Do you ever start the day thinking, “I’m going to work against myself today?” Of course you don’t. Not knowingly. The thing is: The way you go about your day does affect how you feel and how your body functions. So if you’re like most people I talk to, who could benefit from greater life balance, let’s talk about something that really works. There is a way: how to intentionally start your day so your mind and body can work in harmony as you’re challenged with day-to-day tasks, distractions and everything else that comes your way. It’s an Ayurvedic practice called dinacharya.
What dinacharya is and how can it help you
Dinacharya is a powerful daily routine used in Ayurveda. In Sanskrit, the word dinacharya means to follow the knowledge of the day, and that’s what we are doing: following a schedule of practices that are aligned with the natural rhythm or flow of life. This puts you in control of your day—and it can bring radical change to your mind and body. For example, it stabilizes your circadian rhythms, eating patterns, and bodily functions, which in turn improves your digestion and your overall feeling of happiness.
What it means to follow the rhythm of the day
Even if you’re not well-versed in Ayurveda, you probably already know how certain things like sleep are best to keep at the same time each day. To understand it from an Ayurvedic perspective, let’s look at our day in terms of doshas. During the day, we flow through different phases: vata, pitta and kapha. Just as these three doshas, or energetic forces of nature, make up your personal constitution, they are also represented in the day. When our practices follow the flow of the day, we set ourselves up for optimal digestion, focus, productivity, health and wellbeing.
- 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. is kapha time. This can be a sluggish and heavy time, making it ideal for lighter eating and Ayurvedic practices (introduced in the next section) to start your day well.
- 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. is pitta time. This can be characterized by increased heat in the air and in our bodies, which can be harnessed for productivity and high agni (a Sanskrit word meaning “digestive fire”).
- 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. is vata time. This is generally a time of transition, good for promoting creativity, problem solving or peaceful comfort, depending on your nature.
- 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. is kapha time. The return of sluggish and heavy feelings influence a smaller meal and winding down in a soothing way.
- 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. is pitta time. Active qualities return in the form of internal cleansing.
- 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. is vata time. As another transitional time, it can promote deep rest and peaceful rising.
11 Dinacharya day-starters that promote overall balance and health
Here are my 11 favorite Ayurvedic practices for starting the day. They’re things I like to do before breakfast and looking at my phone. I realize that may sound like a lot, but don’t let it overwhelm you. When adopting Ayurvedic practices, start gradually and realize even small, consistent changes make an impact. For me, these morning rituals take 1 to 1.5 hours and make all the difference, helping me feel more grounded and peaceful as I go about my day.
1. Wake up early for optimal refreshment.
It is best to wake up before sunrise, or on average before 6 a.m. It can be far more refreshing to rise and start your day when vata is dominant rather than kapha’s heavy, sluggish period. Before going to bed, set an intention to wake up early and dedicate it as a time of self-care. It’ll be your opportunity to create inner awareness through silent practices. Putting it first allows you to harness this energy throughout your day and ensures other demands won’t get in the way of this important practice.
2. Set an intention before getting out of bed.
Say a positive affirmation, prayer or mantra with personal meaning to set your intentions for the day.
3. Makeover your mouth with oil pulling.
Oil pulling cleanses your mouth and strengthens your teeth, gums and mucus membrane. It also aids with bad breath and inflammation when present. Add a tablespoon of coconut oil or sesame oil to your mouth, swish it around 5 minutes, spit it into the trash and then rinse. I love Banyan Botanicals’ Daily Swish. Another option is swishing herbal tea.
4. Enhance skin and circulation with dry brushing.
Dry brushing promotes cell renewal by exfoliating dead skin while also increasing circulation and helping flush out toxins. Use a dry brush with natural bristles to brush your entire body, starting with your extremities and working in toward the lymph nodes. This practice can be done daily or three times per week.
5. Massage your body with warm oil.
Abhyanga massage is widely practiced in Ayurvedic medicine and is a good daily health practice. In addition to nourishing and softening the skin, it enhances circulation, lubricates joints, removes metabolic waste and helps balance your doshas. After dry brushing, incorporate a few minutes of self-massage with coconut (pitta), almond or sesame (kapha), or sesame oil (vata), and follow with a shower.
6. Clean your teeth naturally.
Use a natural toothpaste, such as a neem clove toothpaste to brush your teeth. Herbs like neem and clove have anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and pain relieving properties that not only cleanse and freshen breath, but also enhance taste buds and help with sensitivity. This toothpaste can be found online and in some stores where vitamins or natural products are sold.
