We are currently living through what can only be described as strange and unsettling times and I, probably like all of you, have found that my days are very different from how they were a few weeks ago. So I thought that this month’s newsletter might be a good time for us to look at dinacharya and how this Ayurvedic concept of a daily routine could be helpful to us all right now.
In Sanskrit, din means ‘day’ and charya means ‘behaviour’ or ‘discipline.’ Dinacharya gives a structure to our day, ensuring we make time for all of our needs, both physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Through the concept of dinacharya Ayurveda gives us wholesome and wise advice about how to live in order to maximise our wellbeing on every level of our lives. It includes when is the best time to wake up, and then to do everything from our ablutions to massage, exercise, meditation and prayer, when we eat, when we study or work – and even to when we relax and sleep! The advice varies according to our individual constitution – what is good for one person may not be for another.
Dinacharya means living in harmony with our individual constitution through the natural changes in life; through the day, the seasons and our life cycle. By planning our daily routine we can bring balance into our day and to our constitution and ensure that we not only find time for all the things we need to do, but also those we love to do. Our daily routine, dinacharya, is intended to keep our three doshas in a state of healthy equilibrium, and our digestion and metabolism (agni) balanced and functioning well.
To maintain our natural state of harmony we must first know our own constitution and then learn to live according to its real needs – this is the path of Ayurveda.
Investment in your Health!
When we do things on a daily basis that enhance our health and wellbeing, the positive effects will gather momentum and become the basis of preventative medicine for us. Living a healthy and sattvic lifestyle is our best investment as we are laying the foundation for our future life where health is our greatest wealth. We can make sure that our biological clock and digestion are in sync to maximise how our bodies utilise the food we eat, ensure that we have enough sleep and that we balance work with rest and relaxation. Exercising a little discipline over our day ensures we aren’t focussing our energies on our work to the detriment of our physical exercise, or neglecting to eat heathy food regularly. In fact everything we do can become a practice that increases our health, happiness and awareness, and thereby enhances our quality of life.
The Doshas Through the Day
Dinacharya takes into the account the relationship between the doshas and the time of day. Each day we experience six different phases, which relate to the the doshas prevalent at that time.
At dawn, when the sun is about to rise, the dry, cold, mobile aspects of vata accumulated through the night are prevalent (2-6am). In the morning the cool and heavy energy of kapha can make us feel sluggish if we stay in bed at this time (6-10am). At midday, when the sun is at its peak, pitta predominates. In the early afternoon (2-6pm) the energy of vata once more dominates. In the evening, when the heaviness of kapha returns (6-10pm), it induces a feeling of relaxation, making this a good time to rest. At midnight, when the sun is furthest away from the earth, pitta predominates again.
Vata: Dominant 2:00am – 6:00 am and 2:00pm-6:00 pm
Pitta: Dominant 10:00am –2:00 pm and 10:00pm-2:00 am
Kapha: Dominant 6:00 am–10:00 am and 6:00pm-10:00 pm
Do What You Dream
If this is feeling a little overwhelming to you right now, let’s look at dinacharya from another perspective. We can structure our lives to fit in all the things we want to do, as well as those we need to do, in order to keep ourselves happy and healthy. It may be helpful to make a list of all that you would like to do on a daily or weekly basis, and then make sure that you give them a place in your routine rather than neglect them for that ever increasing “to do” list! We could then call dinarcharya ‘doing what you dream’!
A Daily Structure
Structure and routine is very good for those with a predominantly vata constitution, as it helps them to remain calm and focused. For pitta types, structure enables them to cope better with the many things that they want to achieve, and to feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. For those who are predominantly kapha, it helps to energise and motivate them. Generally speaking, it is best to do work that involves mental focus and concentration in the morning (pitta time) , and physical things in the afternoon (vata time). Then, in the evening, we wind down with rest and relaxation before sleeping (kapha time).
