“I know there was someone lurking behind my wardrobe. He was there to harm me. I would at times feel his presence right next to me, and sometimes sitting right on my chest. But I couldn’t scream or move or run; as if I have been seized and chained with a boulder on my chest. My vocal cords, my limbs, my back felt paralyzed. And then I would finally wake up to see nothing and no one! I feel like my body and mind can't figure out if I am starting my morning routine or in somnolence and I end up stuck kind-of halfway!” she explained to her psychotherapist, for whom she must be the 50th patient coming in plagued and distressed with this experience. Of every 10 of us reading this, 4 would have experienced something similar atleast once in our lifetime. Sleep paralysis is indeed a very common experience inflicting 40-50% of human population.
How is it like being sleep paralytic?
If you have experienced atleast 6 out of the following symptoms, you definitely belong to that 50% population:
Before science took over, humans who experienced these symptoms were believed to be taken over by demonic forces! Lack of knowledge and fear of the unknown lead people to practice exorcism over sufferers of sleep paralysis which ended up only exacerbating their already vexing psychological state. It was only later in 1928 that a British neurologist, S.A.K. Wilson evolved the concept of sleep paralysis in his dissertation, ‘The Narcolepsies’, rubbishing the age old version of paranormality and nighttime satanic invasions.
And with several wavering theories around it, two that have been conclusive about pathophysiology of sleep paralysis are:
Sleep paralysis is scary, to say the least. The intense experience of fear of being harmed and the inability to protect yourself while you lie on your bed, feeling incapacitated and breathless makes this an extremely draining experience which can continue even after one is awake and stay on through the day.
Did you know that these common lifestyle factors can make you more prone to sleep paralysis?
1. Consistently insufficient sleep or irregular shifts Sleep well, at the right time and for atleast 6 hours a day. Maintain the circadian rhythm of nighttime sleep and daytime wakefulness to ensure regulated cortisol levels.
2. Eating heavy and sugary meals before bed
Cut down on your meal size at night. And for sugar, a complete NO! it is not just excessive carbs but also too much protein to compensate can be tumultuous on your system. Save them for earlier in the day.
3. Persistent stress or psychological conditions Postpone your visit to a dentist but make sure to fix one with a psychotherapist/counsellor or psychiatrist. Your mental health comes foremost. Chronic stress may lead to undesirable psychological conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, to name a few. These play havoc on your sleep quality rendering sleep paralysis inevitable.
4. Sleeping on back
Trivial as it may sound, your sleeping posture has a big impact on your sleep quality. That does not mean sleeping on back is a direct risk for experiencing sleep paralysis but it increased the likelihood of it, especially if other factors are playing alongside.
5. Substance abuse or excessive alcohol consumption
A leading case study of alcoholics who had a 10 year history of tolerance and withdrawal symptoms had recurrent bouts of sleep paralysis which frayed from acute chronic to mild moderate and eventually to complete absence once they were de-addicted and rehabilitated.
If you already have stress-related issues or even minor sleep disturbances, occasional alcohol consumption too can trigger sleep paralysis.
Sleep paralysis is multifactorial. It is a cumulative consequence of two or more factors affecting your lifestyle. But the good news is that it is completely curable. Once narcolepsy is ruled out, (since it is partly a genetic disorder and requires intense medical intervention) other parameters can be concentrated on. More than often, simple lifestyle changes can complete abrogate your distress, but in acute chronic states, medical intervention (anti-depressants, SSRIs) may be required.
You are your k’night’ in shining armour
Fight the Fear
The alien abductors: many psychotherapists call that apparition sneaking into your bedrooms every night and promising to come again tomorrow. Fear is a natural defense mechanism to face a danger. But when it is constant, it turns crippling. Sleep paralysis is exactly that. It unarms you because your mind is vulnerable, discomposed and unsettled. The devils we experience with our eyes closed trace back to how we dealt with the demons with our eyes open. The demons being our mental health, and lifestyle.
What’s more, once your lifestyle and sleep is sorted, your fortress is ready and the Sleep-Satan can try sneaking through someone else’s door because you will be too deep in slumber to open yours!
I have a corner in my home dedicated to monsoon. The leftover unread books, a couch, a footstool and a flask of tea! My concept of a perfect rainy day. But at the same time I need the douse of sunlight to energize me and get my limbs into action!
Human-environmental interactions are fundamental to existence. Change in seasons can have amazing effect on our sense of being and wellness. It is intriguing to see how we perceive and respond to seasonal shifts. While some thoroughly enjoy staying indoors watching the rains wash their windows, others get hounded by gloom and edginess just hearing the showers beat their roof. The prospect of house-arrest panics them and they cannot wait for the sun god to bless them. From mood to food, all are target to the revolutionary movement of earth which brings to us seasons packaged with some enticing deals.
The ‘rise’ and ‘fall’
Seasons follow a striking pattern to characterize our mood and behaviour. We feel seasons the way our brains do. Every body has a unique way of processing change in temperature, humidity, wind, atmospheric pressure and solar radiations. But one thing that stays universal is our psycho-endocrine response to sunlight and temperature. Sunshine is very intimately connected to mood. Exposure to sunlight gets your vitamin D into action that promotes serotonin synthesis, the quintessential mood lifter; concomitantly, reduced exposure triggers release of melatonin and lowers serotonin production that gives you that distinct drowsy feel along with lack of appetite, motivation and sexual desire. So your incessant procrastination to hit the gym during monsoon and winter has its explanation right here! But there is one thing there is a silver lining in the dark clouds.
But, while ample sunlight is lighting up your mood, rising mercury during summer is making you quietly cross the line from animation towards aggression. Temperature is like the guerilla warrior on stealth mode. A little tweak from behind the bush and you are ambushed! A group of volunteers for a neuroendocrine study, experienced lowered memory, reasoning and heightened speed, irritability and aggression when their core body temperatures were raised slightly to 38.80-39.05 degrees C. Well, you couldn’t have had a better excuse to being hot-headed than this! The way climate affects us has its root lying right in the cerebral cortex. Seasonal Affective Disorder is real; a psychological condition taming the most receptive and sensitive of us, if not getting the worst out of us!
When seasons turn sensational
Sensations that provoke excitement and energy are inherently associated with all that the mighty star does to our body. Not just our mood, but also our food choices, intimate habits, and interpersonal interactions change considerably with changing seasons. Would it be surprising to know that people like to flirt more, go on ravishing dates and explore their sexuality just as much they love the aroma of pastries and lavender more on sunny days?
I don’t think there is any one human who wouldn’t have craved for buttery, fried and cheesy foods as cold December waves set in. Your body’s innate mechanism to store fat reserves for insulation against biting cold, summer is just as real a phenomenon. As the winter solstice dips our serotonin, we find ourselves furrowing in our couch drowned in a bowl of soupy gooey macaroni!
When humid and cold atmosphere is inclining you towards reading, cooking and solitude, spring in turn is giving you perfect reasons to wipe the dust off your griller and barbeque skewers and indulge in sumptuous weekend brunch with your besties! Nature knows the tricks to keep us animated and up for the next change, to ensure we brighten up on the sunny times and prepare for the rainy days too!
But this cannot quash the perks of a rainy day. They say the smell of rain or petrichor (atrributed to the earthy aromatic compound geosmin produced by certain bacteria in the slushy soil) can reduce stress by 60% and make you feel all utopic and empathetic. You are twice as more likely to be the agony aunt to your friend on a misty evening over some piping hot coffee than on hot humid days. See there, dark clouds do have a silver lining!
Seasons, mood and food are as umbilically connected as you to your mother. There is no escape! Sunny demeanours, cloudy minds and stormy relationships: the capriciousness of climates has metaphorically ruled our lives! The only external factor that strikes without a sound, (ofcourse except the lightning thunderstorms!) integrates with our gastronomic, psychosocial and interpersonal behaviour to say the least. So when our mothers used to say, “Go out and play”, they already knew their meteoro-psychology subject too well to dispute!
Walking backwards on life’s journey is surely discouraging but on a jogger’s track, it is terrific!
Walking backwards or retro-walking takes the benefits of conventional walking a few notches higher. The British Journal of Sports Medicine cannot stop raving about this unconventional exercise to upgrade your fitness quotient after the subjects of a few studies showed remarkable improvement in their strength, balance and endurance within 6 weeks of commencing.
The biomechanics of reverse walking is what gives it an edge over others. Conventional forward walking or jogging or running use semitendinosus and semimembranosus tendons and the long head of your biceps femoris forming your hamstrings and the gluteus muscles, which together help rotate your knees and extend your hips. Retro-walking gives a whole new range of movement by using quadriceps and calves to generate motion and also interdependently strengthens your hamstring further. 15-20 minutes of reverse walking gives a more intense and comprehensive workout than you would otherwise attain through an hour of brisk walking.
The retro-walking mutually relies on and delightfully offers benefits out of three main aspects:
You have to rely on your ability to judge the relation between a space you cannot see and your movement. And if you do not have any, you will soon develop some with lightning speed!
‘Tread’ing with caution
The dilemma every jogger or walker lives with: treadmilling or ground-walking. Treadmills are like the harbours; safe and secure. But that is not where the ships are meant to be! Treadmills make your motion easier and predictable.
Nevertheless, though you are sure to get some peripheral support walking on a treadmill, you are equally prone to getting sore on knees and ankles with the parallel belt movement assisting you. When you walk you walk under gravity, not parallel to it. So, if you are looking at long term benefits, hit an open ground. Flat or inclined, natural surfaces are gentler on your joints and at the same time more challenging.
Retro to Rescue
Retro-walking is an excellent rehabilitative exercise for knee and back injuries and even for some motor-co-ordination disorders because it allows a safer stretch-shorten cycle of muscle-tendon units and conditions them uniformly.
Every fitness enthusiast will have a colourful history of injuries and jolts to talks about; some of which they continue to live with because all those months of anti-inflammatories, painful sabbaticals from workouts, home remedies or physical therapies gave up on them. It is perhaps time to start treading backwards.
You will be surprised to see your Achilles heel ready to tango and that stubborn back spiraling through intense vinyasa asanas with ease of a river!
Adding a fresh twist to your regimented workout schedule and getting bigger benefits wouldn’t be a bad deal at all. Alone, or with an exercise buddy, this exercise may at times take you down but will never let you down!
Birbal’s khichdi did take an eon to cook, but for sure, it was the tastiest one in town!
Sitting at the dingiest corner of old Lucknow, watching the dum biryani’s eternal rendezvous with a 100 year old hearth chanced me a perfect analogy of the popular Akbar-Birbal tale. Intrigued to the extent that my stomach forgot it needed fuel, I set forth to decipher what was taking a simple mixture of rice and meat, ages to turn into a cuisine. An eighty two year old chef, a ‘khansama’ as they call him, working there for the longest possible part of his life that his 80+ old memory could recall, replied to my curious inquiry very matter-of-factly in his impeccable syrupy urdu (which I am translating for obvious reasons!), “this dum (steam cooking) takes time to happen. You see that handi (pot)? It first tastes the ingredients, measures the moisture, weighs the nutrition and then uses all this information to cook for you. All this takes time. Sit at ease; Have a cutting chai till your biryani gets ready.” So it was not the flame, it was indeed the pot that tendered me the yummiest biryani of my life!
What takes exactly 2 whistles to cook in my pressure cooker, took half a day to emerge from the earthen pot. But what we have been scraping out of the cooker is nowhere even close to what alighted on our plates from the handi! That day, I leanrt two things; 1. nobody can make better biryani than the 82 year old khansama, and 2. all that cooks, is not vessel! My respect for earthen pots has escalated manifold... Not just for the love of biryani but for the amazing benefits of cooking it hoists.
Slow and steady wins the race
This old axiom befits clay vessel-cooking. It is slow, and steady too. My first hands-on with a clay pot was although not as grueling as I thought it to be, nevertheless a firm test of patience. From the time I put it on the stove (unfortunately I could not get a wooden hearth for action) till I served the biryani for lunch, I could have finished 4 laps of triathlon!
