As with all things Ayurveda, Dinacharya is an ancient ritual we use in our daily lives to promote balance, maintain health, and align our body’s rhythm with the natural ebb and flow of nature. Having a regular routine helps to enhance stability in our biological clock; aids in digestion, absorption, and assimilation; and generates discipline, peace, and longevity.
Circadian Rhythm vs. Biological Clock
Our circadian rhythm is a set of physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle that is governed primarily by light and, to a lesser extent, temperature. Circadian rhythm can be seen in all living organisms: plants, animals, and even bacteria. The study of circadian rhythm is referred to as chronobiology.
Our biological clock is different from circadian rhythm in that it is innate and influenced by genetics. Our master organ, the hypothalamus, sends signals to the rest of the body which affect our metabolism, digestion, stress levels, and energy by way of the neuroendocrine system, ie: hormones. It also influences our circadian rhythm. The master clock keeps all organs, tissues, and cells working seamlessly together, as well as in conjunction with the seasonal environment. Ideally, we rise with the sun and sleep when it’s dark. Our bodies naturally cool down as the sun sets, turning down our metabolism and preparing us for sleep.
Let’s Talk Real Life
Living in a fast-paced, high-stress society with constant exposure to media, screens, and shift work can artificially alter our biological clocks. Staying up late with bright lights and consuming stimulants such as caffeine, also known as chronodisruptors, can force our bodies out of their circadian rhythm. Our bodies cannot discriminate one form of stimuli—or stress—from another. Because chronodisruptors are forms of stimuli, they send signals to the sympathetic nervous system to pump out cortisol. In acute times of illness or battle, this is necessary and ideal. But, prolonged exposure to artificial stimuli can have an impact on overall health and immunity.
While Ayurveda has long supported the importance of a daily routine, it seems even more imperative in today’s world to make our schedule a top priority. By sticking to a regular routine throughout the day, things such as jet lag have less impact on our physiology. Our system keeps rolling along, following our lead, when it may have been otherwise been thrown off by changes in the time zones. It seems strange that habits as simple as waking at the same time, tongue scraping, and regular digestion can have such an impact on our physiology, but suffice it to say, it does. We have the opportunity to have greater control over our health and well being when we take appropriate action.
How You Can Make It Work In The Real World
Adopting a routine can seem daunting at first, especially to those of us who prefer spontaneity and change (Vatas, I’m talking to you). It may seem like a lot of work, and we all feel short on time—I get it. If you’re new to Dinacharya, don’t despair.
When introducing new activities into your regimen, the first rule of thumb is to start slow. Begin with one or two things that are interesting and doable for you and your lifestyle. Do not pick things from the buffet table that you know you will not do, or are too labor intensive. When the first couple items become natural, add another. If, at any time, one of the routines is not resonating well with you, trade it out for something else. You can try to come back to it later…or maybe not. Not everything works or is absolutely necessary for every person, and that’s ok.
Routine helps establish balance in our bodies in many ways, but these are key:
- Regulates our biological clock
- Aids in digestion, absorption, and assimilation of nutrients
- Generates self esteem, discipline, peace, happiness, and longevity
Those all sound pretty great so let’s take a look at how Dinacharya can be practiced.
9 Steps To Starting Your Day off Right
Each of these 9 steps are tools for optimizing well-being and balance. What might work for you in real life?
1. Wake up with or before sunrise
There are sattvic/loving qualities in nature and with the sun that bring peace of mind and vitality to the senses
2. Express gratitude
One of the best ways to start your day off right is to identify something you are grateful for. Sometimes it’s the smallest things that make us happiest: sunshine, a quiet room, a weekend.
3. Drink a large glass of warm water first thing in the morning
Water first thing in the morning flushes the GI tract and stimulates peristalsis. If you are vata or kapha, adding lemon (sour) to your water is beneficial. Pittas can add watermelon, cucumbers, or berries to their water. (See lovejivana.com for more information on the three doshas.)
Even if you don’t feel like having a bowel movement, still sit on the toilet for a few minutes. This is like adult toilet training for your bowels. