The Daily Practices of Ayurveda

  1. Aligning Ourselves with Nature’s Rhythms
  2. Morning Purification
  3. Smoothing Our Way
  4. What goes in Must Sometimes Be Helped out
  5. Setting the Tone for the Day
  6. Engaging with the Body
  7. Making Ourselves Presentable

1. Aligning Ourselves with Nature’s Rhythms

How you live your live is the key to determining your health and the quality of your life. The question I am most asked is: How do I create my lifestyle, how do I create the rhythms of my life? The need to get up for work or the need to eat what is convenient should not dictate your lifestyle. Doing so allows your health to be governed by environment. The sages of Ayurveda experienced the highest peaks of balance and health while living in harmony with Nature’s natural rhythms. Aligning ourselves with Nature and her patterns allows us to create a lifestyle whose focus is harmony and balance. A daily routine is essential for this alignment. So how do we start to craft a daily routine? At the beginning of course!

Wake up before the sun rises
It is good to wake up before the sun rises, when there are loving (sattvic) qualities in nature that bring peace of mind and freshness to the senses. Ayurveda aligns each dosha with a particular time period during the day and states what is optimal for each of the constitutional types or Doshas. During each time period, certain activities are encouraged and some are avoided. All of this is based on your constitutional type. Do you know your type? If not click here for a great dosha test by the Chopra center.

Sunrise varies according to the seasons, but on average Vata (Air) people should get up about 6 a.m., Pitta (Fire) people by 5.30 a.m., and Kapha (Water) by 5:00 a.m. Why these specific times? Vata people actually need more sleep to stay balanced because they tend towards lightness, hence the later wake up time. Pitta people tend to be moderate for their need for sleep so they are in the middle. Kaphas don’t really need much sleep, but they want it, so they actually require less sleep for balance. Conversely, sleep times are modified as well.

Oddly enough, like bears in nature, we will sleep more in Winter than in Summer.

Rising this early may not seem possible for everyone, but the key is getting to sleep on time. In order to support this, Ayurveda has a few recommendations. Here are some suggestions:
Do not do Vata-provoking activities such as watching TV or other mentally stimulating activities at least one hour before bed.
Set more then one alarm at various places in your room. Make it so you must get up out of the bed to turn the alarm off.
Make the bed immediately so you are not tempted to go back to sleep!
Plan to go for a walk or to an early morning yoga class with a supportive spouse, friend or neighbor, so you can be accountable to someone until the habit of getting up early is well formed.
Go to bed early the night before to promote “sleepiness” your targeted bedtime the next day.
Make sure your window shades are left open or your room lights are on a timer. Light is the best means of enticing you to wake up – it decreases the melatonin in the body, encouraging your body to awaken.
If you are still challenged with sleep, consider the following herbal teas, foods, or nutrition to help you sleep:
Warm Oil Massage – Massage your body lightly with warm oil from limbs to core. You can use sesame oil warmed slightly, and massage gently for a few minutes.
Warm Milk with Nutmeg and Cardamom – This is a traditional remedy for sleep. Warm the milk and add up to ⅛ teaspoon of nutmeg and/or cardamom to help you sleep.
Chamomile Tea – This is another classic sleep remedy for babies and adults alike. Drink one or two cups with or without honey to promote sleep.
Melatonin – While not Ayurvedic per se, melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone produced by the human brain. Melatonin is available in 3mg, 5mg or liquid form. Research has shown that taking 3mg of Melatonin one hour before bed can greatly help with sleep, with no side effects for short-term use. In addition, the benefits of melatonin are residual and do not end when you stop it.

Ayurveda has a 5000-year-old history as India’s traditional medical system and was the root for most of the world’s healing modalities. Diet, exercise, and mindset are extremely important; sleep sets the tone for the day and is essential to establish a lifestyle that brings you into balance and health. Next, we will talk about step two in your daily routine, cleaning the face, mouth, and eyes.

 

2. Morning Purification for the Face, Mouth and Eyes

Start with the Tongue

So we have woken up at our ideal time and are now ready to honor our bodies further by doing a little cleaning and preparation. Ayurveda, like its descendants Traditional Chinese Medicine and Tibetan Medicine, is obsessed with the tongue and uses it as a major method of diagnosis. Sounds strange in Western culture, doesn’t it? A search of Amazon.com for tongue diagnosis books will reveal a dozen works on the topic including two encyclopedias.

Remember that unlike conventional medicine, Ayurveda is about aligning one’s life with nature’s rhythms. As such, the tongue is a tool to read the patterns of nature as they manifest in the body. One of the best ways to keep the tongue healthy is by scraping it daily. This removes overnight buildup of bacteria and toxins on the tongue.