7. Detoxify with tongue scraping.
Use a metal tongue scraper to remove residue that has built up over night, including bacteria, dead cells and toxins you don’t want to reabsorb. Tongue scraping should be performed lightly 1 to 3 times with a stainless-steel tongue scraper, or copper if it’s available and you are kapha-dominant. They can be found at most drug stores and online—just refrain from choosing plastic.
8. Hydrate with warm lemon water.
Drinking warm water with lemon in the morning is a great way to energize, rehydrate, increase your metabolic rate, stimulate your digestion, maintain your body’s pH balance, help fight infections and help your liver flush out toxins that have accumulated overnight.
9. Tune into your breathing with pranayama.
Using breathing (pranayama) techniques helps balance your body’s energetic channels (nadis) and bring heightened awareness and clarity to your mind. These are some techniques you can try while seated:
- Alternating nostril breaths (nadi shodhana)With your right hand, you will use your thumb to control passage of air through your right nostril and your ring finger for your left nostril. To begin, gently close your right nostril and breathe in slowly through the left nostril. Next, close the left nostril while opening the other so you can exhale slowly through your right nostril. Inhale slowly through your right nostril, and repeat for around 12 total rounds, or longer if you’d like. This can be practiced no matter your constitution.
- Cooling breaths (shitali): Stick out your tongue and roll the outside edges inward so your tongue forms a straw-like tube. Inhale and exhale through your rolled tongue around 16 times. Since it has a cooling effect, it can be especially balancing for pitta.
- Short, fast breaths (bhastrika): Inhale and exhale through your nose forcefully so your abdomen expands and contracts with equal duration—about one or two seconds each. Complete around 10 breaths, rest with a couple of normal breaths and repeat (slowly building up to 5 or 10 rounds). Since it can have a warming effect, pitta should practice gently, in moderation. Do not practice this if you are pregnant, have high blood pressure or any illness.
10. Activate good vibes and focus with meditation.
Meditation offers a feeling of relaxation followed by a release of energy boosting endorphins. It’ll help spring you to life—without coffee—and get your mind into a flow state to handle the day’s challenges with greater ease. If it’s new to you, start with a 5- or 10-minute practice, and work up to 15 minutes or more a day. There are many techniques, such as mantra meditation or Empty Bowl Meditation, as well as many resources like local classes and mobile apps.
Contact me if you’d like direction, and don’t think of meditation as taking up time. The focus and energy you get can make you happier and more productive.
11. Get moving with exercise.
In Ayurveda, regular physical activity early in the morning increases stamina and stimulates the immune system while promoting circulation and burning accumulated fat. Yoga is by far my favorite physical and mental activity as it also encourages the flow of oxygen, moves toxins, nourishes joints and stimulates the digestive fire in the body. Ayurveda generally recommends breathing through your nose and exercising at 50 percent capacity, until you break a mild sweat. Or from a doshas perspective: mild exercise for vata, moderate for pitta, vigorous for kapha.
Important healthy practices for other times
I could fill a whole new post with practices for other times of the day, but there a few I feel just have to be shared now.
Take a digital detox and get your Z’s.
A good night of sleep is extremely important for good health. During the night, cells repair more rapidly. Your digestive system gets a break, giving the elimination process an opportunity to catch up. Your mind also needs plenty of rest. Plan to get at least 8 hours of sleep each day. To help you sleep well, lower your consumption of TV, cell phones, iPad, computers, etc., at least 2 to 3 hours before going to bed. Remove electronics from your room, and if an alarm clock is essential on your cell phone, place it in airplane mode.
Flush toxins with a steam treatment.
Swedana is a treatment performed at an Ayurvedic clinic that consists of an oil massage followed by a steam bath. The heat enlarges your pores and increases circulation, aiding digestion, the release of impurities, elimination of excess water weight and reduction of inflammation. It also promotes healthy, glowing skin and deep relaxation. It can be a great treatment to have when you’re dealing with a cold, sinusitis, aches, some digestive issues or as a pre-operative procedure.
Pamper yourself with another favorite.
Have you heard the saying, “Take care of yourself before you take care of others?” Self-care is absolutely essential for a happy life—and when you tend to your own needs, you are more open and present to support others. Choose one of your favorite pampering rituals and make that part of your weekly routine. Whether you take time for a massage, acupuncture, a visit to the nail salon, a walk on the beach, or something else, taking regular “me” time is a very important part of healing and balancing your dosha.
Now that you have several ideas you can incorporate into your dinacharya, don’t think of this as another to-do list. By aligning the activity of your mind and body with the natural rhythms of day and night, you will set yourself up for optimal health, happiness and productivity. Commit for a few weeks and start gradually. Add more only as you feel inspired and don’t be hard on yourself if you veer off course. Simply return to what serves you best, and enjoy.
Until next time, live well!
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