Mind Your Yoga Society

Listen to your body

A lifestyle that goes against biorhythms is a recipe for ill health

We call ourselves humans. When we tell someone, “You’re behaving like an animal,” we mean that as criticism. For good decision-making, it is important to use our higher faculties as a human being. But physiologically, we should not forget that we are also animals. Our higher faculties or mental functions cannot function independent of our body. We have cycles of hunger, thirst, digestion, sleep, energy levels, etc., like all animals do. These cycles reflect the biological ebb and flow of functions in our tissues. We are prone to disrupting these functions in modern life because we subjugate our lifestyle to external needs, to long-term plans and short-term stress. This habit of disrupting the body rhythms is often internalised to the point where people do not even realise they are doing it.

The internal body clock is evolutionarily ancient. Disrupting the sleep and wakefulness cycle has a profound impact on our health. For instance, some countries follow daylight saving time by shifting their clock forward by one hour in spring and back one hour in autumn. Research shows that there is an increased risk of dying immediately afterwards in the elderly and unwell. The small change of even one hour in the sleep rhythm stresses the body and this shows up as increased cardiovascular problems, especially heart attacks.

A lifestyle that goes against these biorhythms is a recipe for ill health. There are surprising findings about the impact of the body rhythm on surgical recovery for instance. A 2017 study in the prestigious medical journal, Lancet, showed that patients undergoing open heart surgery in the afternoon had half the rate of heart damage when compared to patients undergoing the surgery in the morning. The researchers explained that this was most likely due to the internal rhythm of the body — your heart is naturally more susceptible to damage in the morning than the afternoon! Our hormones too have a daily cycle. The stress hormone, cortisol, rises and falls through the day and night.

For good health

To maintain good health, Ayurveda gives us wonderfully insightful advice: do not suppress or instigate the innate functions of the body like hunger, thirst, and sleep. Listen to these urges and let them happen naturally. When we practise asana and pranayama in yoga, we have a golden opportunity to listen to our body sensations and adapt to them. For example, maintaining a healthy weight and metabolism is related to the timing of food too, not just the quality or quantity of food. When it is time for food and we are hungry, the digestive system prepares itself for food, already beginning to secrete enzymes for breaking down the food that it anticipates will reach it.

If we eat when we are not hungry at all, or we do not eat when we are hungry, it throws off the rhythm of the digestive system. When we postpone our lunch because we have a meeting at that time, or we force ourselves to have an early lunch even though we are not hungry because we have a meeting later, we create confusion in our metabolism. Our metabolism does not follow the future based thinking of the mind; it functions in the present.

As you begin listening to your body more closely, you will see that hunger is a complex feeling; there are many levels of hunger. There is the hunger as a lack of energy from the level of the tissues. There is a drop of fuels such as glucose in the blood. Digestive hunger is when we feel a lack of satiety, a feeling of emptiness, in the stomach and digestive tract. Emotional hunger is when we eat as a substitute for other emotional needs. Cognitive hunger is when we eat because we recall food. Social hunger is when we eat because the setting demands it. Programmed hunger is when we eat because of habituation to the time or circumstances.

Paying attention to our internal state is a way for us to understand the differences between these forms of hunger. If we don’t, we will gradually lose sight of what it is to eat for healthful reasons!

Similar to hunger, it is important to learn to sense our other body rhythms like sleep and energy levels too. Yoga is a golden way to be present in the moment, be present with the body, and listen to its rhythms. In the fast pace of modern life, this is one of the best skills you can cultivate for wellbeing and long life.

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 7:11:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/listen-to-your-body/article31106992.ece

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