The slender, young woman had just given me a one-hour massage. My mind and body were euphorically relaxed and I wanted to go home, make a pot of chai, and extend the life-is-good feeling that I had paid for.
But now, as I put away my credit card, the young woman wanted to sell me "renewing" eye cream. She held forth an open sample and began to blabber on about its benefits. She said it would smooth out my wrinkles. She said it would get rid of my dark circles. Finally, with great enthusiasm, she said it was made by a company that was, like, totally committed to doing everything organic, and she handed me the company's 48-page printed booklet.
I have never used eye cream, and was doubtful any product -- whether the highest-end cosmetic or engine oil -- could stop this advance of nature. Our outermost skin, the epidermis, is composed of dead cells, sloughed off every 48 days and replaced by a new army of dead cells whose job description includes protecting us from the environment. The epidermis keeps out germs. It keeps out moisture. This is why if you bob for an apple, your face won't absorb the bucket of water.
So, how could a dab of cream, applied under my middle-aged eyes, renew these particular skin cells so that they appeared to belong to a teenager?
Did I want to start with a small sample? the young woman asked me. And I said yes for three reasons. Primarily, I wanted her to stop talking; every sales-oriented sentence she spoke eroded my massage-induced tranquility. But I also liked the smell and feel of the cream (it was light yellow and had a whipped texture), and I wanted to see for myself if eye cream was all that.
Back home, I begin to dab on the product as instructed. I did this faithfully twice a day for one month, under my right eye only.
The definition of renew is "to make new, fresh, or strong again." There is usually something in our lives, besides youthful appearance, that we wish to renew: a relationship with a parent, child, or spouse; our commitment to an activity that nurtures us; our physical strength.
In late December, the sun makes its annual promise of renewal. Each day, it stays above the horizon roughly one minute longer here in the Midwest. Sixty seconds may not sound like much, but it is; it's a reminder to be patient in fallow times.
Renewing anything meaningful is never as easy as screwing open a lid. If it was, the age lines and dark circles under my right eye would have been minimized after one month of faithfully applying the refreshing-smelling cream. I would look younger -- at least one half of me would. Instead, the areas around my two eyes remained identical.
The one thing that was renewed: my suspicion of anti-aging claims.
“Protein in the morning gets converted into dopamine, which energizes you,” said W. Christopher Winter, MD, Medical Director at the Martha Jefferson Sleep Center in Charlottesville, Virginia. Yes to meat, poultry, seafood, beans, peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds. Go easy on carbs (breads and cereals) and processed foods with lots of added sugar that will make you feel groggy.
“The best time is right when you wake up. It gets your body used to revving up in the morning. If you can stay to a routine, it’s amazing what it will do to your energy and attitude,” says Dr. Winter. It doesn’t have to be rigorous. In fact, gentle yoga, qigong or tai chi routines have been shown to be very effective in getting the body and brain started for the day. (You can find videos to follow by searching on Youtube.) Twenty minutes is optimal, but an intense five can do the trick particularly in a bright, stimulating environment.
An Oxford University study found that pranayama or yoga breathing “had a markedly invigorating effect on perceptions of both mental and physical energy and increased high positive mood.” The most common form is called Three Part Breath or Dirgha Breath. You can do it lying in bed: Inhale deeply through your nose, filling up belly your belly first. Expand your belly like a balloon. Continue to inhale, expanding ribs like gills on a fish. When you are completely full, empty yourself slowly but completely, exhaling through your nose. Do six to 10 rounds.
According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, light is the main cue influencing circadian rhythms, turning on or turning off genes that control your internal clock. Roll up your shades as soon as you’re awake. If you can’t get natural light in your bedroom, consider a lightbox or alarm that slowly gets brighter, simulating dawn. If you don’t want to get that fancy, just flip on a regular light as soon as you get up.
You lose a lot of fluid when you sleep and breathe at night, and unfortunately, dehydration can make you feel sluggish and sleepy. Rehydrating can go a long way in making you feel more alert. You don’t have to chug, just quench your thirst.
Set your alarm for when you must get up and stick to that. Hitting snooze over and over just leads to fragmented, fitful sleeping and you’ll wake up more tired. If you can’t trust yourself, move your alarm to a place you can’t reach it.
“Regardless of how well you slept or when you went to sleep, always get up at a set wake-up time,” recommends Dr. Winter. Our circadian rhythm, the biological process that drives your sleep-wake cycle, needs consistency in order to work correctly. Not everyone needs eight hours—some need more, some can get by on less. If you stick to a set wake up time, your body will start telling you when to go to bed in order to achieve your optimal amount of rest. The overall routine will help you get the healthy sleep you need to replenish your energy stores, which means you won’t wake up as bedraggled.
The best way to wake up refreshed is to get a good night’s sleep. This means: No caffeine after lunch since caffeine can be a stimulant and keep you awake. And only one glass of wine at dinner. Too much wine can knock you out, then cause you to wake up during the night. Make sure your room is cool. “The drop off in temperature is a natural cue for your body to fall asleep,” said Dr. Winter. Don’t exercise near bedtime—it will just rouse your body. Stay off the computer—and away from any lit screen—an hour before bed. The light makes your brain think it’s day time. (If you must, download F.lux at stereopsis.com/flux. It’s a free software program that makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the light in the room.)
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