Below are the Ayurvedic guidelines for healthy living. These can help you to formulate your own dinarchaya. You can chose and integrate the guidelines that may be helpful to you in your present life and begin to balance your vikruti. Starting and ending the day with prayer, meditation, pranayama or a ritual of your own choosing, helps to balance our spiritual and material lives.
Natural urges: The early hours of the morning from 2-6am are ruled by vata, which governs elimination. So the best time to empty the bowels is on rising early in the morning. This also helps clear kapha that has accumulated while asleep, helping us to feel awake and alert. Then wash your face and hands with cool water, rose water or decoction of amalaki.
Never suppress natural physical urges such as emptying the bowels, passing water, eating when hungry, drinking when thirsty, sleeping when tired, sneezing, yawning, burping, crying or passing wind, as it aggravates vata and so adversely affects the other doshas.
Drinking water: Drinking a glass of lukewarm water helps flush out toxins accumulated overnight. Those with a pitta constitution should take cool water first thing in the morning. For all constitutions, water is said to improve eyesight and is good for the sinuses when taken in through the nose using a neti pot. This helps to prevent congestion and respiratory infections.
Teeth: Cavities in the teeth and receding gums are signs of vata aggravation in the skeletal system, and may be related to a deficiency of calcium, magnesium and zinc. To prevent these problems, you can chew a handful of calcium-rich black sesame seeds every morning, then brush the teeth without toothpaste so that the residue of the sesame seeds is rubbed against the teeth, polishing and cleaning them.
To prevent receding gums, tooth infection and cavities, the gums can be massaged daily with sesame oil or triphala powder mixed with sesame oil. Sesame oil nourishes bone tissue (asthi dhatu). Take a mouthful of sesame oil and swish it from side to side for 2-3 minutes, spit out the oil, and then gently massage the gums with the index finger. Chewing food well stimulates the gums and helps to keep them healthy.
If you’re interested, universal toothpaste can be made from sesame oil mixed with fine powder of ginger, black pepper, long pepper, cardamom, triphala and rock salt. Ground almond shell is also used to make tooth powder in India.
Eyes: Looking at a beautiful view or something sacred is said to be good for the eyes. Drops of sesame oil in the nose and ears is also said to be good. Adequate sleep is important. ¼ -½ teaspoon of triphala taken regularly at night with honey and ghee is a good eye tonic. Milk with shatavari is also recommended.
Ears: Sesame or coconut oil can be dropped into the ears daily. It is particularly good for reducing vata symptoms such as hearing problems, tinnitus and wax accumulation.
Nose: Two drops of sesame oil in each nostril each morning after bathing or before going to bed is recommended. Using nose drops is known as nasyam and it is especially good for reducing vata disturbances of the mind, as well as preventing respiratory infections. Those with pitta constitution or a tendency to nosebleeds can use ghee mixed with a little saffron. For a dry nose that tends to block easily, sesame oil medicated with bala can be used as nose drops. Kapala bhati, forceful exhalation from each nostril with the mouth closed, keeps the air passages clean and helps prevent respiratory infections.
Tongue scraping: After brushing the teeth, the mouth can be rinsed, the tongue scraped and finish with a gargle of water.
Oil massage: Self-massage of the body with warm sesame or coconut oil oil and then leaving it on for 15 minutes every day before a bath or shower improves the skin, tones muscles and blood vessels, and has a soothing effect on the nervous system. If short of time, you can simply drop a little sesame oil in the ears and massage the neck, head, spine and soles of the feet. Even done three times a week oil massage will have a beneficial effect, particularly for calming vata.
Exercise: Exercise in the morning until you begin to perspire or breathe through your mouth. More vigorous exercise is best taken in winter and spring. Regular exercise increases stamina and resistance to disease by enhancing immunity, clearing the channels, and promoting the circulation and elimination of wastes. It can also reduce the tendency toward depression and anxiety. Depending on age, kapha people can take more heavy, vigorous exercises, pitta types should do moderate, uncompetitive exercise and vata types should do gentle walking or yoga. Yoga asanas are good for the spine, digestion and respiration, and help to keep the mind strong. Sun salutations get your prana (energy) moving, remove stagnation in your body, and strengthen your digestive fire. Pranayama wakes you up, clears the mind and oxygenates the body, helping to enhance physical and mental stamina. (Avoid any kind of exercise if you are unwell or immediately after a meal.)