To do this, extend the tongue and place the scraper as far back on the tongue as is comfortable. Gently scrape from the back or base of the tongue using one long stroke, until you have scraped the whole surface. Rinse the scraper and begin again. Do this until the tongue feels clean and is free of coating – generally it takes 7-14 strokes.

Ayurveda says that scraping the tongue should only be done in the morning on an empty stomach. This stimulates the internal organs, helps digestion, and removes dead bacteria. Ideally, Vata can use a gold scraper, Pitta a silver one, and Kapha copper. All people can use stainless steel.

Clean the Face, Mouth, and Eyes

Next, splash your face with cold water and rinse out your mouth. Then wash your eyes with cool water (or one of the eye washes mentioned below) and massage the eyelids by gently rubbing them. Blink your eyes 7 times and rotate your eyes in all directions. Dry your face with a clean towel.

Tridoshic eyewash: try triphala eyewash -¼ tsp. in 1 cup water, boil for 10 minutes, cool and strain.
Pitta eyewash: use cool water or rose water from organic rose petals – most commercial rose water has chemicals in it that will sting the eyes.
Kapha eyewash: try diluted cranberry juice, 3-5 drops in a teaspoon of distilled water.

Oil Pulling

To strengthen teeth, gums, and jaw, improve the voice and remove wrinkles from cheeks, gargle twice a day with warm sesame oil. Hold the oil in your mouth, swish it around vigorously, then spit it out and gently massage the gums with a finger. This is especially helpful for Pitta types, who tend to vocalize a lot of anger in their voice. Oil pulling helps to calm this pitta fire and reduce the expression of anger.

Morning purification of the tongue, face, eyes, and mouth allows us to set the tone for the day in these major organs of expression and reception. This allows us to express ourselves in a more harmonizing or Sattvic (pronounced sot-vic) way, one of the goals of Ayurveda. Next we will talk about clearing the nose and ears as part of our morning purification.

 

3. Smoothing Our Way

To continue our journey though the daily practices of Ayurveda, we next explore proper care of the nose and ears. The nose not only acts as the best path and filter for the air we breathe, but houses one of the most powerful senses: our sense of smell. Our ears are our second-most used organ of reception and govern our primary means of communication, the voice. In Ayurveda, it is essential that these organs be cleared and cleansed on a daily basis to achieve clarity and truth in our senses. Like meditation, the morning purifications act to keep us in a harmonious space, clearing out any debris that will keep us from receiving clearing.

Neti Pot

The neti pot is one of the tools used in Ayurveda as part of basic daily hygiene. Simply put, it cleans out the nose and sinuses with salt water and ensures they stay clean.

On a deeper level, though, the function of the neti pot has to do with maintaining balance in the kapha dosha. A dosha is an energy pattern, and according to Ayurveda each day the body moves through a series of dosha changes, from predominance in kapha (earth/water) in the morning, to pitta (or the fire element) at midday, to vata (air) in the evening. The kapha-predominance of each waking morning often results in sluggishness and congestion residing in the upper part of the body. Using the neti pot as part of your morning routine helps relieve some of the kapha excess in the nasal area (manifested by mucus accumulation), and by extension, benefits the eyes, ears, throat, and entire body.

Neti pots come in many designs made from a variety of materials. It is best to choose an unbreakable one that won’t react with the salt water it will be mixed with. To prepare the salt water, mix one heaping teaspoon of sea salt in a half-liter (or pint) of warm, purified water. The salt creates a higher osmotic pressure than water alone, meaning that it helps nasal and sinus fluids flow into the water and get flushed out, rather than absorb the water and stay put.

Fill the neti pot with the prepared water and hold it in the left hand. Bring the spout into the left nostril, lean over a sink, and as the head is tilted to the right side, tip the pot up to get the water to flow. Breathe through the mouth. The aim is to get water to flow into the left nostril, around the area inside the nose and sinuses, and out the right nostril. Do this for 15 to 30 seconds, then change sides. It might take a couple of tries to get the right alignment.

Anyone can benefit from this practice, although it is especially recommended for people with chronic respiratory congestion, frequent colds, and sinus headaches or pressure.

Nasal Drops (Nasya)

Putting 3 to 5 drops of warm ghee or oil into each nostril in the morning helps to lubricate the nose, clean the sinuses, and improve voice, vision and mental clarity. Our nose is the door to the brain, so nose drops nourish prana and bring intelligence. In the absence of access to the oils below, sesame oil can be used for all of the constitutional types or Doshas.

  • For vata: sesame oil, ghee, or vacha (calamus) oil.
  • For pitta: brahmi ghee, sunflower or coconut oil.
  • For kapha: vacha (calamus root) oil.

Oil Drops in the Ears (Karana Purana)
Conditions such as ringing in the ears, excess ear wax, poor hearing, lockjaw and TMJ are all due to vata in the ears. Putting 5 drops of warm sesame oil in each ear can help these disorders. Just obtain an eye dropper and put five drops of slightly warm sesame oil in each ear, allowing about 15-30 seconds on each side with the head tilted. If you have access to specialized oils for your dosha you may also use them as well. Some are listed below.

