Tick-Tock, Body Clock

Times they are a-changin’


In case you haven’t noticed, the worm has turned. It’s not summer any longer and the nights are filled with chill. It makes for great sleeping weather but seasonal change is something the body must respect, whether your conscious mind realizes it or not.

As much as conventional medicine ignores it, the human body is indelibly stamped with the mark of Nature and as such, is obligated to follow Nature’s rules. That includes the adaptation that seasonal change dictates. As sure as birds migrate, bears hibernate, squirrels aggregate, the human animal is subject to the season. Though the body may be telling you what to do, it will only succeed if you pay attention to it. So, listen up.

The body and mind have a clock. It’s calibrated, not to whatever time your iPhone says, but to the angle of the sun, the yaw of the earth, the shift in the weather that a season change brings. Nature’s seasonal changes seem obvious. Seasonal change occurs in the body as well and at the deepest level.

The gene scene. Humans have about 22,000 genes encoded in our DNA strands. Recent studies have shown that nearly 25 percent of them change with the seasons. That’s right, your DNA actually changes between summer and winter months. About 5000 of our genes are affected. We have about 2500 genes that “turn on” during summer months and about the same number that turn on during winter while the summer ones turn off. Our genes — or rather, and this is important, the expression of our genes — are the blueprint for the body. Modern scientists have only recently learned what the ancient wise men have known for millennia: Seasonal changes are profound.

In the Western perspective, changes include the body exhibiting increased inflammation with the onset of winter. This inflammation is like a state of readiness for the insults brought by flu, colds, bronchitis and such that are common in the winter months. The immune system goes to a sort of DefCon 3 mode.

Other genes cause other changes. For example, testosterone levels increase in both male and female genders in the autumn. By the time they peak in the winter months, humans are hormonally horny. As expected then, birthrates increase in summer months.

Doshas and nature. The ancient Indian medical system known as ayurveda identifies three primary energies in nature, pitta, vata, and kapha. All existence is made of these three energies — bodies, planets, trees, foods — everything. Related to the body, these energies are called doshas. Balance of the doshas is crucial to health.

Pitta relates to the element fire, anything that has a fiery, hot and high-energy nature. Summer is a pitta season, peppers are a pitta spice and we all know fiery people.

Vata is airy, dry, cool, changeable, mercurial, identified with the element wind. Vata people tend to be thin. Winter is a vata season.

Kapha is heavy energy. Identified with earth, dampness, growing, it is slower moving and deliberate. Spring is typically kapha and kapha people are heavier framed and even-tempered.

Each person has all three of these energies in various amounts at various times. Nothing is entirely one of the three. The parts make up the whole. Balancing these energies conveys health. Harmonizing the expression of these energies keeps us in sync with nature. Observing nature we understand the system.

The daily cycle: dinacharya In Sanskrit, “following the day” is called dinacharya. Energy flow is obvious on a daily cycle. Acting in accordance with these cycles, wear and tear on the body is minimized. Health is optimized.

Each energy dominates certain daily segments. First, the days are divided into twelve-hour (roughly) daylight and nighttime segments we call phase one and phase two. Within each phase, a pitta, vata and kapha period extends for about four hours then repeats a second time in the second phase.

Nature begins with a kapha stage around sunrise or six a.m. We should arise daily before the kapha period begins to prepare for the productive time. By ten a.m. we enter the first pitta stage of the day. Mid-pitta is the best time to take in fuel, when we should eat our main meal of the day. The fiery characteristic helps metabolize food efficiently.

Near two p.m. we enter the first vata period. There is airiness to what we do and get done. This is not the time to be doing the heaviest work of the day but time to restore some of the energy of the day. (Observe siesta time in some cultures.)

Around six p.m., nature enters the second daily kapha period. We should enter sleep near the end of the heavy period, around 9:30. By 10 p.m., the earth enters the second pitta period of the day. It is high-energy and fiery, but now as outflow. By two a.m. we are in vata, the airy time of the night, cooling. Now we dream vividly, our body cools. Nearing the end of this vata period, about five or six a.m., is when we should arise.

The seasons also manifest a relationship to the three doshas. That is what we are experiencing at this time of year. Pay heed to the energy and let your clock reset, tick-tock.

Be well.

Heartland Healing is a metaphysically based polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. Important to remember and pass on to others: for a weekly dose of Heartland Healing, visit HeartlandHealing.com.


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