Bathing: A bath or shower is recommended after oil massage. Warm water medicated with holy basil leaves is good for vata constitution. Those with a pitta constitution can use cooler water with sandalwood or manjishta (Rubia cordifolia). Kapha people benefit from hot water with essential oils of cinnamon or pepper. Bathing purifies the senses, dispels fatigue and increases ojas. After the bath is the recommended time for meditation or prayer.
Meditation or prayer: After bathing, sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight and focus on your breath. Meditation has many health promoting benefits including increasing awareness and clarity and reducing stress.
Clothing: Ideally, clothing should be light unless it is very cold, and made of natural fibres such as cotton, wool, linen or silk. The skin needs to breathe and the blood to circulate freely.
Diet: We need to eat regularly, leaving 4-6 hours between meals and three hours at least between our last meal and going to bed. It is important to eat according to our doshic constitution and vary our diet according to our state of health and the season. Eat slowly, making sure to chew each mouthful so that we can digest and absorb our food. Eat quietly, not doing anything else at the same time such as reading or watching TV, and taste and enjoy the meal. Heavy foods are best avoided at night. After lunch we can take a short walk to stimulate digestion. In the evening we can stroll in the fresh air to refresh mind and body. Before bed we can pray or meditate again.
Sleep: A calm mind, oil massage, instilling drops into the ear, a bath, a good dinner and a comfortable bed in a soothing environment should help ensure a good night’s sleep. It is best to go to sleep at the same time each night if possible, preferably by 10pm before pitta time and so that we can ensure eight hours of sleep. Taking half a teaspoon of ashwagandha in warm milk before bed will help ensure a restful sleep. Brahmi, nutmeg and shankapushpi are also helpful.
Seasonal Variations – Parinam
Like everything else in the universe, the seasons have unique energetic qualities, including heat/cold, wet/dry, heavy/light. Depending on where you live, it is easy to recognise that summer is hot; autumn is windy, light and dry; and winter is heavy and cold. These qualities interact with the qualities of the doshas and that is why each season presents different challenges for some and benefits for others. At certain times of year the doshas accumulate, at other times they are aggravated, and at others they are balanced. Without thinking too much about it, you could probably say right now in which season you feel best. You may naturally love this season and tend to feel healthy and well.
In the recent post on detoxification, I talked about the quelling forces of winter – how when it is cold and dark our bodies are also somewhat shut down and are less efficient at expelling toxins. Adjusting our diet and lifestyle to the doshic fluctuations caused by not only daily but also seasonal variations can have considerable significance in preventative health. Foods and herbs taken in a particular season are best chosen according to their qualities and, in general, the substances selected should have the qualities opposite to the season.
A healthy person is best adjusting food and lifestyle to balance kapha in late winter and spring, pitta during summer, and vata during late summer and autumn. A strongly vata, pitta or kapha person needs to be aware of balancing their predominant dosha all year round.
I can highly recommend designing your own dinacharya. As a busy person who always manages to have many things that I want and need to do on the go at the same time, I find that doing a dinacharya really makes a difference to my life – staying on top of it all without getting stressed! Each week, I make two lists, a ‘to do’ list and a ‘to be’ list (everything that you want to do for your own personal wellbeing) and then I get my timetable and first put in the things from my ‘to be’ list and then the ‘to do’ list, making sure that I leave gaps. I put things like answering emails and house work in half hour bites on a regular basis so they get done but don’t feel overwhelming. If something unexpected comes up at a time that you had something in your timetable, as long as you have left gaps then there is always another time to get it done without it becoming stressful.
I hope you can have some fun with this, stay safe and well and enjoy the Spring!