Every conducting material carries thermal inertia: ‘the degree of slowness with which the temperature of a body approaches that of its surroundings’. Metals have it very low while clay pots have it high. Unlike metals, which are super-quick in conducting heat, earthen-wares take their own sweet time. They take up heat slowly and distribute it uniformly throughout the vessel, trickling across every fleck of the ingredients. Slow heat dispersion cooks food slowly, yet steadily and uniformly making sure no part of your cuisine is under-cooked or over-cooked.
What goes in, stays in
The 2 most vital parts of any food commodity are its 1. nutrient content, and 2. moisture content. Earthen or clay vessels are extremely porous in nature; and porosity goes complementary to circulation. Due to their high permeability quotient, the cooking mechanism is propagative and distributive. Heat and moisture inside stays circulated and evenly distributed to every ingredient. It is not surprising that preparations from a clay vessel are very supple and ductile, to say the least. Slow and consistent heat keeps the food, especially meat and fibrous foods, tender and soft, at the same time retaining their nutrition and quality intact. Try out a biryani or a pulao (for the veggies pinching their eyebrows on this biryani-dominated blog!) out of a clay pot and may be another from your nonstick; the remarkable difference in taste, aroma and succulence cannot go unnoticed!
The ultimate acid test
Not always do diamonds cut diamonds; we need a saw at times. Clay due to its alkaline nature, is the best material to combat highly acidic foods. The acidity of meals from clay vessels is easily kneaded while cooking and the food stays soft on our digestive system.
Better than butter
Again, porosity of clay locks moisture and grease inside till the end. It keeps oil well spun with the food and prevents it from evaporating. Which means, the need to addition of any extra oil or butter is slashed . You will be surprised to see your oil rations plummeting in a few weeks with clay vessels at your service!
Burnign the midnight oil
Clay pots work harder and longer than anyone else. But rarely will you be served with a burnt curry! Our biggest worry while cooking is exactly this; a moment away from sight, the food in even our best non-stick pans burn out in anger! But clay promises to never let you down. Clay particles absorb heat to bind to each other but do not let any organic material to stick. Simultaneously, circulating heat waves through the pores prevent overheating of surface and prevent charring. Like the proverbial candle, being clay isn’t easy too!
Quality isn’t expensive; it is priceless.
Buying my first clay pot after the inspirational encounter with mr.khansama was an experience; and shocking too. “Something that can bring out the best a biryani could ever be, cannot be so inexpensive!” I chuckled to myself as the polite potter packed my pot carefully in newspaper.
Earthen-wares are the easiest to manufacture because they do not need any expensive establishments or labour. Potters are everywhere and so are their skills. Usually clay vessels and containers are found at any potter’s hub and can even be made-to-order according to your specifications. They are economical and a break now and then does not tweak your budget much. Yes, we need to follow a bit of procedure to temper a clay pot before use but once done, you have a friend for life!
Earthen for our Earth
Needless to say, nothing can be greener than clay! It is ubiquitous, natural, environment friendly and absolutely recyclable. Teflon coatings and even aluminum for that matter are extremely harsh for not just our surroundings but our tummies too.
What goes around, comes around
We are not just surrounded by the 5 elements, but we are the five elements. Whether it is food cooked in an earthen vessel or water stored in one, our internal is constantly co-existing with the external, in the most utilitarian way. You cannot go wrong choosing the naturals because they are sustainable, healthy and consistent. When it comes to our food, it is not just what we eat but how it is cooked, that affects our system. Clay is one of the most versatile materials to mould into and the friendliest one to practically all kinds of food we eat.
We have an entire street named after the potter’s community here in Bangalore. Yet I ended up at a local fair to pick up my first clay pot, blame it on my poor sense of nativity! Approach your local potters to pick your pieces. It is always a better idea to help artists directly than through retailers. Glazed or unglazed, you are sure to get your desirable vessels and a big smile to thank you for your helping hand!
I could almost taste birbal’s khichdi in my mind after my first morsel of biryani from the clay pot I picked. While my seventh standard moral science period imparted profound moral injunctions from Akbar-Birbal stories, this experience taught me an entirely different lesson from Birbal's khichdi escapade:
Give back to the planet what it gives you, and more than often, cooks for you!