Why have a daily routine?
In Ayurveda, it is considered essential to have a daily routine, called Dinacharya in Sanskrit. To ensure good health and longevity, we can train the body to do things at a fixed, predetermined time every day. The body will eventually settle into that rhythm and start demanding that activity at that time every day.
But a routine is so boring, some may say (I thought so too initially)! This doesn’t mean that you have to kill all spontaneity. Spontaneity is a great gift that is your intrinsic nature. Just follow a routine on a daily basis for activities that we do day in and day out like sleeping, eating, work etc.
Our bodies are dynamic systems that are constantly changing – inhalation and exhalation, anabolism and catabolism, ingestion and excretion – these are all constantly at work. The only way to keep a dynamic system balanced is to have a cyclic rhythm. Take the solar system as an example – although dynamic in nature, there is stability and predictability in this system. Come rain or shine, there is a 24 hour daily cycle, 28 day lunar cycle and 365 day annual cycle with season changes that happen predictably and repeatably, year over year, since time immemorial!
Adopting a daily routine, helps us to live harmoniously with the universe and the cosmic life force. Synchronizing ourselves with nature is one sure shot way of ensuring balance and longevity.
We all know that modern living comes with its unique perks and challenges which make it difficult to always stick to a routine. So, any minor transgressions from this routine won’t constitute as a cardinal crime. You need to be flexible and adaptable, so if your particular situation prevents you from following this routine every once in a while, take it easy, don’t stress. Go with the flow. See what best you can do under the circumstance.The key is to strive to follow this routine at most times, so that the body gets attuned to this rhythm and starts guiding you to make the right choices automatically. Your body will start taking care of you, rather than you taking care of your body. Isn’t that easier and more ideal? 🙂
So, let’s quickly take a look at what the Ayurvedic recommendations for Dinacharya are:
1. Rising/Waking time should ideally be half an hour to 1 hour before sunrise. The earlier one rises before sunrise, the more time one has before the rush of the day starts, to do all the morning rituals, meditate, exercise and plan the upcoming day in a calm and peaceful setting.
Rationale: The 45-50 mins before sunrise is considered the calmest time of the day (Brahmamuhurtham in Sanskrit). It is the time period just before the still night is transformed into dawn with the first trickling of the sun’s rays. This is a time when sattva guna is most prevalent. It is an ideal time for meditating.
2. Morning Cleansing Rituals:
- Cleanse the body with a bowel movement. Drinking 1-2 glasses of warm water should help those who need a “push” with this :). It is said that keeping this water overnight in a copper vessel helps in increasing the ionization of the water which further helps in reducing blood pressure.
- This should be followed by brushing. In the olden days, twigs of certain trees were used for brushing e.g. neem, babbul etc. But a quality brush and toothpaste should suffice. The act of brushing has obvious benefits like cleansing the mouth, killing bacteria and reducing bad breath. Scraping the tongue should also be a part of this cleansing. Using a metal scraper is okay. This important activity removes coating on the tongue and improves taste.
- Gargling with herbal juices or herbal teas (triphala, licorice etc.) helps with soothing the voice, reducing inflammation and strengthening the mucus membrane.
- Cleansing the face with cool water (pitta) or lukewarm water (kapha and vata) helps remove dirt and sweat, helps with acne and improves circulation. And we all know how refreshing and energizing the act of splashing the face with some water early in the morning is! Cleansing the eyes with cool or room temperature water helps in removing eye discharge and improving vision.
3. Meditate for 20-30 minutes. You could also do some chanting, reading from scriptures, pranayama or positive visualization in this time – whatever suits your personality and mood. Among its many benefits, regular meditation calms the mind, increases sattva or clarity, energizes the body, mind and spirit, reduces anxiety, increases confidence, brings a positive attitude towards life and in general helps to express one’s full potential.
4. Do some eye exercises like trataka, watch the morning sun for 1-2 minutes, move eyeballs in clockwise and anticlockwise direction, 6-8 times each. These exercises improve eye muscle strength and improve vision. With all the overuse we subject our eyes to in this day and age, these simple exercise go a long way in ensuring eye health!
5. Get some physical exercise if possible now for as long as time permits – even 15 mins will be good. Exercise should be done in moderation. We all know the benefits of exercise – strengthens body, increases stamina, muscle toning, builds endurance, improves digestion, reduces lethargy, fat and fatigue, increases internal heat and opens srotas (body’s subtle channels) and removes blockages. Vata people should only do mild exercise as too much exertion doesn’t suit them. Pitta people should exercise in moderation while kapha people should do some vigorous exercise to kick start their metabolism. Walking is a good exercise that increases longevity, sharpens the sense organs and intellect, and improves digestion. It is suitable and recommended for all body types.
