Elements of predictability make the world go round. We know when the Sun will rise and set, and that we will need to nourish ourselves with food, water, breath, movement and sleep. We are creatures of habit; even the most spontaneous of us, the creatives, and all those who resist doing the same things again and again. Every human system thrives upon regularity and balance. Many of us are so busy surviving, or doing the things we have always done just because that’s what we do, that life can lose it’s magic and excitement. We are driving our vehicles asleep at the wheel. When we awaken and approach all of our necessary tasks from a perspective of mindfulness and wonder, life becomes more rich and intentional. Routine becomes ritual, the mundane becomes sacred. This is living yoga.
Ayurveda, the science of life from ancient India, is a perspective that goes hand and hand with yoga. Yoga is the practice of mastering the mind. Ayurveda is the practice of maintaining the health and balance of the body, mind, spirit matrix. Ayurveda aims to harmonize all aspects of ones reality using lifestyle practices like asana, nutritional principles and food therapies, herbal medicines, chanting, meditation, breathing, gem and color therapies, astrology, acupressure and acupuncture, body work techniques with medicinal oils, steams and poultices, and much more.
Simple and common wisdoms are often seen in Ayurvedic recommendations. It isn’t necessary to follow complicated measures in order to be healthy. Many of today’s popular “health and wellness” trends actually create more imbalance because they are unnecessarily aggressive or extreme, and not appropriate for everyone (especially if someone is already pretty healthy to begin with). There is no “one size fits all” in most traditions of natural medicine. An important phrase to keep in mind is the question, “For whom and when?”. This can illuminate understanding about what practices are right for each of us as individuals in our current environments.
Dinacharya: Daily Routine
Cultivating a morning routine is the first place to start on any path to wellness. In Ayurveda this is called a dinacharya. You can indulge in a morning ritual that includes hours of yoga, meditation, chanting, oil massage, journaling, tea drinking, tarot consulting, crystal healing, breath work and more. During the times in life where that is an option for you, take advantage and invest in self care. The return on your investment will be there for you to draw upon for years to come. It isn’t selfish or overly dramatic, it is a beautiful way to find nourishment. Always remember, with any practice, not to be rigid and to maintain balance.
If your reality makes 10-30 minutes more likely for a morning routine, work with what you’ve got. Just commit to it and make it a priority. On the days that I resist selfcare in the mornings (and it happens to the best of us), I never feel as centered, clear and empowered as on the days when I start off by honoring the sacred within myself and the world that I am a vital part of.
The most simple way to bring more aliveness and joy into each day is to express gratitude first thing in the morning the moment you realize you are awake. Express gratitude for everything you can call to mind and deeply welcome all of the beauty life has to show you. Open as a vessel for divine love. Offer yourself willingly to be of service for the benefit of the whole and to experience the process of living fully. Create your own version of this intention in a way that resonates and feels good. We all have a unique relationship with the One. This only takes a few seconds and sets the tone for the day.
Stay on a Schedule
It is beneficial for our circadian rhythms and hormonal cycles to have a regular schedule. This means go to bed and arise at around the same time each day. Stick with it as much as you can. Of course it is not always possible, and there is a fine line between being committed and being neurotic. For some, a consistent schedule may never be possible because of work or home environments. Again, work with your reality. Notice how you feel if you follow the rhythms of the Sun and spend more time awake when the Sun is up and more time resting when the Sun is down.
Getting out of bed before 6:00am is highly recommended in Ayurveda. Rising with the Sun is ideal! From the Ayurvedic perspective, our daily clock is divided into six 4-hour periods. Each of the tri-dosha (Vata, Pita or Kapha) governs two of the six periods. 6am-10am and 6pm-10pm are ruled by Kapha (elements of water and earth), 10am-2pm and 10pm-2am ruled by Pita (fire and water), and 2pm-6pm and 2am-6am are ruled by Vata (air and space).
Arising during Vata time and before Kapha time (before 6am) helps us feel light and clear rather than heavy and foggy. Modern science agrees that syncing our circadian rhythms with Nature has many health benefits, specifically increased immunity and decreased inflammation.
