When I first began feeling ill I immediately went in search of Echinacea oil because typically if I take Echinacea oil right when I start to feel ill I am able to avoid full blown sickness. It’s kind of amazing really.
Unfortunately I was unable to find Echinacea oil here in Mysore, so I settled for the next best thing, Echinacea leaf, which I made into a tea. I then purchased Vitamin C & Antioxidant capsules made by Organic India and I commenced a daily routine of resting, sipping tea, popping vitamins and occasionally Ibuprofen whenever a fever would raise its hot head.
Typically, this natural method works for me, but this time it isn't working. It is keeping the symptoms at bay for the most part, but the moment I quit the routine, the sickness feeling returns full force. So unfortunately I think I am going to have to resort to actual medication now in order to dispose of the pathogens in my body, but in the meantime I am curious about something.
The questions that I keep asking myself are:
- How did my immune system get so weak in the first place?
- What was I doing wrong in my daily routine that caused this to happen?
- What can I do to strengthen my immune system in the future?
To find the answers to my questions I started by taking a good look at my current lifestyle. I wake up every morning at 4:30 and practice yoga for a couple of hours and then follow that up with a healthy Ayurvedic breakfast at 8 a.m. and a healthy vegetarian dinner before 6 pm. I'm not drinking alcohol and I’m avoiding sweets for the most part.
Exercise & healthy diet = Check.
I’m not stressed. I spend my afternoons studying yogic texts, reading novels, practicing more yoga, writing, or relaxing in the park & figuring out how to fulfill one more thing on my mom's bucket list. Hard life huh?
Living a stress free, equanimous life = Check.
So what’s going on?
Upon further honest evaluation I realized my sleeping habits have been poor the week prior to getting sick. Both the daily yoga and the healthy diet provide me with so much energy that I find myself staying up late. I have the energy to talk on the phone late into the evening with friends in other countries whom are just waking up. I find I have more energy to read. I find I have more energy to write. Unfortunately all of this activity resulted in a lack of deep, restful sleep. Maybe 3-4 hours tops a night.
Recently, my meditation practice has suffered some as a result of the lack of sleep. Lately, instead of waking up and meditating, I wake up and sort of sit there sleepy like… then slowly I'll move to make a cup of hot water with honey which I sip groggily. I then wash my face, brush my teeth, scrape my tongue, sip the water, read and finally walk out the door. No meditation. No strengthening of my aura or energy field. No positive aspirations.
Then it dawned on me. I lack a complete and consistent dinacharya (daily routine) practice. According to Ayurveda, yoga’s 5,000-year-old sister science, one of the keys to good health and feeling great all day long is living in tune with nature’s cycles. Literally and energetically, that means rising and setting with the sun. To help you align your system more closely with the cycles of nature, Ayurvedic tradition recommends a routine of morning and nighttime practices collectively known as dinacharya. These rituals are designed to give you calm, focused, sustainable energy to support meditation, yoga, and everything you do throughout the day.
Could this lack of a dinacharya be the reason I got sick? Maybe. It has been the reason in the past. And this time a lack of sleep definitely allowed my immune system to weaken.
So, there are more questions here that I would like to explore with you:
- What is dinacharya?
- What are the practices within dinacharya?
- Why is dinacharya beneficial?
- How do we begin and maintain such a practice?
- Why are the individual practices so important?
- How do we perform them?
It’s these questions that I would like to research and re-explore and then share my findings with you here. All the while I will again begin and maintain a daily dinacharya practice myself. Feel free to follow along and to begin your own dinacharya as well! Let me know how it makes YOU feel and if you have any questions!
Dinacharya (pronounced ‘dee-nuh-char-ee-yuh’) is a Sanskrit word that means “daily routine” and is a concept in Ayurvedic medicine that looks at the cycles of nature and bases daily activities around these cycles. Ayurveda contends that routines help establish balance and that understanding daily cycles are useful for promoting health.
Ayurveda offers powerful daily practices that nurture health, create balance and a sense of inner calm within dinacharya. These practices are broken down into 5 parts of which we will discuss in further detail over the next 5 days:
- Beginning the day
- Cleansing and purification
- Meditation and mindfulness
- Winding down
Why is dinacharya beneficial?
A daily routine is absolutely necessary to bring radical change in body, mind, and consciousness. Routine helps to establish balance in one's constitution. It also regularizes a person's biological clock, aids digestion, absorption and assimilation, and generates self-esteem, discipline, peace, happiness, and longevity.
How do we begin and maintain such a practice?
Gradually weaving some or all of these practices into your daily routine, or dinacharya, will help you to restore mind-body balance and experience heightened awareness.