Optionally you may also lightly “dust” each ear with the herb appropriate for your constitution. Wrap your recommended herb in a few layers of cheesecloth then tap against the ear. This not only enervates the ear with herbal medicine, but often acts as a perfume or cologne as well, adding a nice smell to the body. Herbs that are good for ear dusting are listed below.

  • Vata: mahanarayan oil, dust with dashamula.
  • Pitta: brahmi oil, dust with sandalwood powder.
  • Kapha: neem oil, dust with vacha powder.

Neti and Nasya practices for the nose have a long and proven history in aiding against spring and fall allergies and in large cities where pollution is a problem. Karana Purana for the ears is great for preventing ear infections as well as just keeping the ears clean and healthy. Next we move from the purifications of the upper body to the purification of the lower body.

 

4. What Goes In Must Sometimes Be Helped Out

In Ayurveda, setting the tone for the day is so incredibly important as it sets the foundation for what comes. To that end, letting go of the thoughts, events, and consumption of the previous day is extremely important. Ayurveda stresses the importance of proper elimination with a focus on a minimum of two bowel movements per day. The morning bowel movement is one of the most important.

Drink a Glass of Water in the Morning

To start with, drink a glass of room-temperature or slightly warm water, preferably from a pure copper cup filled the night before. Do this before consuming any other liquid, food, or nutrition. This washes the digestive tract, flushes the kidneys and stimulates peristalsis or movement in the digestive system. It also hydrates the body first thing in the morning when water is most absorbable. It is not a good idea to start the day with tea or coffee, as this drains kidney energy, stresses the adrenals, causes constipation, and is habit-forming.

Evacuation

Sit, or better squat, on the toilet and have a bowel movement. Improper digestion of the previous night’s meal or lack of sound sleep can prevent this. However, drinking the water, followed by sitting on the toilet at a set time each day, helps to regulate bowel movements. Gentle deep breathing with an emphasis on exhalation will help with the downward flow and elimination.

In the event that elimination is just not happening, consider using Triphala. Triphala is an herbal formula combining three balancing herbs for the digestion and bowels. Triphala is considered panacea in India. To use Triphala optimally, make Triphala tea add 1 teaspoon of Triphala powder to a glass of water and stir, then let sit overnight. In the morning the sediment will have settled at the bottom and the water will be light brown in color. Pour the brown water into another glass and leave the sediment behind. Now drink the tea. If you find it unpalatable, stir in ½ teaspoon of raw honey. A popular folk saying in India is “No mother? Do not worry so long as you have Triphala!” This will get you back on track in no time and it not habit forming in the least. On the contrary, Triphala tones and strengthens the bowels.

We have covered two practices to clear the lower body of wastes and allow us to transition from sleep and the previous day to our new day. Next we will move from the body to clearing the mind.

 

5. Setting the Tone for the Day

In cultures the world over, meditation is considered, along with the breath, as the master key for bridging the unconscious and the conscious and for achieving mastery over our thoughts and minds. As part of our Ayurveda daily practices, we move into the practices that balance the mind and bring vitality into our being.

Meditation for 15 minutes

Meditation is very easy to learn, but hard to do. As a result, many people have a challenge with meditation. Sometimes it feels like one of the greatest chores and sometimes it flows smoothly. Whether your meditation is a raging river where you are constantly bringing your thoughts back to the present or if it a calming blissful experience, it is important to meditate morning and evening for at least 15 minutes. This 15 minutes of deep focus allows you to train the mind as well as allows you to check in internally. Meditate in the way you are accustomed. From our personal experiences, meditating 15 minutes twice a day over the course of two years can alleviate depression and obsessive thinking, calm anxiety, and make you more clear and concise with your thoughts. So to start your morning, get on your pillow, mat, chair, or couch and meditate for 15 minutes.

Pranayama (Breathwork)

In Ayurveda, Pranayama brings in prana or energy into the body. This energy is sometimes referred to as the vital force of the body and supports our health, activity, and vitality. Pranayama is the conscious act of bringing this vital force into the body while toning the internal organs, strengthening the lungs, and increasing bodily circulation. Breathwork is best taught by an instructor, so if you haven’t been initiated into pranayama please seek out someone knowledgeable to teach you. Otherwise, substitute deep breathing for any of the breaths listed here. Sit quietly and do some deep breathing exercises as follows:

  • 12 alternate nostril breaths for vata
  • 16 cooling shitali breaths (curling up your tongue lengthwise and breathing through it) for pitta
  • 100 kapalabati (short, fast breaths) for kapha

On this journey, we have transitioned from the body to the mind and added meditation and breathwork to our morning routine. Our next tip will have us engaging the body more, to prepare it for movement and to bring our circulatory and lymphatic systems into a stronger place.

