First, a confession. I love music and have been obsessed with rhythm from an early age. I grew up in South Africa, where music and its ritual use are a very important part of the way of life in traditional African cultures. In my home, music was always playing from the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep. What I did not know then, was that my love for music and rhythm, would be a portal into understanding the way I see health today.
In 1984, a few years after finishing my medical training in South Africa, my wife and I emigrated to the USA and settled in New York City – we could no longer continue living under Apartheid. I completed a 3 year residency in Internal Medicine and for a number of years after that, immersed myself in the study of Chinese Medicine, Functional Medicine, Nutrition, Yoga and Meditation. When I opened my own clinic, the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in Manhattan in 1992, I had a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of my Western training and of all the other systems I had been studying.
Over the years, I started seeing more and more patients coming in complaining of feeling exhausted, depressed, overwhelmed, achy, run down and older than their years. They weren’t sleeping well, had no sex drive and were running on empty. I labeled this “syndrome” SPENT because that’s how these patients were feeling. It is a modern day stress syndrome and has become epidemic. Western Medicine does not have any solutions for it and in fact, does not even recognize that it exists despite so many people feeling this way.
When I started thinking about why this was happening, I realized that the only time I never saw patients who had these symptoms was when I was working as a doctor 28 years ago in KwaNdebele, a rural area in South Africa. I saw diseases symptomatic of physical hardship, of poverty and malnutrition, very different to what I see today in my practice. There was no electricity, indoor heating or refrigeration in KwaNdebele. Folks went to bed when it got dark, arose with the sun and ate whatever foods were available in season. They lived in accordance with the cycles and rhythms of nature, they had to.
I thought about what I had learned in Chinese medicine, that humans are part of the natural world and governed by the universal forces of nature. Human bodies do not exist in isolation; we are creatures of our environment and are subject to the powerful dictates of cyclic rhythm. This rhythm is an integral part of the self-organizing dynamic of nature and so I looked to see if there was scientific research on what I thought was happening. Sure enough there was a field called chronobiology, the science that examines cyclical phenomena in living organisms. Your body has more than 100 Circadian rhythms. They are based roughly on nature’s 24-hour cycle, influencing different aspects of your body’s function, including sleep & wake cycles, body temperature, hormone levels, brain wave activity, heart rate, blood pressure and even pain threshold. These rhythms are part of every aspect of our body’s inner working. Although most of us know that such rhythms exist, we fail to appreciate their power in determining our health. Even in medical circles, chronobiology, the study of physiological rhythm is consistently underrated.
We have internal body clocks set precisely to these rhythms and cycles of nature. The “master clock” is located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a distinct group of cells located in the hypothalamus, which uses signals like light and darkness to know when to release certain hormones and neurotransmitters, which tell us when to wake or go to sleep. Destruction of the SCN results in the complete absence of a regular sleep/wake rhythm. Light is the drummer in our physiological band or orchestra, it keeps the beat, our body clocks try to harmonize themselves with nature.
Comment from Leslie
I have been talking about this for years. Women’s hormone cycles are directly related to circadian rhythyms and the natural cycles of the universe. That is what made us Goddesses many moons ago.
Read more in my book titled, “Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle.”