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Sleep, Sex, and Digestion





One of the biggest issues involved in taking care of ourselves is knowing where to focus our energy. There is so much information available to us, but more often than not it leaves us confused more than helping. Luckily the ancient Indian physicians gave us an outline of the three pillars of life. Without these you can be assured that your health will not last long. With these in check you can be assured that you can avoid most anything that is within your predisposition to do so. They are so fundamental to life and so seemingly simple, which causes us to overlook them quite often. At the same time, they are potent and something you should deeply consider before looking into any other modality. While digestion is mentioned first in the classical texts, I would like to start with the problems of sleep. Before the advent of electricity, our cycles were intimately tied to the movement of the planets and staying up all night to get our dissertations finished was not something one did on a daily basis. Thanks to lighting and artificial environment controls we are truly a world that never sleeps. On a subtle level we are all greatly disturbed by this no matter what we do as no one lives in isolation from the constant hum of electronic noises and invisible waves passing through us on a daily basis. However this only gets greatly amplified if we don’t follow the movement of the Sun and Moon for our sleep cycles. Much research has been done on the topic which you can find through an internet search, so I need not explain how your immune system, mental health, and general well-being will suffer if you go against these natural bio-rhythms. I will mention that there are some people claiming that we need to adjust our society to accommodate for the fact that we can stay up all night, and let people sleep in and set their own schedule. For these people, sleep is sleep no matter when it is. However if you study the ancient disciplines you will understand why this is not the same because different energies predominant at different times of the day – which are linked with the rising and setting of the sun. To go against this is to go against the universe. Good luck! While many people point out the importance of sleeping and rising early (in by roughly 9-11pm, up by 4-6am depending on your constitution), I would like to draw attention to the fact that the most important step in this equation is HOW you go to sleep and not necessarily when or even how long to a certain extent. It is not enough to just set some artificial time and then shut off the computer and jump into bed. Whatever we are doing and however we are operating an hour or two before we go to bed will carry with us into the night and greatly affect our quality of sleep. A good beginning is a job half done. It is vitally important to wind down before you go to sleep, which can take on many forms. I personally enjoy some light pranayama (only do this if you know what you are doing) or some simple meditation to slowly unravel the day. A restorative yoga posture or two can be a great aid as well. The main idea is that you are consciously and slowly removing your awareness away from the world and deeper into yourself. Authentic yogis actually don’t sleep but remain aware of all the fine shades of consciousness as they move into “sleep” – which is really a way to let their senses rest. One of my senior yoga instructors would only sleep three hours a day without a hitch. He was well into his 70’s and a robust, grounded, and dynamic man. He was able to have such deep quality sleep that he needed little in the quantity department and his doctors agreed. This is the effect of being able to control the nervous system and truly relax the body. I was able to reproduce the same effects when I worked with my sensory deprivation tank and would often substitute a nights sleep with 3 hours in the tank and then go about my business. My body wouldn’t allow me any longer in there. It didn’t need it. This moving slowly into sleep greatly affects the quality of sleep and, if you are sensitive, can actually allow you to start to pierce some of the more subtle layers of your existence. When you are greatly rested you will naturally wake up easier and go about your day without all the same pains and ills that come to people who try to go from the back end. They set their alarm earlier and earlier. Or they force themselves to do it until it sticks. Or they drink more coffee. Sometimes it works, but a lot of times it fails. Experiment with how you go to bed and see what happens; don’t take my word for it. The next topic, sex, is perhaps less talked about in regards to protecting ones physical health as the western medical model does not have the same approach to sexual functions as the east does. In Ayurveda, sexual fluid is seen as the cream of the crop in tissue production and it holds not only the ability to create children, but our vital and creative spark as well. This is one reason (there are others) that it was so lauded and why it was requested that we preserve it as much as possible. When we waste our energy on sexual exploits it is thought that we weaken our immunity, mind, and quality of life. When we reach older age, we lose our vitality and health along with these functions quite often.The most practical thing most of us can do is to cut back on sex to at least once a month if not less (as long as it doesn’t drive you crazy). This is of less concern for women who may want to consider taking shatavari as they get older and their reproductive capacity diminishes. There are even advanced yogic practices that can preserve these fluids while helping to transmute them to a higher purpose. Yet such things are reserved for very few adepts no matter what some pseudo-tantra teacher will try to sell you in their workshop. If you are having sex with deep intimate connection and not to fill any kind of void in your life than once a month should be more than enough. If you find yourself yearning for sex more than this then it is time for a check up. What are you trying to achieve through this act? What aren’t you looking at in yourself? What could you be spending your time and energy on? When you do learn to reserve your pleasure, you will often find an abundance of energy to devote to other pursuits. They might be spiritual, creative, or any other type of constructive activity as it is really the hidden potential in you that is trying to express itself. Aside from the spiritual giants, there are also numerous other celibates such as Nikola Tesla, Beethoven, Plato, Pythagoras, Kant, Leonardo Da Vinci, Isaac Newton, and Michelangelo (to name a few) who reserved their fluids to great effect. While other factors are at play as well, their retention undoubtedly had a great impact on their output. Yet most of us are more than willing to waste these essential fluids, not aware of how much is truly lost in the process. The last topic, digestion, is perhaps one of the largest hubs that Ayurveda revolves around. Since we are keeping to just the most important basic principles of each of these topics, as each is a study in their own right, we will keep it simple. According to sage Charaka, the most important thing we can do is to take the proper quantity of food. This is the first daily regimen, and hence most important, that he lays out for people within his text. However the proper amount and type of food for each person can vary greatly depending on a variety of factors (season, constitution, digestive strength, etc.). As a quick rule of thumb , you know that you are taking the proper amount if you can eliminate every morning upon waking, without coffee or any assistance. While this is a complicated topic, I have found no simpler nor effective technique for aiding digestion than chewing your food properly. We often forget that digestion begins in our mouth and any work we don’t do here will have to be done by our stomach, which is often more difficult and taxes our energetic resources to an extent that most of us are unaware of. To this end you need to chew around thirty times or so, making sure that the food is in a liquefied form before swallowing. You might also consider drinking water until you eliminate in the morning or eating less food until your digestion gets reset as well. These simple things can be difficult for most of us. It is a great practice in itself to chew your food, as we tend to only have half hour lunch breaks or eat while driving our cars and no end of other things that make us rush. Yet even if you follow no other digestive rule, just try it. It will slow your mind down, let you enjoy your food more, and help you assimilate more of what you eat. Along with this, it is important to recognize that we also digest sensory impressions as well as anything that comes in contact with our skin. In regards to your skin the simple rule is, if you wouldn’t put it in your mouth – don’t put it on your skin. In regards to your senses and experiences, we need to watch the amount and types of sensory stimulation we take in as well as making sure there are no lingering or deep seated emotions you are holding - particularly while eating. What you take in through your senses while you are eating, or in daily life in general, can greatly affect your health and overall well-being, much more than we often give credit to. We are so prone to eat without bringing any attention or grace to the process and it harms us greatly. The same goes for our life experiences quite often as well. We are always looking to “eat” more and more life experience guided by personal pleasure. If you can’t digest certain experiences or live without reflection, memories will get stored somewhere in your body and can create issues on numerous levels. If we eat with a hurried or worried mind it will affect how our food is assimilated and is just as important as what we eat. There is no separation between these functions and modern research is showing how our gut is like a second brain through and through.