6. Do an abhyanga or a self administered oil massage for the body. Choose an oil that suits your constitution. In general sesame oil is considered warming in nature, so it is suitable for vata and kapha types and coconut oil is cooling and is good for pitta types. Alternatively, mustard oil is also good for kapha types.
Benefits: Prevents aging, strengthens and tones the body, increases stamina, pacifies vata, smooths skin, prevents wrinkles, calms the mind, improves sleep and vision, heals body faster. Leave oil for 10-15 minutes on the body to let the oil be absorbed well.
Contraindications: Avoid during fever, indigestion, kapha aggravation e.g. cold, cough.
If entire body massage is not feasible every day, in the very least, massage the head, ears and palms and feet.
7. Take a shower now. A shower cleanses skin of impurities and sweat, reduces heat, relaxes body, energizes body, mind and senses, improves digestion, reduces lethargy and sleepiness, opens srotas (subtle body channels) and cleanses subtle malas (wastes like sweat, urine and feces). Avoid a shower during sickness or with very cold water. Bathe once or twice in a day using warm or room temperature water depending on the season and dosha condition. Avoid using hot water for the head since it loosens the hair follicles and the crown chakra is already very heating in nature.
8. After a shower, you can use aromas or perfumes that suit your constitution. For vatas, calming and pacifying aromas like basil, geranium, orange, clove, rose are good since they calm vata, restlessness and anxiety, promote sleep and stabilize metabolism. For pittas, cooling and sweet aromas like sandalwood, mint, rose, jasmine are good since they reduce irritability, anger, jealousy and improve digestion. For kaphas, stimulating and spicy aromas like juniper, ginger, eucalyptus, camphor, clove and saffron are good since they reduce blockages, fat and water retention and stimulate metabolism.
9. Choose appropriate clothing for the season. During spring, choose pastel or light colored clothing. During summer, choose white or cream white hues since they reflect light and help in keeping cool. In winter, dark colors are preferred since they absorb heat.
10. Eat a light and nutritious breakfast at around 8 am.
11. Eat lunch around noon time. Lunch should be your biggest meal of the day since the digestive fires are at their peak during this time and the food has the most time to get digested well.
12. Get a power nap ideally while lying down on your left side since this position facilitates digestion. Alternatively, if a nap is not feasible, you could go for a leisurely walk for 15-20 minutes.
13. After getting back home from work in the evening, relax. Do your exercise now if you didn’t get the chance in the morning.
14. Have a light dinner at around 7 pm. Dinner should be light, cooked (not raw) and easy to digest. Ensure that there is a 2 hour gap at least between dinner and bedtime.
15. Relax after dinner with the family. Read, listen to music, do some dishes or watch television.
16. Go to bed by 10 pm. Ideally, try to sleep between 10 pm and 5 am. Sound sleep is a sign of good health. The reverse is also true i.e. sleep is essential to maintain good health. Our body, mind and senses need a rest after the entire day. Subtle digestion takes place during the pitta time of night. At night, we process information taken in during the day and create meaning and realization out of it. At night, tamasa guna is predominant, so the body and mind automatically crave sleep and rest during this time. Don’t try to fight this natural urge by staying up late too often.
While on the topic of sleep, it is worth mentioning that very heavy sleep due to a hangover, kapha aggravation or excessive physical exertion is considered unhealthy. Likewise, insomnia or waking too early like at 3am is considered a vata aggravation, likely exacerbated by mental agitation, worry, anxiety, depression, fear or pain.
So, that’s it. We’re at the end of the list. If all this seems like more than you can possibly handle, fear not. It’s a natural reaction shared by most of us! In this day and age of “fast” everything, who has the time to do all this on a given day, forget everyday. My suggestion would be to inculcate as many of these guidelines as is practically permissible by your personality, work and family situation. For example, if the morning routine seems endless to you, pick and choose what you can easily follow, without stressing yourself out unnecessarily and stick with those. Then, see if you want to slowly incorporate some more of the recommendations.
In the end, it is wellness that we are all striving to achieve. The purpose would be completely defeated if in trying to follow all the above recommendations, you become so stressed out that you run out of steam and don’t want anything to do with Dinacharyas or Ayurvedic anything ever again! 🙂 Balance is the key. Do what is feasible. Even incorporating some of these techniques will help. Take baby steps and give yourself due credit for the progress you have made.
Choose wisely and live well!