The tradition of dinacharya (daily routine) is one of the single most powerful Ayurvedic tools for improving overall health and well-being. Even if you are brand new to Ayurveda, it won’t be long before you hear something about the importance of doing a number of things—like eating, sleeping, and working—at roughly the same times each day.
A daily routine invites health, vitality, and a sense of clarity into our lives. Adopting an appropriate daily routine is undoubtedly one of the most grounding and nurturing things you could do for yourself, and while the concept of having a daily routine is at the heart of an Ayurvedic lifestyle, no single prescription is right for everyone. The general template can and should be adapted to meet the needs of each individual’s constitution and current state of balance. And that’s the beauty of it, because the right daily routine can dramatically improve your life.
Our daily activities have a profound effect on our health. A routine, practiced daily, is stronger medicine than an occasional remedy. Dinacharya establishes healthful habits through attunement of the body to the natural cycles of the day. The three doshas, vata, pitta, and kapha, each have their own periods of time within a twenty-four-hour day in which their energies predominate. By establishing a routine that “goes with the flow” of these elemental energies, we are able to more easily support the body ‘s natural rhythms and healing potential.
Kapha = 6 a.m.–10 a.m. and 6 p.m.–10 p.m.
Pitta = 10 a.m.–2 p.m. and 10 p.m.–2 a.m.
Vata = 2 p.m.–6 p.m. and 2 a.m.–6 a.m.
It is ideal to wake between 4–6 a.m. This is the most sattvic, peaceful, and still time of day. Vata’s subtle qualities of clarity and strengthened intuition make this an ideal time for spiritual practice. Or, simply take a few deep breaths and adopt an attitude of gratitude for waking up to a new day.
Empty your bladder and colon upon rising. One helpful practice is to drink a glass or two of warm water first thing in the morning. This will rehydrate the tissues, flush toxins that have accumulated overnight, enkindle agni or digestive fire, and stimulate peristalsis, encouraging timely elimination.
Take Your Herbs
Taking herbs at the same time each day will enhance their medicinal effect. Herbs taken on an empty stomach have the most potent action in the body.
Cleansing the Senses
Ayurveda recommends purifying the senses each day in preparation to take in all the rich, new experiences life has to offer. Refresh and energize by splashing the face with cool or luke-warm water. Gently wash the ears and apply a thin coat of sesame oil to the inside of the ear with your pinkie finger. Use a neti pot with saline solution to cleanse the nasal passages. Brush the teeth. Scrape the tongue using a tongue cleaner to remove any coating. Notice your tongue each morning. A thick coating is indicative of ama, or toxins in the digestive tract. Scraping the tongue helps to purify your sense of taste and benefits the internal organs. Finally, gargle with warm water, or salt water and turmeric to help purify and strengthen the voice and keep the gums, mouth, and throat healthy.
Daily exercise increases circulation and oxygenation of the tissues, strengthens agni, tones the body, reduces fat, and enhances vitality. Determine the best time to exercise and what form of exercise to practice with consideration to your prakriti (constitutional type) and the effects of the seasons. For example, in the fall, a vata person should exercise during the kapha time of day, to take advantage of kapha’s grounding and stable qualities. Choose an activity that is soothing to the nervous system like restorative yoga or tai chi.
Just as we cleanse our bodies each day, we must also cleanse our minds of accumulated thoughts that no longer serve us. Be still. Direct your attention inward. Notice your breath. Invite calm and relaxation into the body for a few minutes each day. This practice acts as a protective shield to the destabilizing influences of the external environment.
A light, nourishing breakfast taken before 8 a.m. is recommended. Kapha predominant individuals can skip this meal, enkindling digestive fire.
According to Ayurveda, abhyanga, or oil massage, is an essential component to dinacharya. This practice nourishes and strengthens the body, encourages regular sleep patterns, stimulates internal organs, enhances blood circulation, and can significantly reduce vata. Try our Daily Massage Oil or another herbalized oil to support you this season. Gently warm ¼ cup of oil in a metal cup over a gas flame or submerge the bottle in hot water. Patiently massage the oil into your skin for about 5–15 minutes. Begin at the extremities and work towards the middle of the body. Use long strokes on the limbs and circular strokes on the joints. Massage the abdomen and chest in broad, clockwise, circular motions. Massaging your body with warm oil is a practice in self-love.
After you have massaged your entire body, enjoy a warm bath or shower using a minimal amount of mild soap. Towel dry with a towel you do not mind getting oil on.
Always wear clean clothing, preferably made from natural fibers such as cotton, wool, linen, or silk. Ayurveda discourages wearing used clothing, particularly other peoples’ shoes, because of the polluted subtle energies which they collect.
From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., when pitta predominates, are the most productive hours for work. Choose this time of day for problem solving or completing any task that requires full attention and focus.
Midday is also when agni is strongest. Eat your largest meal of the day at this time. Take a gentle walk after eating to aid digestion.
It is important to allow enough time for your previous meal to digest (generally 4 hours). Dinner, a lighter meal than lunch, should be taken preferably before sundown and at least three hours before bed.
After dinner, it is relaxation time. Spend time with family, read, listen to music, engage in pleasant conversation from now until bedtime. It is a time to unwind from the stimulation and activity of the day. About 1/2 hour before bed is the perfect time to take triphala.
It is a good practice to apply oil to the scalp and the soles of the feet before bed to calm the nervous system and promote sound sleep. Go to sleep around 10 p.m. before the next active pitta period begins (otherwise, a second wind may have you up until 1 a.m.!) This will also ensure 6–8 hours of sleep before awakening to begin anew the next morning.
Following dinacharya is a way to bring more awareness to all of the habits and choices we make throughout the day. Conscious awareness in our daily lives enables us to be whole and healthy beings, bringing us closer to our true selves. Living in harmony with the cycles of nature is not only the path to health, but to true freedom.