If you read the classic texts of Ayurveda, one thing stands out about the recommended daily routine: it is heavily focused on the early morning hours. Most of the recommended practices are done upon waking and are completed before breakfast. Consider the cosmic peace and serenity that is accessible in the hours just before sunrise. This time of day embodies an inherent stillness. It is as if the entire atmosphere is imbued with the qualities of tranquility, peace, compassion, and love. As a result, the early morning hours are an especially powerful time to engage in loving self-care, reflective practice, and the intention to heal or re-pattern the physiology. Beyond that, this is the timeframe that sets the tone for our entire day. Which is to say, the early morning is a great place to start when establishing a routine. When we care deeply for ourselves every morning, we create enormous potential for positive change – truly transformational potential. Changing your morning really can change your life.
What follows is a brief description of a traditional Ayurvedic morning routine. Remember, this is the ideal. Please do not try to do all of this tomorrow morning. We’ve included all of these practices and a brief description of their benefits because different elements of the routine will speak to different individuals. As you read through this list, pay close attention to which elements stir the deepest response in your body. Those practices will usually be the best ones to start with.
The classics recommend that we rise during the “ambrosial hours” of the morning, sometime between 3am and 6am. This is a vata time of day; the atmosphere is infused with lightness and clarity, which helps us to more easily awaken. Equally important, this time of day is regarded as being the most conducive for creating a connection with our deepest inner nature and consciousness. Waking during this particular timeframe is not necessary for children, the elderly, or for those who are sick, pregnant, or breast-feeding. Regardless of what time works best for you, your daily routine will be most beneficial if you wake up at a consistent time from one day to the next.
Empty the bladder and the bowels. Ayurveda views morning elimination as a natural and essential element of daily hygiene and health. If you do not typically have a bowel movement first thing in the morning, some of the below practices (like drinking warm water) may help you regulate this function in your body. Or, consider taking triphala to support healthy and regular elimination
This simple hygiene practice removes bacteria and toxins that have accumulated on the tongue overnight. It also serves to stimulate and cleanse the digestive tract and the vital organs. So while tongue scraping is considered an important element of daily oral hygiene, it also supports the natural detoxification of the system at large. Another benefit of scraping the tongue is that it allows us to take notice of the coating on our tongues each morning and to begin to see how our dietary choices and lifestyle habits influence our overall health from one day to the next. A tongue cleaner made of stainless steel is balancing for all doshas. When you are finished, rinse with clean water and spit.
While this practice is already familiar to all of us, Ayurveda recommends cleaning the teeth with herbs that promote oral health – like neem – which are typically bitter, astringent, or pungent in taste.
Drinking a glass of warm water cleanses and awakens the digestive tract, hydrates the tissues, and promotes peristalsis – which can encourage a bowel movement, even when there is a tendency toward sluggishness or constipation. It is best to drink water only after the mouth and the tongue have been cleansed so as not to swallow the bacteria and toxins that have accumulated in the mouth overnight.
It is said that swishing and gargling with warm, untoasted sesame oil lends strength to the teeth, gums, jaw, and voice, while improving the sense of taste. Spit the oil out after you have held and swished it in your mouth for the desired period of time. This practice can be done briefly, for 1-2 minutes, or for as long as 15 minutes. If a longer swish and gargle is appealing, consider doing it during abhyanga (see below), or while completing other aspects of your morning routine.
Use your clean index finger to gently massage a bit of untoasted sesame oil into your gums. This practice further benefits the teeth and gums by increasing circulation in these tissues and encouraging absorption of the oil.
Our eyes work very hard all day and they tend to accumulate a lot of heat. Splashing a bit of cold water into each eye in the morning helps to cool, sooth, and relax the eyes, but also helps us to feel more vibrantly awake.
