It has been a while since I’ve written for MindBodyBrew. From starting grad school to moving across the country, a lot has changed in my life. One of the greatest joys amidst all this change has been returning to full-time student status after working for many years in a teaching role. From the age of six...Read More
There’s something about fall that beckons us back to routine and comfort in our mornings. Oats, nuts, seeds, and cooked fruits are all foods that build and nourish our bodily tissues, and should therefore be favored this time of year. Below is a recipe for my current iteration of oatmeal that is guaranteed to get me out of bed...Read More
Even when my mind is open, my focus is centered, and my body is still, my hands feel the agitated need to move.Read More
The following post was written by TaraMarie Perri, the Founder/Director of The Perri Institute for Mind and Body. Her professional work is dedicated to yoga education and research, holistic health therapeutics, and the integration of mind/body practices with the arts and sciences. TaraMarie holds an MFA and serves on Faculty at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She maintains private practices in New York City and Brooklyn.
I have always had a proclivity for the early-to-bed-early-to-rise lifestyle. Perhaps it was the physical demands of days spent dancing or my over-functioning brain needing to reset, but sleep would often overwhelm me, sometimes at most inconvenient times. Pulling an all-nighter to write a paper in college or grad school was virtually impossible. I rarely made it to the bitter end of 90s NYC nightclubbing excursions, concerts, and other assorted gatherings with friends. Clearly rock star status was not in my future. It is difficult as a New Yorker of 22 years not to feel a small pang of failure when I realize I will never be one of the city’s dark, sexy set of night owls.
Most nights I go to bed by 10pm and rise, without an alarm and well-rested, at 6am. Friends who witness my eyes getting sleepier by the minute can sometimes misunderstand my intentions. I do want to stay up and spend time with them. I am not anti-social, and my days are filled with adventures and encounters to prove this. But my body is telling me to go to bed—sending me the signal. I can’t argue with its internal clock…
The confession: I genuinely prefer being a morning person. I love the morning—the light, the quiet, the clarity of mind. I feel better too. To prepare for the work I do, I cannot afford to show up feeling less than optimal. My students and clients depend on me to be sharp and focused and grounded. The other gain is that I do not feel rushed when I wake without an obligation to immediately step into the pace of the workday. When I wake at 6am, the morning is mine. No one is expecting an email response or texting to distract me at that hour. I paint; I think; I read; I write; I meditate and stretch; I pack my bag for the day; I sit in silence, and I eat breakfast. I slowly move about my morning doing the activities I am inspired to do, so that I can honor my needs before I honor the needs of others. The most welcome result of the early-to-bed-early-to-rise routine? I end my days with a sense of unwinding, relaxing, and processing, and begin my days with calm, presence, and focus.
As I dive deeper into studies of Ayurveda and Tibetan Medicine under the tutelage of my mentors, I’ve discovered that what my body already knew is also supported by ancient wisdom. One of my lamas, Cary Twomey, recently shared the following explanation:
In Ayurvedic & Tibetan Medicine we know 10 PM is the time to have our head down on the pillow. At 10 PM, the fire element begins to rise and the body kicks into a deep and gentle detoxification while we are sleeping. There are several important metabolic actions going on during this time, and if we are not asleep when fire element rises, these rejuvenating actions don't occur and we miss out on a natural balancing and revitalizing process that happens each night between 10 PM and 2 AM.
Secondly, if you are up past 10 PM, you will surely get a second wind as fire rises, because fire is stimulating. You'll likely stay up until around 2 AM, when the fire finally begins to wane. When we stay up instead of getting to bed, we are likely to commit what Ayurveda calls Prajnaparadha—crimes against wisdom. Prajnaparadha are actions that generate imbalances rather than balanced health.
Crimes against wisdom? Well, now I have yet another reason to stick with my routine! I take the pursuit of wisdom very seriously.
Even if you are a proud night owl, I encourage you to try this earlier bedtime routine for a couple weeks during spring, while your body needs the most support for digestion, healing, and cleansing as it prepares the body for the entire year ahead. To join the early morning revolution, here are some tips to help you hit the sack by 10pm:
1. Turn It Down
Lower the lights and sounds in your home space and begin to lower the brightness ratio on your computer and devices around 8pm. Not only will the light changes coax you into a less-stimulating environment, it will allow your brain and body to notice the darkness outside which lures you into a natural desire to rest. You will get to bed on time and be ready to fall asleep!
2. Soak it In
Warning: Once you start doing these luxurious self-care rituals, you may never want to skip them again! Before bedtime, soak in a bath and sip calming tea. Light a candle, unwind your mind, and soothe your body. I also give myself a sandalwood/sesame oil massage (Abhyanga) on most nights before I get into the tub. Again, the environment of warmth and water allow us to call upon our natural sleep cycles.
3. Gear Down
I know this one is tough because modern world habits are in place, but give it a go. Browsing Instagram or Facebook during your last hours before bed is not really the best use of your time (nor is it the first thing you should be doing when waking…but that is another topic entirely!). Not only will the light keep you over-stimulated, it causes the mind to be restless. We all speak of wanting more time to relax or to feel less busy. Instead of Netflix nights, snuggle up on the sofa with a pet, good friend, or loved one and enjoy time alone or together in conversation. Maintaining in-person means of connecting with yourself or those around you will give you real grounding in this fast-paced world where we often feel unsupported and alone.
