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Circannual Rhythms: Coming Out of Hibernation

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In the past few years, as a collective we have deepened our understanding of the circadian rhythm or daily biological clock with research that won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2017. Yet we are just starting to understand a larger clock; a seasonal clock – what is referred to as a circannual rhythm. Many animals subscribe to a circannual rhythm that follows an annual repetition such as animals that go into hibernation. For centuries, Ayurveda has spoken of the importance of a “rtucharya,” or seasonal routine, to help us to understand the physiological changes we undergo that mirror the changes in our environment.

There is more research on circuannual rhythms in animals, in particular tracking the physiological changes that hibernating animals go through. Outside of bears, numerous animals like squirrels, bats, hummingbirds and even bees hibernate. They all range in variety of hibernation, yet there are some consistent themes – decreasing body temperature and heart rate, prolonged periods of rest, and decreased consumption of food, water and excretion of bodily waste. As humans we do not have a process akin to hibernation, and when we take on some of the physiological changes experienced in hibernation we develop disease such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Yet, what we can take from animals hibernating is the individual differences the follow in the process of coming out of hibernation. Bears, for example, tend to move more slowly in this process; they eat enough food to support them throughout the time of hibernation so when they come out of hibernation take can a very gradual approach. However, other animals like bees and squirrels come out of hibernation much more quickly, with strong desires to seek out food and to reproduce.  Ayurveda may suggest this is due to different constitutions. Those of us who have more earth and water, kapha dosha, will relate to the process the bear takes – slower, methodical, prolonged. Those with more of air or fire energy, vata and pitta dosha, may relate to the bees or squirrels with our desire to move quickly, efficiently and with intent.

With this understanding of individual differences in seasonal rhythms, I tend to wonder how we can learn from the animals and listen to our seasonal rhythms. Changing the foods and herbs we intake per season is a bit like changing our clothes for the season; preventative and beneficial. At La Maida in April we will host our first “Digestive Month” with a workshop explaining the benefits of an integrative approach to digestion. I will explore herbs used for this season and time of year. I hope you will join me!

& some questions for pondering:

When do you daydream?

When do you breathe?

When do you allow deep rest?

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