Saturday, April 28, 2012

Experiments: Food, Sleep, and Energy

A few months ago a new book in the Wisdom of Yogananda series was published: How to Achieve Glowing Health and Vitality. It’s packed with useful tips and ideas, enough to seem overwhelming until you remember to just relax, find the ones that seem relevant to what you need right now, and focus on those. I’m not often one to drastically tweak my daily habits, but this book got me inspired into a few interesting experiments.

In the food department, the idea that most intrigued me was that of eating monomeals. In spite of my spell-checker’s insistence, these are not one-term algebraic expressions, but rather meals in which you eat only a single (raw, natural) food, and as much of it as you like until you feel satiated. It’s actually much easier for your digestive system to handle a consistent batch of a single food than to deal with a mix of many different ingredients that digest at different rates and in different ways. It takes less energy for your body to process the food, and you’re also better able to tell when you’ve actually eaten an appropriate amount.

I’ve always liked the idea of fasting as a cleansing “vacation” for the digestive system, but I really don’t like fasting itself at all. Monomeals seem like a good compromise to me. I’m currently doing one or two a day, most often with apples, bananas, melons, or other fruit. I’ll usually throw in a “monosnack” of almonds or something similar in between, too. If I save a full “regular” meal for the evening, I manage to skip most of the afternoon energy slump.

Also in support of the energy levels, I’ve been increasing my the Energization Exercises two or three times a day. In addition to the book inspiring renewed will power and concentration, I also discovered an interesting refinement to the mental technique. Instead of visualizing the energy flowing to the various body parts as I activated them, I imagined it moving just ahead of what my body was doing. If you can get into that flow, it becomes much more an experience of tapping into existing energy rather than generating it all from your own little self. Fun to play with.

The final area I’ve been experimenting in is sleep. I don’t think it was in this book, but I’ve read elsewhere Yogananda’s comment that six hours of sleep a night is plenty for most people, and you don’t want to spend more time subconscious than you need to. I’ve always felt very attached to my 7.5-8 hours a night, ever since Dr. Dement’s Sleep & Dreams class in college, but by the time I got through this book I felt like I might actually be able to change that habit.

So I’ve been gradually trimming down the amount I sleep, and have gotten to the point where I can do 6.5 hours a night pretty regularly without any trouble. Still working on the last half hour, but I feel like I’m almost there. And interestingly, even though I often took short afternoon naps before I had a full-time job, now I find that even if I try to nap on a weekend, I often can’t. It’s a little harder sometimes to get up in the mornings on weekends, but once I am up, I’m fine. And I can sense a difference now between needing sleep and merely wanting sleep, which I never particularly noticed before.

The concurrence of the food experiment has actually helped the sleep part a great deal. For instance, if someone brings cookies to work and I eat them (because I can’t help myself, even though I usually try to avoid sweets until the weekend) I can much more dramatically feel the sag in my energy level. But I can tell that it’s not due to lack of sleep (which might otherwise be my first assumption) because if I sleep the same 6.5 hours that night, without any extra, I still feel fine the next day. So I can tell the amount of sleep is sustainable in and of itself, but other factors can try to fool me into thinking its not.

It’s nice to have the extra couple of hours in the day, though I’m still getting used to being awake that much. I’m using some of the time for extra sadhana, including getting myself to a couple of the hour and a half morning meditations in the community temple, and doing some yoga on other mornings. I’m also spending a little more time reading just for fun, so it’s not all “virtuous and productive” as Mom would say, but it’s an okay balance at this point.

[Another intriguing sleep concept I came across recently is segmented sleep. Sounded to me a little trickier to make useful, though, and one sleep experiment at a time is enough.]

An interesting facet to everything in this post, aside from just the fun of experimenting with how human bodies work, is the sense of attunement. Taking instructions from my guru into the most basic aspects of my everyday life -- food and sleep -- is a good way to practice feeling the discipleship connection at all times. So it’s all worth it just for that perspective, even if nothing else.