In order to address these concerns, I would look at the “4th pillar” of life - our relationships more deeply. This topic really cuts to the heart of any healing. Without a solid and sane relationship to ourselves, those around us, and the world, little good can be done to change. All of life is some form of relationship as all is interrelated. Remembering this as much as possible will help us see how important it is to watch how we react to situations, who we surround ourselves with, and what type of activities we engage in. Are they peaceful? Do they help our well-being or merely give us pleasure? Are we trying to escape through our activities? Without paying attention to this fact and lessening our apparent separation, isolation and insensitivity grows as well as all the miseries of life. To antidote this, one of the best answers is to have some form of mindfulness practice. For many this may be meditation. It may be an asana practice. It may be charity. Whatever it is, doing something to lessen the sense of separation and bringing an awareness of how dependent and connected you are to the world is essential to your health on all levels. As long as it is something consistent and regular, it will naturally come into your life. If it is sporadic or excessive it can cause imbalance instead of help – do not underestimate the effects on either side. So while all the above are most likely things you may have been aware of, how deep are you going with them? How often do you really engage with them? They are simple and profound like a lot of things in life. Once again they are to go to sleep consciously, limit your sex, eliminate on schedule, and have some kind of mindfulness practice. Just remember that these are practices, not rules to live by. Take your time to work with them and incorporate them into your life. It may take some time but keep coming back to it. Eventually it will be second nature as you see the benefits. No matter what your condition or stage in life these will hold true and you can start today free of charge.

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