Keeping our inner clock on track with Dinacharya - Ayurveda Winter Guide IV
During Winter season, when Vata and Kapha influences are strong, maintaining a daily routine is considered to be one of the most effective ways to keep our bodies and minds aligned with the rhythm of nature.
Creating a steady daily rhythm will offer you a sense of stability and balance. It will also help to stabilize the mood and promote mental clarity throughout a season characterized by a lot of weather instabilities.
In Ayurveda, the concept of a steady daily rhythm is called dinacharya. It is one of the single most powerful Ayurvedic tools for improving overall health and well-being.
Dinacharya looks at the cycles of nature and aims to set daily activities and routines around these cycles: think waking and sleeping time, meal times, exercise, meditation, study/work, relaxation etc. Understanding those daily cycles is super useful for promoting health.
In fact, there is emerging scientific evidence that suggests that the modern, fast-paced, high-tech society isn’t doing our inner clock any good, and that is has become increasingly challenging to stay aligned with the rhythm of nature. The human body needs sunlight or at least daylight to align its inner clock, however as we live in a world where thanks to electricity, light has become available at any time, we are less and less aligned with when nature wants us to be active and when to take rest. This in turn causes a disturbed and irregular inner rhythm, leading to insomnia, irritability and mood swings.
As the body gets used to a daily routine that includes adequate rest, appropriate exercise, and a nourishing spiritual practice, the nervous system can finally ease into this rhythm and, as a result, relax.
Adopting a daily rhythm and routine is also an act of self-care and self-love. Each day, we have an opportunity to prioritize our own wellbeing as well as physical and mental health.
The effect of truly caring for ourselves using dinacharya is really powerful. I promise, committing to a daily routine will yield results in a very short time.
Applied correctly, dinacharya is one of the most transformative things you can do for your health, however to be comprehensive, "prescription" would have to be custom made for each person's current state and birth constitution.
So, in this post, I'm going to give you a few general suggestions that are suitable for all constitutions. By following these simple guidelines of dinacharya, you will get back on track and find more joy and stability during Winter.
Let's look into how it's done.
Another influence to consider is Kapha - it's an Ayurvedic constitution as well. Kapha combines the elements of water and earth, and the qualities of Kapha are heavy, cold, moist, dense, oily, slow, static.
When Winter sets in and the snow comes, we are more prone to experience the effects of Kapha. When there is too much Kapha quality in the environment around us, we are more likely to experience the symptoms of Kapha imbalance: slow metabolism, putting on extra weight, sluggish digestion, low motivation and drive, a feeling of heaviness in both body and mind.
We can balance Kapha by offering the body and mind all that helps us keep it in check: regular movement (including vinyasa flow yoga and brisk walks + outdoor activities/sports), warm light foods with Ayurvedic spices, sauna, an early and active start to the day.
But how do you take BOTH Vata and Kapha into account in your self care this Winter?
Let's find out!
Wake up early. In Ayurvedic terms, it means 1-1.5 hours before sunrise. This also means that healthy waking time will change throughout the year, unless you live right at the equator!
Use the bathroom. It sounds pretty self-explanatory, so why would I even mention it? Ayurveda states that we should never force elimination, and never resist the urge to eliminate either. So if you like most humans and animals feel like using the bathroom first thing in the morning, that's generally a sign of digestive health. If not, drink half a glass of warm water on an empty stomach and maybe even do a few rounds of nauli - abdominal churning practice. These two things in combination will speed things up.
Practice oil pulling. Right after, brush your teeth and scrape your tongue.
Hydrate with a cup of herbal tea or warm water.
If you have time, enjoy a warm oil massage.
Clean your ears and nasal passages, and hydrate + lubricate them with a bit of almond or sesame oil. It is particularly important in Winter, especially if you live in a flat with central heating.
Bathe or shower, preferably with warm water. Start with a comfortable temperature and then turn the temperature down a little, finishing on a cooler note. Colder water is a mood and energy booster.
Move/exercise. Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of regular movement/physical exercise like yoga, walking, tai chi, swimming, dancing or whatever you enjoy. Avoid overly strenuous exercise as it aggravates Vata and Pitta. In the morning, gentle exercise is best. It helps you get over morning stiffness, strengthening the digestive fire, and gives you a mood-boost as new energy is activated with prana.
Personal note: have you heard of shinrin-yoku? It's a trendy Japanese word for something timeless and beautiful: forest "bathing" or in non-japanese terms, forest walks. My absolute fave to start the day with. So, if you are lucky enough to live close to a forest (a park will do too, though), go ahead and add this ritual at the start of the day. A simple luxury that will warm up the body and help you start the day just right (and stress-free).
Enjoy a warm and nourishing breakfast.
Late morning and afternoon
Work or study. Stay hydrated with warm water or herbal tea. If hungry, have a light and simple veggie snack - how about some carrot or cucumber sticks?
Ayurvedically speaking, the best time for lunch is between 10am-2pm depending on when hunger strikes. These are Pitta hours when your digestive fire is the strongest, so have your main meal of the day in that interval. Use balanced, whole foods according to your constitution.
Rest briefly, for around 15 minutes after lunch. Easy walk or a power nap are always a good idea. When I have time, I opt for both 🙂
Go back to work or study. Stay hydrated. If you get hungry again, have a wholesome healthy snack, for .ex. fresh veggie sticks (celery, beetroot, carrot, cucumber).
The hours before dinner are a great time to exercise. You can choose a more vigorous workout or yoga practice this time.
When you're done and feeling hungry, enjoy a balanced dinner - ideally, a lighter meal than lunch: think warm hearty veggie soup, light warming curry or stir fry. The latest dinner time should be about 2-2.5 hours before you go to sleep.
After dinner, let go of the screens and devices to relax, read, and to spend time with your love, family or friends.
I know that the next suggestion will sound crazy to many, but I want you to try going to bed super early: between 21:30-22:00. It probably won't be realistic every single evening because life happens, but try to stick to this suggestion when you can. Not only will you discover that it is much easier to fall asleep before 10pm but you will wake up more rested than ever. Ayurveda claims that if you fall asleep before 10pm, your body will be able to take care of natural detoxification processes a lot more efficiently than if you skip the precious hours before midnight.
In my experience, going to bed before 10pm is a complete game changer. When I do, I wake up around 6am without or before the alarm, and I feel like I just came back from a vacation! My appetite is healthy and moderate, my skin is refreshed, and both my digestion and my mood are great throughout the day.
I also notice that going to bed extra early gives me a boost of positivity for the whole day ahead, and I'm a nicer person to be around.
Try this, and let me know about your experiences.
And one more thing: a wonderful, relaxing practice to do before bed is to massage the soles of your feet with a calming oil (for example, lavender or roman chamomile oil blended with a carrier oil like sweet almond or jojoba). This will promote relaxation and restoration, you'll sleep better and as a bonus, your feet will be soft and smooth when you wake up!
Let me know how you do - I can't wait to hear about your experiences with dinacharya.