Keep in mind that it takes some time to establish a habit or new routine, so be gentle with yourself if you miss a day. Just come back to the routine the next day. The benefits of dinacharya to your health and wellbeing are immense, so it’s worth putting your time and attention on developing a nurturing balancing routine for yourself.
When I do my dinacharya, there’s a sense that I am taking really good care of me. My ability to meditate, teach and practice feels steadier and easier. And I experience more peace of mind.
To get back in sync, make over your daily routine with the simple Ayurvedic practices. The morning practices are cleansing and energizing; they will infuse you with a calm sense of presence. The evening ones (which I'll share with you tomorrow) will help you wind down for a restful sleep. Movement, such as yoga asana, and meditation are also essential to dinacharya. Consider incorporating asana before breakfast and meditation in the morning and evening.
Choose one or two of these practices to start, and after a week, take note of your energy level and mood. Then add a few more and repeat the observation process. Over time, these practices may become as routine as brushing your teeth.
Let’s begin our dinacharya by exploring our morning dinacharya routine. Tomorrow we will explore the evening dinacharya routine. In the following days we will explore in more detail the benefits of jala neti, abhyanga and meditation.
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. In fact, it is the most fresh and pure time of the entire day and the time when Prana-vayu is flowing (air carrying the purest form of oxygen). Sunrise varies according to the seasons, but on average vata people should get up about 6 a.m., pitta people by 5.30 a.m., and kapha by 4.30 a.m. (If you would like to know your dosha (vata/pitta/kapha), contact me and I will gladly help you decipher which dosha you are at the moment.)
In the healing system of Ayurveda, morning is a special time when we are ready to be renewed for the day to come. Incorporating a few Ayurvedic practices to your morning routine will ensure that you are optimizing immune function, balancing mind and body, and preparing yourself to face the day with a calm mind and rejuvenated soul.
Let’s start here. To be healthy you need the energy to “perform.” Our body also has a natural rhythm of when it prefers to sleep and eat. There are three phases recognized in Ayurveda that occur throughout the day. The Vata phase (2 – 6), Kapha phase (6 – 10) and Pitta phase (10-2). They occur twice, one in the morning (a.m.) and once in the evening. (p.m)
Vata Phase (2-6): This is the time of day when the vata principle predominates. It’s in this phase that you are supposed to wake up and prepare to meet the day. It’s also “Brahma” time, which is the “time of God", which is also why it feels so good to be outside in the mornings and on a beautiful day. This is the quietest time of the day. In the early hours before dawn, the mind slowly becomes more aware. If the body has gotten to sleep early and is not chronically fatigued, it is quite natural to wake up at this time before the sunrise. This is a great time for meditation, which will help to entrain the body with the silence of nature. This is the best time to reset your internal clocks. Since they are in every single cell, and we have 100 trillion cells in the body, this may be the most important time of day of all.
In the afternoon, during Vata time, especially around 2-4, you may feel a little tired. Your body has hopefully been working to digest the lunch you just had and it's probably feeling sluggish at this time. During this cycle, the nervous system is most active. This is when the brain is demanding fuel from the previously digested large meal. If the fuel is not there because you skipped lunch or only had a salad, the brain will scavenge any available glucose or energy it can find and the blood sugar will fall. This can result in an afternoon lull, craving, or moodiness. If you find yourself reaching for a sweet, coffee, chips or a nap at this time, it may be that the brain is straining to get the fuel it needs to cruise through the afternoon. To give yourself a kick-start, consider going for a walk right after lunch. Also, consider practicing yoga nidra for 15 minutes after your meal if possible. It’s like a nap without actually sleeping. You might also consider having a cup of tea and some nuts or fruit to give the body a little extra energy.
In the later part of this cycle, between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m, there is a period of stillness in nature. If you watch a lake at this time of day, it begins to calm down and often becomes very flat. This is an opportune time to meditate. It is when nature’s cycles become still that we have the opportunity to entrain our rhythms with those of nature, still the mind and de-stress.
Pitta Phase (10-2): This phase takes place when the sun is reaching the middle of the sky, and the fiery pitta principle is at its strongest. The digestive fire is most hot at this time and it is the best time to eat the largest and heaviest meal of the day, when the sun is at the highest in the sky. Studies have shown that when the largest meal of the day is eaten earlier in the day, there is significantly more weight loss compared to when the largest meal of the day is eaten later in the day or evening. Your agni in your body is at its peak and will have an easier time burning and breaking down your food as well as processing the nutrients it needs.
