Do you struggle, I mean really struggle, to adjust to getting back into your body in the mornings? Even when there’s absolutely nothing to worry about, there’s no stress, no unhealthy lifestyle habits to explain it, nothing that could be making your cortisol peak when you wake, do you somehow know that you are treading a very fine line as you re-enter your conscious state each day? Have you had to entrain your family to tread very softly around you first thing in the morning because loud noises or sudden announcements get your heart racing, switch on pain? Even when you are perfectly chilled in your mind, ecstatic with life even, is this your “normal” experience of waking; like it’s a precision manoeuver?
For me, its been an ongong thing for years…probably all of life; more so this last decade. So much so that I’m convinced that its “a thing” and that some of us have it as our normal state; its who and how we are…its just that life doesn’t always fit (though maybe that’s more of a “problem” with life than with us).
I’ve considered, of course, whether it is a learned thing; a body entrainment going back to different times of more stress? For a long time, it felt like the learned behaviour of childhood, when I often used to dread those school mornings, especially at this time of the year. Then there were those pretty stressful early years of my twenties when I would already be stood on a crowded station platform holding a coffee and a “fag” before I was really awake; a couple more years of that (without the “fag”) when my daughter was small. Those days of commuting and high-stress didn’t help the Pavlov’s dog aspect of my early morning experience…but then that was many (many) years ago. For most of my adult life, I’ve worked for myself or operated the kind of flexi-time that enabled me to go into the office midmorning so I can’t really say it feels like this is the defining experience of my life. Of course, my husband still gets up to go to an office but I’ve learned to detatch from that; we each make our own lifechoices and I know I can’t live empathically on behalf of another to the degree that it starts to affect my health. This is so important to know if you are prone to empathing to such a degree that you live vicariously through another, setting your recovery back; if you gave up work for your health, you need to allow yourself to benefit from that lifestyle change! No, really, there’s no reason for early morning adrenalin to flood me and, mostly, it doesn’t; yet I know that, unless I tread carefully in the way that I start my day, it possibly will and I have to live like that, as a priority, as part of my survival mechanism. I’m more than likely to be awake from even as early as 5am…and I’m happy on my yoga mat, meditating, bathing or writing…but driving, debating, problem solving – nah!
One of the very worst times for me is the September transition from the relaxed routine of summer to the start of a new school year. I’m always keen to negotiate not to be the one that does those first school runs because they hit me very hard; having to be up, fed and functionally ready to face the early morning traffic when I would normally be on my yoga mat can send my body spiralling into chaos for days or even weeks. Is it a memory from childhood jogged up to the surface or just a case of empathing my daughter’s high-excitement and nerves? Is it the fact of being “out there” in the fray, stuck in all that traffic during the road-rage, gridlock time of day or just the simple fact that my consciousness has had to land in my body all too quickly…and then remember how to operate all the knobs and levers of my limbs?
This latter part feels most like it; the truism of my situation. I need time to readjust to operating a human body after my night’s travels; I can’t just drop straight back into the driver’s seat, switch the engine on and go. This is where yoga, meditation and a gentle time of readjustment and “no thought” come into it, for me; then the gentle rituals of self care and calm breakfast…no imperatives, timetables of demands. I have to refind all my body parts, to work through them almost as though for the very first time. It’s a vata thing!
Recent blood tests for adrenal fatigue flagged this very thing up in black and white; while my cortisol levels are healthily within range for most of the day and evening, they go off the charts on waking. In Ayurveda, different parts of the day are associated with each of the three doshas so I’m left wondering, is this a thing that happens to vata-types during that first vata time (3 – 6am) of the day, making a “one plus one” situation that sometimes aggravates vata-dominance, making us feel particularly ungrounded? I use that other vata time of day (3 – 6pm) for my most creative things…painting, walking, cooking…but its as though the first shift takes such a lot out of me; I can’t just springboard from that airy and ungrounded vata place straight back into human life. What this has taught me is that, although its helped enormously to give up the kind of work (and stress) that make demands on my early mornings, it hasn’t eliminated the issue and this is something for vata-types to be aware of and continue working on, probably every day for the entirety of life. It’s why we tend to gravitate towards the quieter, more meditative lifestyle as we mature since it’s the lifestyle that serves us best…and which allows us to get the most out of our vast stock of inspiration. I can well imagine that many vatas may be writers who like to get up when the house is still quiet and spend those first few hours getting down their thoughts. Writing itself, in fact, is a very grounded (kapha) kind of pursuit so partnering inspiration (vata) with writing (kapha) is an incredibly good way to make that transition from the vata to the kapha part of the day, which begins at 6am and continues until 10am. This, come to think of it, is pretty much my perfect way to spend the morning.