If the central purpose of a morning routine is to calm the nervous system and ground the being before the day begins, then meditation, pranayama, prayer, or quiet reflection are perhaps its most essential elements. You may already have a practice that speaks to you. If not, simply sitting quietly and breathing slowly and deeply for a few minutes can have a tremendously beneficial effect. If you’re looking for a soothing and powerful introduction to breath work, Dr. Claudia Welch’s Prana CD consists of four guided breathing exercises that can be practiced in sequence or individually.
Making time to move our bodies in an appropriate way in the morning is both grounding and energizing. It supports natural detoxification by promoting healthy circulation and by helping to move stagnation from the organs and tissues. It also helps to loosen and awaken the body and the joints. Early morning is a very supportive time for almost anyone to exercise because of the strengthening and stabilizing influence of kapha, (which is prevalent in the atmosphere from about 6am-10am). If it is not possible for you to exercise in the early morning, early evening is a good alternative (about 6pm – 10pm), preferably before dinner.
This ancient practice of self-massage with oil calms the nervous system, lubricates and rejuvenates the tissues, and promotes healthy circulation throughout the body. It is no coincidence that the Sanskrit word for oil, sneha, also means love. Abhyanga is a profound practice of rejuvenation and loving self-care that benefits both the physical body and the more subtle realms of consciousness. Each morning, before a shower or bath, massage about 1/4 cup warm Pitta Massage Oil or Organic Sunflower Oil into the skin.
The ears are closely related to vata dosha (which is easily aggravated by modern life). Lubricating the ears with warm, untoasted sesame oil regularly can help to pacify vata in general, but can also support the sense of hearing, prevent stiffness in the neck by lubricating local tissues, and encourage healthy TMJ function. You can use an eyedropper to place about 10 drops of warm sesame oil in one ear at a time – letting it sit for several minutes before draining any excess and then repeat the process on the other side. Or, you can simply use the tip of your pinky finger to lubricate the inside of each ear with a bit of sesame oil.
Oiling the head and scalp is deeply soothing and can help to prevent headaches, hair loss, and greying. It also supports each of the sense organs and encourages sound sleep.
Our feet literally carry us through each day. Massaging them each morning, focusing on the soles in particular, is a very grounding and nurturing practice. But because various points on the feet correlate with organs and tissues throughout the body, it also supports proper vision, relieves stress, and offers many other systemic benefits.3
There are two Ayurvedic practices that support clean, clear nasal passages and clarity of mind. Both of these practices are best done on an empty stomach, usually early in the morning. They each have distinct energies and benefits, so if you chose to try them both, it is best to separate them by at least a day (i.e. don’t follow nasal rinse immediately with nasya or visa versa).
Massaging the body with soft powders (like chickpea or rice flours), stimulates movement of the lymph, balances kapha, encourages circulation, liquefies fat, bolsters the health of the skin, and lends strength and tone to the tissues of the body.3 It can also help to remove excess oil from the skin following abhyanga.
Bathing is a very important part of the traditional Ayurvedic routine. It is said to cleanse and purify the body, to bring energy and alertness to the being, and to promote longevity. Use soap only where necessary. If you’ve done abhyanga, rinsing the skin with warm water will generally suffice to remove excess oil.
Establishing a consistent time for breakfast is a great way to ensure that we have time to eat our first meal mindfully and that we start our day well nourished. The content of your breakfast should be seasonally appropriate and supportive of your unique constitution or imbalance.
While the bulk of a traditional Ayurvedic routine is performed in the morning, there are a handful of things that we can do throughout the day to enhance the benefits of having a daily routine.While the bulk of a traditional Ayurvedic routine is performed in the morning, there are a handful of things that we can do throughout the day to enhance the benefits of having a daily routine.
This is a very simple way to create consistency for our bodies. It supports digestion, ensures that we are adequately nourished, and helps calm the nervous system by establishing another predictable pattern that our bodies can rely on.