It’s important that you go to bed by 10:00 p.m. At 10 p.m., our bodies go into Pitta (Fiery) time. This is the time when pitta, which can be very stimulating, can rev the mind into thinking you are a night person. This will burn you out over time and weaken your immune system (hence my problem). Here is the rub: this is the time when the liver, which is the body’s major pitta or fire organ, is actively detoxifying and preparing the body for the next day. Late meals and late nights disturb this cycle and compromise the body’s ability to detox efficiently. Of course, this is no big deal when it happens on occasion. But when it happens for years, the liver can become congested and the body can build toxicity levels in the fat cells in the brain and throughout the body.
Kapha Phase (6-10): This is the kapha time of the day, during the first phase, the a.m. phase, the muscular and structural strength of the kapha principle naturally increases. This is the time of day for physical labor when the muscles are the strongest and the heat of the day has not yet set in.
The second kapha cycle, which lasts from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. is the time of day when the body’s energy hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, are decreasing. This is the natural time to start slowing down metabolism to prepare for sleep. Digestive strength is much weaker after sunset, which is why most traditional cultures always had a light supper. Even the word “supper” is an attempt to denote a smaller, supplemental or soup-like meal. A heavy meal at this time will be inefficiently digested and cause weight gain.
Another form of accumulated waste is the thick white coating that some people notice on their tongue when they wake up. In Ayurveda, this coating indicates a buildup of ama, or toxins, from the digestive process. Before brushing your teeth, first scrape the tongue from back to front to remove this bacteria. Doing so will also freshen your breath and stimulate digestion. (More about these below)
Pour a cup of warm water (sterilized or distilled) into a neti pot. Add 1/4 teaspoon of non-iodized salt (kosher or sea salt), stirring until it dissolves. Insert the spout into your left nostril, lean over the sink, and tilt your head slightly to the right so the water flows through the sinus passages and out of the right nostril. Gently blow your nose and repeat on the other side. When you are finished, lie on your back, tilt your head back, and put a few drops of warm sesame oil or ghee (clarified butter) in your nostrils. (I will include a detailed explanation of Jala Neti in the following blog posts.)
3. Tongue Scraping: Ayurveda recommends a practice called tongue scraping to remove the coating that appears overnight, which contains ama, or toxins, said to eventually cause illness. Using a tongue scraper, gently comb your tongue from back to front several times. Rinse the scraper between sessions. Doing this before you brush your teeth is thought to stimulate the digestive response and get your body thinking about its first meal. After you finish scraping your tongue, brush your teeth.
4. Sip Hot Water: Before you eat or drink coffee, mix the juice of half a lemon in a cup of warm water (with an optional pinch of rock salt and 1/2 teaspoon of honey), and drink up. This drink flushes the kidneys and gastrointestinal tract and stimulates your agni (digestive fire) so you are ready to metabolize breakfast.
5. Eliminate: Going to the bathroom upon waking will help clear your digestive system. A healthy “motion” will have a soft brown log quality, little odor, and will be well-formed (like a banana). Undigested food, foul smell, mucous, blood, excessive dryness or “pellet-like” quality, as well as “sinkage” indicates digestive imbalance. Altering diet, lifestyle and using herbs will help better this. If you find that you are still unable to have a daily bowel movement, consider adding triphala to your routine (taking a couple of tablets before bed).
6. Abhyanga (massage): Self-massage, or abhyanga, is one of our best allies for radiance. In fact, the old texts say its better to pay the “oil man” today than the doctor tomorrow. Massaging your skin daily nourishes and soothes the nervous system, stimulates lymphatic flow and aids in detoxification. It also improves circulation, boosts your vitality, and makes you feel more balanced emotionally and mentally. Use a high-quality organic oil such as sesame, sunflower, or coconut. Warm the oil in your hands or by placing the bottle in hot water, then rub down, making sure not to skip any parts. Let the oil soak in for at least 20 minutes and then shower.
I suggest standing on a towel in your bathroom with warmed, organic, cold-pressed oil (type of oil depends on the season and your dosha) at the ready. Using circular strokes, begin with your scalp, followed by your face and neck. Apply oil to your palms as needed, and work your way down one shoulder, arm, wrist, and hand, using long, up-and-down strokes along your limbs and circular strokes on your joints. Repeat on the other side.
Massage your chest and back, and then gently massage your abdomen in a clockwise direction. Rub your hips in a circular motion, and massage one leg at a time, using long strokes on your leg bones and circular strokes on the joints. If you have time, relax and let the oil soak in for 10 to 20 minutes. Then, standing on a wet towel in the shower to prevent slipping, scrub off with a mild cleanser. (I will include a detailed explanation of Abhyanga in the following blog posts.)