Part 1 // Evening Routine
Ayurveda teaches that to maintain a healthy life free from disease, we must follow a daily routine or daily flow of ritual conduct. In fact, the Ayurvedic Rishis, the insightful Sages who defined the Vedic Sciences, considered a consistent daily routine to be a stronger healing force than any other medicine! Practicing a daily routine will help you live from your heart with a quiet mind. The daily ritual practice in Ayurveda is called dinacharya. The art and science of dinacharya provides a scaffolding for daily activity that is informed by the cycles of nature, by circadian rhythm. When you synchronize your unique personal rhythm with the natural biorhythms of nature, you are working with the environment within which you live, not against it. It is like turning the boat you have been paddling against the current downstream.
These days, many of us, especially those who live in urban environments, have fallen out of sync with the natural cycles of the day. We are fighting unnecessarily against a current of our own creation. Many of us are tired and wired, fried from long work days and social evenings, yet unable to settle into deep rest at night. When we sleep, our bodies’ work of decompression and detoxification begins. Our organs get busy ‘taking out the trash’, sorting the inputs we have accumulated during the day, and setting aside what is not needed and/or toxic to our systems to be eliminated in the morning.
The evening routine in Ayurveda is quite simple, its major goals being to nourish the body and settle the mind, so that you may completely relax into deep rest. Winding down begins as you make your way home. If the day has been particularly stressful, consider taking a few deep breaths to release tension before crossing the threshold of your front door.
Dine Preparing your own food is always preferable to purchasing a meal, as you are able to manage both the quality of the ingredients as well as the energy moving into the food during its preparation. Choose something light to eat for dinner, like soup, steamed vegetables, or a small bowl of grains. As a general rule, dinner must be lighter than lunch. Do your best to finish eating by 7PM, or at least 3 hours before bedtime.
Hush As the sun sets, begin to dim the lights in your home and turn your attention away from screens. Turn off the television, computer, phone, and iPad. Spend quiet time with loved ones, reading, or do some light tidying and arranging of your home, especially your bedroom. A disorganized or messy atmosphere can contribute to an unsettled mind. Cultivate a serene environment. This is a great opportunity for a seated meditation practice.
Soften Draw a warm bath. Add epsom salts to soothe your muscles and perhaps a few drops of essential oils like lavender, ylang ylang, or bergamot, all scents which promote relaxation. Essential oils may also be added to a diffuser, candle, massaged into skin, or misted over linens. Sitting on your bed, massage gently the soles of your feet from heel to toes, including all of the space around your toes, then the top of your foot and your ankle using warmed sesame, castor, or coconut oil. Apply pressure using the tips of all of your fingers. As you do so, you will be activating reflexive marma points, or Ayurveda’s pressure point system. The feet contain reflex points relative to every organ system in the body; applying pressure to these marma points is like flipping a switch that, when open, allows for increased flow of energy. Giving this special attention to the feet will both relax the autonomic nervous system and destress the central nervous system.
Remedy Sometimes, despite our best efforts to find quiet in the evenings, that overactive, just-can’t-settle-down energy keeps us awake. Sipping on a warm cup of Tulsi, linden or chamomile tea is often enough to diffuse restlessness, but if the occasion calls for something stronger, a cup of spiced, warm milk is recommended in Ayurveda for insomnia and anxiety relief. A sleep tonic is simple to make and will ensure deep, restorative sleep. Whisk milk (or alternative milk, like hemp or almond), warming spices like cardamom, nutmeg, and cinnamon with a sweet adaptogen like Ashwagandha and a little ghee or coconut oil on low heat until hot. Add honey or maple syrup for sweetness. Sip warm!
Rest Try to be in bed before you are completely exhausted. Going to bed by 10PM is recommended, otherwise, your system may catch a second wind and become revitalized. Remember, it is during your sleeping hours that your body and your mind detoxify. The minimum recommended sleep for all people is 7 hours. Take a few long, deep inhales and exhales through your nose to clear any nagging energy from the day. Do your best to fall asleep with a sense of creative intelligence in your heart, remembering that everything has a way of working itself out.
Part 2 // Morning Routine
Health, in Ayurveda, an ancient holistic medical science, is synonymous with balance. Here, balance means immunity to disease in the body and the mind. Ayurveda teaches that the body and mind are in constant interaction with all beings and with Nature. There are conversations taking place between you and everything around you which your body and mind are regulating at all times! Each conversation is an input which serves to maintain balance, a healthy condition, or to disturb that balance. Some of the loudest conversations taking place are those between our body, mind and the natural world, nature.
One of the most profound ways to ensure these conversations are harmonious is to listen to nature’s rhythms, observe nature’s cycles, then adopt them, matching your internal rhythms to those of your environment. This practice of aligning your body’s natural rhythms with the daily cycles of nature, called dinacharya in Ayurveda, brings balance, prevents disease, and gives you the experience of good health.
