If waking up ready for the day is a foreign concept, midday crashes a regular occurrence and restlessness at bedtime a trend, it may be time to reset your clock. According to Ayurveda one of the keys to good health is living in tune with nature's cycles. This literally and energetically means rising and setting with the sun. It's a tall ask to do this nowadays, but there are more easeful ways to align your system more closely with the cycles of nature, like establishing morning and nighttime rituals known as dinacharya (dina - day, charya - routine). These daily practices support your overall physiology and help you & your energy align with daily rhythms.
Dr Vasant Lad of The Ayurvedic Institute says that "a daily routine is absolutely necessary to bring radical change in body, mind, and consciousness. Routine helps to establish balance by regularizing a person's biological clock, aiding digestion, absorption and assimilation, and generating self-esteem, discipline, peace, happiness, and longevity."
Sounds good, doesn't it?
To create a dinacharya of your own, select a few morning and evening rituals below that feel inviting and easeful—no stress here! The morning practices you can choose from are designed to be cleansing and energizing; they'll infuse you with a sense of clarity and presence. The evening ones are oriented around helping your body settle down, digest the day and enjoy restful sleep.
Choose one or two of these self-care steps that you feel you can commit to for a week. After the first 7-10 days, take note of your energy level and mood. As you notice benefits in both your mind and body, add a few more practices to each routine and repeat the observation process. Over time, and with repetition, your rituals may become as routine as brushing your teeth! And with a little more sweetness, I hope.
Morning Rituals: Goal is to cleanse and energize.
RISE & SHINE
1. Rise. Living in harmony with nature begins by rising with the sun when the vibrant, uplifting energy of Vata is most dominant. It is believed that early morning is the most sacred time of day because the atmosphere is still and quiet, making it easier to turn inward, beginning the day peace in both mind & heart. Waking up after sunrise, on the other hand, means that we emerge during a time dominated by Kapha's heavy, sticky energy orienting us to a start that is sluggish, even when we've "slept in". Realistically, it's difficult for most of us to wake up at sunrise, given our long days and late nights. But we can establish a routine of waking up at the same time everyday—yes, even on weekends. Believe me, consistency does more for your body than a few lazy days here and there.
2. Prepare. The way that you start your morning, from the moment you get out of bed, can set the tone for your entire day. But unless you're naturally morning person, getting up on the right side of the bed may be a big challenge. Still, there are a few things we can do to give ourselves the best start possible. One of favorite practice is imagining the type of day I want to have: how I want to feel, what I want to prioritize and enjoy. Basically, I create a rough sketch of what I want to offer & receive from the day ahead, making it a bit more inviting to get out of bed. You can do this or create a mental gratitude list of a few things that make you feel happy to be alive. Whatever it is, take a few moments to till the soil and plant positive seeds for your day.
3. Purify. Ayurveda recommends a practice called tongue scraping to remove the coating that appears overnight, which contains ama, or toxins, said to be the root of all illness. Using a tongue scraper, gently comb your tongue from back to front several times. (Doing this before you brush your teeth also stimulates the digestive system, preparing the body for breakfast.)
4. Sip. Before eating or pouring your coffee, squeeze the juice of half a lemon in a cup of warm water and drink up! The warm water serves to stimulate the gastrointestinal tract and peristalsis—the waves of muscle contractions within the intestinal walls that keep things moving. Secondly, lemons (and limes) are high in minerals and vitamins and help loosen ama, or toxins, that have accumulated in the digestive tract.
5. Move. Do some exercise that suits your mood and the season. When done regularly, exercise grounds us, boosts the digestive fire, and burns away toxicity. Adding yoga to your routine will open and clear your energy channels, as well as your physical body. Basically, even if it's just for a few minutes, move yo' body!
6. Meditate. Meditation can be as simple as listening to your breath. In sitting still, even for just a few minutes, you create an oasis of calm and relaxation that we otherwise rarely find once the day gets underway. It may feel challenging to begin with, but like any skill it takes time—and lowered expectations for something to "happen". Meditation it is not about making something happen, but simply being present for the exercise of watching your mind. It isn't even about trying to control or quiet anything but a practice in being at ease. For more on meditation and how to begin, checkout this post on Meditation for Beginners.
Evening Rituals: Goal is to wind down and enjoy restful sleep.
UNWIND THE DAY
1. Dim. As the sun goes down lower the lights in your home, allowing frenetic pace of the day to settle. Low lighting helps quiet the mind and allow the body to prepare for sleep, while bright lights confuses your circadian rhythms disrupting the natural hormones that create that “sleepy feeling.” This means turning off your screens (computers, cellphones, TVs), too! Research now confirms that screens disconnect us from our circadian rhythms and create too much mental stimulation right before bed.
2. Infuse. As night falls, light a stick of incense or a cozy smelling candle. From an Ayurvedic perspective, scents like vanilla, lavender & sandalwood have a calming and grounding effect. And as our brains begin to associate these aromas with a particular state of being, such as relaxation, a link is created so that the next time we breathe in that aroma, our neurophysiology remembers and repeats a state of relaxation.
3. Nourish. Before bed, heat a cup of organic milk or milk alternative and stir in a few healing spices like Elemental Alchemy's Spiced Golden Milk or simply a pinch of ground cardamom, nutmeg (spices that, in Ayurveda, are said to promote sleep), and cinnamon (to aid digestion). Don't drink milk(s)? Sip chamomile, valerian, or lemon balm tea for a similar sedative effect.
4. Soothe. There are several marma points, or Ayurvedic pressure points, on the foot that correspond to the entire body. Even without knowing where they are or what they correlate to, an warm oil foot massage can relax the entire body in just a few minutes.
Instructions: Wash and dry your feet. Apply warmed olive or coconut oil to one foot at a time, using your palms to rub the sole from heel to toe in small circular motions. Repeat on the top of the foot. Massage the ankle, followed by the sides of the foot, Then, interlace your fingers between your toes, gently push the foot to flex and point, and make clockwise and counterclockwise circles. Beginning with the little toe, rub each toe gently, and apply a little pressure in the webbing. Finally, pull each toe slightly, and put on clean socks to sleep in.
5. Reflect. Once in bed and lying down, mentally go backwards through your day in increments of 30 minutes or an hour. Try to register what was happening and what you were experiencing without judgment, but childlike curiosity. Notice your feelings, relax and try to let go of the mental pictures as you deepen your breath. End with the image of you waking up that morning. Likely, you’ve already drifted off to sleep before you do!