The digestive fire is strongest at mid-day, from about 10am to 2pm. This is therefore the best time to eat our main meal – especially for pitta-types, who already tend toward a strong appetite. This also allows us to enjoy a lighter evening meal, which supports sound sleep and deepens the body’s capacity for rejuvenation each night.
While this is not entirely possible for everyone, do it to the extent that it is possible for you. This provides another avenue toward predictability and supports a deeper sense of calm within the nervous system.
As a pitta-type, you may have to quiet your sense of ambition in order to really honor your body’s needs, but this will be especially important if you are one to push yourself regularly. If we can slow down a bit, we tend to make better decisions, which generally supports health and can also help to prevent stress. If we can learn to listen to our bodies – and stop betraying them by making everything else more important – we can begin to re-pattern one of pitta’s core tendencies and ultimately, are much better equipped to keep pitta healthy and balanced.
Again, this is not usually pitta’s first instinct, but it can be very rejuvenating and helpful to simply honor our need for rest.
Taking your herbs at the same time each day is the best way to ensure that you take your herbs regularly. It also benefits the body – in much the same way that eating meals at regular times is beneficial.
The evening routine is critically important because it lays the foundation for success with the morning routine. An evening routine can be as simple as establishing a consistent dinnertime and bedtime. Or, it can incorporate a few simple practices. Here are some nice things to consider.
Ideally, we would eat dinner early enough that our food has time to move completely out of the stomach before we go to bed. This means allowing your body a minimum of 2-3 hours between dinner and bedtime. It may also mean eating a lighter dinner than we might otherwise be accustomed to. These practices allow for proper digestion, prevent the unnecessary accumulation of toxins, and support healthy sleep patterns.
Triphala is a traditional Ayurvedic formula comprised of three fruits that is balancing for vata, pitta, and kapha. It is revered for its unique ability to gently cleanse and detoxify the digestive tract while replenishing, nourishing, and rejuvenating the tissues. About half an hour before bed, steep ½ teaspoon triphala powder in a cup of freshly boiled water for 10 minutes. Cool and drink. Or, take 2 triphala tablets with a glass of warm water.
The idea here is to create a simple series of events that helps to signal your body that the day is winding down and that you will be going to sleep soon. This practice can be incredibly helpful in supporting our ability to surrender to sleep. It is important that these activities be consistent from one day to the next. A bedtime routine might include things like:
Note: Reading in bed is not recommended, as it disrupts the desired association between being in bed and sleeping. If you like to read before bed, designate a specific place – other than your bed – and enjoy. But keep in mind that reading before bed can be quite stimulating to the eyes and the mind, which can disrupt healthy sleep patterns. If you tend to struggle with disturbed sleep, you might want to try giving up your bedtime book for a while to see if you notice a difference in your quality of sleep.
The trick here is to be consistent. Having predictable sleep and wake times helps our bodies naturally attune to a daily rhythm. It is often helpful to work backward from your desired wake time and establish a sleep time that ensures that you get enough rest each night. This is a beautiful way for us to honor our need for sleep and to ensure that adequate rest is built into each day.
You may also find that there is good reason to deviate occasionally from this traditional pitta-pacifying routine.
Each of the seasons arrives with its own unique personality. We can support an improved state of balance throughout the year by making a conscious effort to live in harmony with the cycles of nature and by making small adjustments in our routines in order to accommodate the arrival of each new season.
Welch, Claudia. Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life. Da Capo Press, 2011. 45.
Vagbhata. Ashtanga Hrdayam. Chowkhamba Krishnadas Academy, Varanasi. 2007. Translated by Prof. K.R. Srikantha Murthy. Ashtanga Hrdayam: Sutrasthana: II:
Welch, Claudia. “Dinacharya: Changing Lives Through Daily Living.” 2007. 8-13. Online Version of Article.
Pole, Sebastian. Ayurvedic Medicine: The Principles of Traditional Practice. Churchill Livingston Elsevier, 2006. 48.
Lad, Vasant. The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies. Three Rivers Press, 1998. 56-64.
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