In Sanskrit, the word din means ‘day’ and acharya means ‘to follow’, compounding to provide an outline of basic rituals that can be used to establish a rhythm for your life that is in line with that of the environment within which you live. These rituals are performed throughout the day, each with different intentions and different consequences. The afternoon rituals are relevant to eating and working to improve digestion and nourishment of the body and mind.
The evening routine revolves around calming the mind, preparing the body for rest, so that it can adequately rejuvenate and detoxify while you sleep. Special emphasis is placed on morning dinacharya, which serves to rid the body of waste products and toxins that have risen to the surface of your tissues during the night. While you’ve been sleeping, your body has been collecting ama or waste products from digestion and cellular metabolism. The morning is the time to remove them from the body while simultaneously warming up the body for a day of work. The morning routine consists of specific instructions to purify each sense organ.
Eyes + Ears Awaken by 6AM, or if you are feeling ambitious, before sunrise, when the air is fresh, the energy is clear and your mind is alert. If using an alarm, make it a pleasant song or tone so you are not startled when it rings. Sense the energy of the day before opening your eyes or getting out of bed. Inhale deeply through the top of your head into chest cavity. When you open your eyes, take a moment to look at your hands, connecting with the larger cosmos. Move to the bathroom. Evacuate your bladder and bowels. Wash your hands, then gently rinse your eyes, followed by the rest of your face, and ears with cool water. This refreshing action cools the heat that has accumulated overnight and helps to avoid seeing or hearing through irritated sense organs.
Mouth Using a tongue scraper, preferably made of stainless steel or copper, scrape your tongue from the root of your tongue to the tip. Remove any white coating that has built up while you’ve slept and rinse it down the drain. Tongue scraping also helps to stimulate digestion. Follow this with a round of oil pulling: swish a tablespoon amount of sesame or coconut oil in your mouth for 10-15 minutes. These oils have natural antimicrobial effects that clean and strengthen the gums, reduce tooth cavities, eradicate bad breath and even whiten the teeth! When you spit out the oil, your mouth will be well disinfected and lubricated. Brush away any excess oil on your teeth using a soft bristle toothbrush and a natural toothpaste or powder. Once your mouth is clean, drink a glass of warm water, a simple action that will assist in the stimulating and cleansing the gastrointestinal tract, removing excess mucous and bodily wastes.
Skin The skin is your largest detoxification organ! Use a dry brush or coarse washcloth to unclog pores, excrete toxins that have become trapped in the skin, remove dead skin cells, and increase circulation and lymphatic drainage. Begin at your feet, then brush up your legs, working in long strokes until you reach your pelvis. Start again with the palms of your hands, working up your arms and towards your heart. Repeat on your abdomen and back. Perform 10 or so strokes for each part of your body. Once you are thoroughly brushed, perform abhyanga, or self massage by applying sesame or coconut oils to your skin and scalp. Abhyanga is not meant to be a relaxing massage. Rather it is a vigorous rub down, taking no more than 5-7 minutes, with extra care given to joints, to improve the quality of your skin while enhancing the flow of vital energy. The oil not only provides nourishment and strength to your tissues, but also acts as a detoxifying agent, creating a vacuum on top of your skin to pull out surface toxins. Rinse these toxins away in a shower or bath in slightly warmer than body temperature water. Use a natural, pH balanced soap, so that you are not removing the natural oils of your skin.
Nose Now that your mouth, and skin are moisturized, follow suit by lubricating your nasal passage with a nurturing nasya oil. Nasya is an herbal infused oil which relieves the nasal passage of dryness, improving your ability to breathe. Some infusions contain cognitive boosting herbs, like Bacopa and Gotu Kola, which help to clear morning brain fog. Tilt your head backwards and place 12 drops of nasya oil into one nostril at a time, inhaling deeply.
Mind After thoroughly cleansing your body, it is time to ‘take the trash’ out of your mind with a round of seated meditation. There are many approaches to finding peace within the mind from Vedic meditation/Transcendental Meditation to breath work to mindfulness practice or even a guided meditation. Experiment to choose one which works for you. In comfortable clothing, find a quiet space where you will not be disturbed. Notice your breath, allowing calmness to fall over your ears. Give yourself 10-20 minutes to practice letting go of resistance and reactions to whatever arises. When you are ready, gently open your eyes, and smile.
The morning dinacharya rituals are simple tools anyone can incorporate into their morning routine to help optimize their physical body, providing a healthy container and vehicle for the mind. A few minutes spent on any one of these practices will not only invigorate your senses, but clean and organize your mind for exceptional living!
Establishing a new routine takes time and commitment, so be kind to yourself as you experiment with these routines. Consider trying one at a time, paying close attention to how your body feels as a result, both immediately and throughout the day. As you practice these rituals of detoxification, you are honoring yourself, your body, and that which created you. You are engaging in rituals that will help improve your health, happiness, and access to powerful energy.