 

6. Engaging with the Body

In the trifecta of Ayurveda, Yoga, and Tantra, Tantra was focused on balancing the mind, Yoga the spirit, and Ayurveda the body. The body is composed of 60 percent voluntary skeletal muscle, and the major circulation systems of the body all require movement to keep the body health and strong. To this end, Ayurveda states that the best time of day to workout is between 6am and 10am when the energy of stamina and structure (Kapha) is predominant. The second-best time is between 6pm and 10pm at night. So of course, starting the day with exercise is a must.

Exercise

Regular exercise, especially yoga, improves circulation, strength and endurance. It helps you relax and have sound sleep, and improves digestion and elimination. Exercise daily to half of your capacity, which is until sweat forms on the forehead, armpits, and spine. Walking, swimming, and other forms of exercise are also great. It is asked that in our sedentary culture, we spend 30 minutes a day doing some kind of physical activity. Below is a list of yoga exercises that you can do in your home:

  • Vata: Sun salutations x 12, done slowly; Leg lifting; Camel; Cobra; Cat; Cow. Emphasize slow and gentle exercise.
  • Pitta: Moon salutations x 16, moderately fast; Fish; Boat; Bow. Emphasize joyful and calming exercise.
  • Kapha: Sun salutations x 12, done rapidly; Bridge; Peacock; Palm tree; Lion. Emphasize active and vigorous exercise.

Meditation and Prayer

The second meditation, post-exercise, is about setting your intention, clearing space mentally and invoking your relationship to your form of spirituality. It is the last daily practice before we move into making ourselves presentable for life and work. To that end, it is asked that this meditation include some form of prayer or spiritual self-inquiry. Meditate for no more than five minutes for this second round, and meditate as you are accustomed. It may be useful to use the Socratic method and ask yourself the following questions:

  • How can I live the ideals that are the most important to me today?
  • What reactions did I have yesterday that I can do differently today?
  • What are my areas of greatest challenge and how can I approach them today?

In this section, we covered exercise and our closing meditation practice of the morning. Next we will move into the final practices that prepare us to face the day.

 

7. Making Ourselves Presentable

One of our favorite things about Ayurveda is not just the depth of this ancient healing system, but the practicality of the system especially as it relates to health and beauty. Our final tip in our daily practices series includes the use of oil-self massage (Abhyanga) to nourish the skin and calm the nervous system. To end our morning practices we use water or hydrotherapy, which has been a healing remedy for many ailments for centuries.

Apply Oil to the Head and Body (Abhyanga)

Rub warm oil over the head and body. Start with the limbs and move towards the heart and core. Then apply a light coating of oil to the scalp if you are comfortable. Gentle, daily oil massage of the scalp can bring happiness as well as prevent headache, baldness, graying, and receding hairline. This should not take longer than three minutes and is a great pre-shower ritual as you can wash the oil off in the shower. Below is a list of oils appropriate for each dosha, but you may use sesame oil for all three doshas if you do not have the others on hand.

  • For vata use warm sesame oil.
  • For pitta use warm sunflower or coconut oil.
  • For kapha use warm sunflower or mustard oil.

Optionally, oiling your body before bedtime will help induce sound sleep and keep the skin soft.

Hydrotherapy (Hot/Cold Shower)

The use of water at different temperatures in the treatment of various diseases is known as Water Therapy or Hydrotherapy. The Traditional Indian system of medicine has been using water in different ways for centuries to treat many diseases. The human body is made up of more than 75 percent water, which makes it completely compatible with water. Water has been used in home treatments since ancient times. Hydrotherapy works especially well in concert with other natural remedies such as sunlight, fresh air, hygiene, temperance, unrefined diet, rest, exercise, and acknowledgement of the spiritual in our lives.

The application of heat is soothing, easing muscle tension and relieving pain. Heat also improves circulation by causing blood vessels to dilate. Cold can either be stimulating or soothing. Water healing is helpful in maintaining metabolic function and in making us feel much better, and is easily accomplished right in your own home.

A dip in hot water acts as a sedative; it slows down the activity of internal organs, promotes peripheral blood flow and increases oxygen supply to limbs. On the contrary, cold water is used to numb the organs, desensitize pain, increase blood flow to internal organs, promote digestion and stimulate nerve supply.

So for our morning practice it is recommended that you change the water temperature to as hot as you can stand it safely for 30 seconds, then switch back to as cold as you can stand it for 30 seconds. Do this for at least three rounds, ending on cold if it is hot outside or hot if it is cold outside.

In our final Ayurveda daily practices tip we end our morning with self-massage and some hydrotherapy. From here most people get dressed, eat breakfast, and are ready to face the day.