I notice another issue these days…its that when the grumble of traffic starts to pour past my house from about 6.30am, I feel unnaturally cortisol-high but when the roads are quiet at the weekend, I don’t. Is it just that old sensory trigger reminding me that, even though I don’t commute to work (any more), all those other people still do, or is it more than that; something akin to super-empathy turning their experience into my experience? I honestly suspect I tune into the vibe of all those single-mindedly rushing people, their heads full of stress and urgency. I can hear the same traffic noise build up at other times of the day…or on Saturday mornings when there’s something un work-related going on down the road…and it leaves me feeling neutral; but work days have a particular feeling and my body dials into that, even though it has nothing to do with me. That early morning traffic flow has a certain “note” to it; it feels brittle, harsh, wild-eyed, aggressive, what I call “adverse pitta” and it feels like its too way much for an early-morning vata type like me. Its the same vibe I feel coming out of all those cars I’m locked into gridlock with on the school run; its energy is intractable, its says “don’t mess with me” or that there is no one at home behind those eyes at all, because the person behind the wheel of the car coming at you is already at the meeting they are so preoccupied with getting to. There’s a particularly “lost soul” feeling about commuter time of day; like the people have been possessed by the very program that has them running to their particular timetable, often against their will, enjoyment or sense of personal empowerment. It’s not a nice feeling to tune into, I find; and I honestly prefer not to but to hold my own ideal state.
Sudden transitions hit us vatas the hardest and I notice another transition taking place most days; one that occurs in that so-called peaceful dawn hour before the sound of traffic hits the roads; when all I should be noticing is the first trill of birdsong in the trees. It arrives invisibly but with a distinct current; like when you sense another’s presence through the hairs lifted up on your arms. Even though my own wi-fi is switched off, it’s the feeling of “wires” becoming live en masse, like a storm brewing or a tremor in the air and I know what it is now. Its everyone else in a forty mile radius “switching on”, spending that last desperate hour frantically checking social media and their emails before their tyres hit the road and it registers to my nerves like a giant stirring from his sleep. Like I used to reach for my caffeine and a cigarette twenty five years ago, this generation reach for their gizmos on waking and the passive effects are far wider reaching than my smoke on a station platform. Being at that time of day, it happens before I’m ready for it, when I should be tuned into “higher” things; but there is really no slowing down the world, it seems (though it makes me want to go off in pursuit of a quieter life while there still is one to be found). I notice how this early morning spike dissipates the further I move away from the city…so there’s an aim that I have within my sights!
It’s a vata side-effect to tune into all these vibes going on in your environment; and there is only one thing we can really do and that is learn to cope within ourselves. To the best of our ability, we need to find that calm space within and encourage the mindfulness that brings its own immunity…not like a shield to keep the world at bay but in such a way that it holds its own higher energy so that we get to live in that space. Raised cortisol levels shouldn’t be ignored or treated flippantly, of course (whatever their cause…or especially if there doesn’t seem to be an obvious one). They have been found to underly fibromyagia, chronic fatigue and thyroid issues, to name but a few serious health conditions (all of which are my long-term issues) and an adrenal function test like the one I recently had might provide valuable insight to any underlying issues going on. There are other simple things we can do to support our biological reactions; I find that theanine (as green tea or taken as a supplement) really helps, as do other adaptogens such as holy basil, ginseng, licorice and ashwagandha. I also hold out great hopes that the vata-pacifying diet that I am now following to provide greater, and more grounding, sustenance right from the outset of my day (as well as elimination of all my food intolerances) will enable my body to stabilise more than ever; along with earlier bedtimes and less use of technology in the evenings as the nights draw in for that vata time of the year.
The following articles gives some useful tips on lowering cortisol response and starting the day as a vata-type:
Get Your Cortisol Levels Under Control & Turn Down the Stress
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2 thoughts on “A thing about mornings”
I always struggle with mornings Helen – it’s always when I’m most anxious. I’ve never been a morning person, though I now have a morning routine that gets me gently into the day – it’s still a battle sometimes, but better.
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I wonder what your dosha is? Wouldnt be at all surprised if you were a vata to some extent. Ayurveda is really helping me to understand my constitution better than ever before in some really practical ways. Good to hear from you!
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