their waking lives, work through problems at the deepest levels, engage in physical repairs that can not take place while we're awake and active. In dreams as well as that deep, almost coma-like sleep, I believe healing takes place that goes well beyond medicine. Well rested people behave appropriately, make smarter decisions, express themselves more clearly, feel energetic but also calm, are happier and more satisfied than those who don't sleep well or enough.

We humans need our sleep and yet some of us, sometimes, struggle with it. As a kid I remember not wanting to go to bed. Being awake was so much more interesting. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person who has pushed herself well into a second and third wind on occasion, so as not to miss anything fun. I'm not against it every now and then. It can become a habit, though.

"Stress" keeps people from sleeping, of course. I put the word in quotes since I'm never sure what that means exactly. Falling asleep requires a certain level of trust, a sense of safety at least for the moment. It requires a surrender. For chronically anxious people, it's hard to feel safe enough to let go like that.

It's popular at the moment to blame electronic devices for keeping us from nights of solid sleep. Before the age of the iPhone, we blamed electricity, tv, caffeine, sugar and overwork for insomnia. I'm sure there have always existed many theories to explain the phenomenon, even though it's common everywhere on earth and is mentioned in very early texts. How long have people been counting sheep, hoping for sleep? How many thousands of years ago did we figure out that chewing a particular bark or drinking a tea would help us sleep? You tell me. There are bedtime stories galore, bedtime rituals. People pray just before sleep, as if turning over the struggles of the day to the greater wisdom. We know we have to sleep, and yet we struggle against it.

In my society, exhaustion is seen as heroic, a badge of honor. It means we're tough - I guess! When people talk about sleep as if it were a luxury, I feel sad. Basic self care, including regular, lengthy, good sleep, is disregarded in our society, placed in the category of pampering, thought of as unnecessary, indulgent. What they do to medical students is bizarre. A hazing.

For those who want to sleep, there are insomnia remedies out there in abundance, ranging from visualizations to evening rituals to the many pills you can swallow. I believe some of these remedies work for some people and more power to them! If it works, do it - sleep is everything!

For those who don't want to sleep, there are dozens of ways to take caffeine. I'm sure there are at least as many pharmaceutical stimulants as there are sleeping pills. Oh the way we jerk our bodies around. It's so unfair.

Here's a link to a well written page on sleep, via Harvard Medical School.

May you place good sleep at the very top of your list of priorities, make it #1, no matter what doesn't get accomplished while you're resting. I wish you sweet dreams, deep sleep. May you awaken well rested and refreshed.  May it be so.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Dregs of Winter

This is supposed to be a post brimming with great ideas about how to get through the final weeks of winter without spiraling down into a deep depression. You know the post it should be - perky and encouraging, with a long list of things that Really Cure Winter Blahs. However, what this will mostly be is me bitching about the dull, cold, dreary days we must endure until spring begins to make itself known.

During the final weeks of winter, it feels like spring will never happen, but it will, it always does. I trust that even though it's hard to believe with snow falling and temps in the 20s F. In the meantime, while we wait for spring, what doesn't kill us makes us stronger? Builds character? I hate building character! I have plenty of that.

See? I'm whining.

People buy lights with a certain spectrum of light. Some report that it helps with SAD, (which is, in my opinion, not a disorder - it's a sign of being a normal, soulful mammal who longs for a little warmth and color after several months of drear). I know a lot of people for whom these lights have no noticeable benefits.

Some self medicate, and I'm not against it. The problem - I'm talking about liquor here - is that a little bit of self medication is great, but too much just makes you feel worse. It's tricky, during the dregs of winter, to discern the right dosage. It's so easy to go overboard when the wind is howling and the wind chills are in the single or minus digits.

Swallowing Vitamin D sounds like a good idea, but processed vitamins are hard to absorb and put stress on the liver and kidneys. I try to get out on every sunny day and let the sunlight fall on my face and any other body part I'm willing to expose. It depends on how cold it is. Even ten minutes of sunlight produces Vitamin D. The impact is noticeable. It doesn't solve the problem but it helps.

I have a friend who gets in a tanning booth for 5 or 10 minutes, a couple of times during the grayest days of winter. She's not looking for a tan. She swears she walks out of the booth feeling more cheerful, more hopeful. Five or 10 minutes once or twice during winter won't kill you. I think it's an inspired idea that would never have occurred to me since I'm violently opposed to tanning booths.