Now that we’re up, the next item of business is to go to the bathroom. Even if you don’t feel the urge to go, empty your bladder right away. When our body is at rest, it works on homeostatic functions like digestion, absorption of nutrients, repair, rejuvenation and detoxification. When we eliminate the toxic by-products of these processes efficiently, our body doesn’t have to work as hard to maintain balance and can direct the extra life-force towards other functions that contribute to optimal health.
Another way to assist our body’s natural detoxification process is to scrape our tongue as the next step of a morning ritual. Do this before drinking, eating, and even speaking, too. Tongue scrapers can be procured at most natural food stores and on-line. Stainless steel is my recommended choice because it is easy to keep clean and lasts forever. Gently scrape away the thick white coating toward the back of the tongue that is only there first thing when we wake up. If we don’t scrape it off, it is a burden to our system that requires more vital energy to re-process and eliminate. It is a combination of accumulated mouth bacteria and ama (a toxic by-product of digestion). After scraping, rinse and spit with clean water.
Now is a good time to brush your teeth and wash your face. You can add other cleansing practices like neti (rinsing the sinuses) or washing the eyes. These techniques can be especially helpful if you suffer from seasonal allergies.
Hydration is next up. We lose up to a pound and a half (or just over half a liter) of water each night while we are sleeping simply by breathing. Water is necessary for the healthy functioning of our nervous system, digestion, joint lubrication and pretty much everything else. On average, the human body is made up of about 60% water. The classic Ayurvedic morning drink is warm water with lemon.
Why warm? Warm water is easier for our body to assimilate because it is closer to our internal temperature than cold water. Cold causes our tissues to contract, warm helps our system to relax and function better. Why lemon? Lemon water is a natural electrolyte, which replenishes our vital micronutrients. Lemon is high in Vitamin C, an antioxidant important for immunity, healing and repair. Warm lemon water is delicious anytime of day, but consuming it first thing in the morning is an effective way to support the activity of our organs, tissues and cells. If you don’t have lemons or warm water, a glass of pure room temperature water also works wonders.
Meditate and Move
Depending on how much time you have to work with and the structure of your day, the remaining non-negotiables for our morning ritual are movement, meditation and a bite to eat. You can spend a few minutes doing some gentle stretching, or take more time and focus to move your body in a way that is appropriate to your vikruti (current state of balance including environmental factors). Walking the dog counts, as long as you are mindful and tuned into the present moment. Taking the time to connect with your body and breath in the morning helps to circulate Prana (vital energy). Just like water, energy is only clear when it is able to flow. When it is blocked or stagnated it becomes rancid. Your sacred movement practice can be done before or after meditation.
Meditation can mean many things. It is extolled by countless experts, practitioners and traditions for its myriad of benefits. If you can only find five minutes to meditate, take five minutes. If you have longer, spend 20 minutes or as long as you like. This practice can include prayer, creating art, repeating a mantra or watching your thoughts. There are a multitude of techniques, you only need one. Develop a relationship with the method that works best for you. Hundreds of studies have been done showing that a daily meditation practice can be an effective treatment for stress, anxiety, depression, cardiovascular health, insomnia, PTSD, addiction and more.
Breakfast is another way to practice self love. Feed all of your senses. Don’t eat on the go. Turn off your screen. Take this opportunity to incorporate mindful eating. Nourish yourself with warm and lubricating foods. Avoid cold, dry and crunchy as these qualities aggravate Vata and over consumption can result in feelings of insecurity, anxiety or spaceness, as well as digestive problems.
There are many other elements one can add to this process. Abhyanga (oil massage) may be something to incorporate on the weekends, when you have more time or as part of an evening routine. A night time ritual is just as important as a morning ritual. Choose activities that will help you wind down and get to sleep before Pita time kicks in at 10pm. When we are asleep before 10pm (more or less), we tend to enjoy the deep, sound sleep that is characteristic of Kapha. An early bedtime makes an early wake-up much more enjoyable!
With these simple components as the building blocks of your dinacharya, you can support the rest of your day upon a strong foundation so that you feel grounded as you co-create your reality. Following meaningful, conscious practices will create supportive structure. This will help to establish systemic balance on all levels. Notice how it feels to incorporate these techniques into your day and you will understand the simple wisdom of Ayurveda.