4. Gear Up
Make sleeping fun. Choose materials for bedding that allow you to breathe and regulate temperature for your personal sleeping comfort. Pick pajamas you like to put on with layers that allow for ample movement as you sleep (yes, sleeping in your birthday suit counts!). If you like the environment you create in your bedroom around sleep, you will want to go there.
5. Go “Old School”
Get an alarm clock that is not your cell phone. Ideally you should not have a TV or computer or phone device in your bedroom at all. By nature of your dwelling situation you may have to keep those items in your bedroom. If so, turn them OFF (sleep mode doesn’t count) and put them away in a drawer or closet or cover them with a beautiful tapestry. These devices are always sending out unfavorable electromagnetic frequencies that radically disrupt your Prana, your healthy life force energy. The result is dried-out body tissues and immunity depletion. I think we can all agree that we already live too many hours led by computers and devices. Use bedtime to balance.
When you wake from a good night of sleep and rise early, you are given a rare gift every day—a quiet, spacious morning all to yourself. You may even notice you no longer say you have “no time” to yourself. You’ll discover plenty of time to think, dream, wander, wonder, and be.
One of the city’s night owls I will never be. I hope you’ll take my contemporary advice, supported by ancient wisdom, and try out the 10pm – 6am sleep cycle this spring (and maybe forever). Early riser rewards are real and yours for the taking!
MindBodyBrew is ultimately about providing a space for written reflection at every step along the yoga path. We hope that by sharing assignments from our Foundation and Yoga Pedagogy students, we can expand their deep investigation into community-wide dialogue. The following is a piece written by one of our newest, current students, Megan Doughty, about a recent yoga class with TaraMarie Perri.
In architectural drawings, a centerline is indicated by a dash/dot line that extends out of an intersecting C and L. This symbol has always been one of my favorite drawing symbols because it’s clever (the C and L intersect each other at their own centerlines making it a code that can be read even by those who don’t know its meaning) and it’s exceptionally simple but able to convey a great deal of information and organize an entire building. The centerline symbol is used at every scale, from locating alignment of massive structures that literally hold the building up, to indicating the smallest of details such as where to drill an ⅛” hole inside a wall cabinet.
I spend a lot of time extending dash/dot lines through columns, 2x4s, and hinges, but have never thought about superimposing this symbolic guideline over my body, mind, and yoga practice—that is until Marissa’s class on mindfulness and centerlines at Steps. As we began class and were encouraged to be mindful of finding and engaging with our various whole body centerlines by rocking and bending from side to side, front to back, and head to toe, I started to envision drawing that dash/dot line through myself at each of these axes. With the progression of the practice and frequent reminders to bring mindfulness to our centerlines in a variety of ways—through our breath, through the use of props, through external and internal rotation, through activation of the inner thighs, through extensions of the limbs, through the ground—I found myself drawing all over my body in all different directions. There were lines extending through my shoulder blades, out my fingers, across my eyes, up my legs, and through my joints.
As I was mentally marking up my body from the large scale spine and pelvis to the small scale joints of my toes and centers of my ears, I realized that being mindful of these various centerlines allows us to organize and align our bodies so that they can be structural systems of support at any scale, much like buildings. For me, the centerlines became guidelines for balance and strength throughout asana, flow sequences, and transitions. They became reminders to fully work through postures by thinking of their expressions on every level, from their foundations down to the smallest of details; they became points of reference from which I could safely depart in exploration, because I knew where to return to for grounding and stability.
Thinking about my body as a drawing sent me back to Yoga Anatomy, and sure enough, Kaminoff and Matthews do at times annotate their drawings with centerlines, axes, and points of gravity. They also begin their discussion of the spine and its evolution by talking about how as organisms increased in complexity, they developed spinal structures and skeletal systems out of a need for “central organization and guidance” and out of a need for “a structure that allows for free movement but is stable enough to offer protection."
As class began to slow down, Marissa emphasized the importance of mindfulness not only in our yoga practice but also in our everyday lives. She encouraged us to take the time in our days or weeks to practice mindfulness, because much like a muscle, mindfulness must be used and stretched in order for it to get stronger. Admittedly, I’m not exactly sure how to do that yet. I understood it when applied to a familiar and practical concept in class, but mindfulness is relatively new to me and I often find it difficult, uncomfortable, and tiring. It’s reassuring, however, to think of it as an evolving process, and that much like (as Kaminoff and Matthews point out) spines evolved in our species in order to provide organization, guidance, structure, protection, stability, and freedom of movement, mindfulness must also evolve inside us in order to provide that same organization, guidance, structure, protection, stability, and freedom of movement for the mind—especially as our lives and the world around us get more and more complex. And if centerlines can be used as guidelines to locate these concepts in the physical body, I imagine they can be used as guidelines for our mental, emotional, and spiritual lives.
Since Marissa’s class, I have been thinking a lot about where to draw my dash/dot lines in my personal life in order to give myself datums that are always with me, no matter where I am, so that when I stray too far from my center and lose my balance, I can use mindfulness to return to those centerlines and once again find organization, stability, and support.
Photo by Flickr user