I drink teas that are metaphors for Brother Sun. Currently my favorite version is Rishi Ginger-Turmeric tea with honey and a few grains of cinnamon. I believe it cheers me up, reminds me of the splendid season that will surely come again ... some day! I cook warm, cheerful dinners, such as Mark Bittner's roast chicken with orange juice, honey and cumin. I burn candles by the dozen because they bring a contented, magical, cozy feeling into a room. I sit in the Botanic Conservatory breathing the soft air and taking in all the green.

No way will I watch a dark movie at this time of year. Actually I don't watch anything upsetting these days, but especially not at the end of February. I watch nice, bright, inspiring movies. I stick with music that encourages me. I look only at art that makes me smile.

I try, I really do.

If there existed a measurably effective remedy for the doldrums of winter, it would be out there and we would know about it. Sadly, there is no such thing. Still, we have to try. At least I do. Hence: tea, red wine, roast chicken, sweet jazz music. The time will pass and spring will arrive. I believe it even though it's hard to imagine.

I look forward to it.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Immunity: the Mighty Warrior

The onset of even a mild illness such as a cold or the flu is a crisis. The immune system springs into action, or more accurately described, goes into battle with the pathogen. The next thing you know, you've got a fever, head and chest congestion, a stomach ache, ear ache, headache, chills, shivering, sore throat, sneezing, and you're coughing so hard, you feel it might bring up a lung.

All these symptoms are caused by the immune system, not by the pathogen. Did you know that? It was a revelation to me. Up until I actually studied immune function, I always thought it was the virus that made me sick. I thought what my immune system did was bring relief from the symptoms, allowing me to sleep deeply and come back to myself. Nope. Healing is dynamic, healing is a battle, or at least a skirmish.

One of my teachers used to say that the first step in healing is to disorganize or disrupt the pattern of dis-ease. That makes perfect sense in the Reyaverse. After the virus is defeated, only then will the fierceness of immunity calm itself. It's only after the healing that we can breathe, eat and sleep again.

During the height of the battle, it's a terrible idea to go for a massage. I tell my clients this, and it's prominent in my policy practices (see tab above). But many clients show up for their appointments even when in the first crucial stages of illness, when their poor bodies are in shock, gathering the resources available, preparing for the fight ahead. I understand where my clients are coming from - they are suffering and looking for relief. On paper it sounds great but the truth is, it never helps. It always and inevitably makes them feel worse.

Pushing blood and lymph around in the midst of the battle does not enhance the process. All it does is put a strain on the body which is already in a state of distress. It's like trying to fight a war when all of a sudden a tsunami rolls through.

On the flip side of a cold or the flu, after the healing, 24 hours after the end of the fever at least, a massage is excellent. When you're on the mend, a massage can function like a crime scene clean-up crew. Lymph transports the detritus, the kidneys and liver process what they can and the rest of it leaves the body. Massage enhances this.

If you are in the throes of a cold or the flu, the very best thing you can do is support your troops by staying in bed, drinking a lot of water and tea - no cold drinks. Eat simply, try to sleep as much as you can. I think watching old movies is medicinal. They take my mind off my symptoms.

When you're on the mend, then go for a brisk, revivifying massage, or for a session of restorative Reiki.

I'm doing a lot of Reiki sessions during this horrid flu season with people who are in a pattern of catching every cold. There are years when people are sick a lot, others when they're well all winter. When you notice you've been sick a lot, you might need something more than just rest and tea.

I can't explain what Reiki does in scientific terms. My personal sense of it is that it brings harmony to the body's basic rhythms: respiration, heartbeat, craniosacral and other, subtler rhythms. It furthers a harmonious syncopation among the many living rhythms. Please don't ask me how it works. I have no idea.

When fighting a battle, you want the troops to function harmoniously, you want team work. With all systems working together, you stand a much better chance of rising to the challenge of fighting off an invading pathogen. Reiki is gentle but is sometimes just the thing you need to move towards well being.

May you be well during this awful flu season. If you catch it, may you be compassionate to the mammal of your body, may you be aggressive about self care. May you be patient with yourself, understand that the symptoms expressing themselves are the cure for what ails you. May you be kind to yourself.

May you be well! Happy new year. Shalom.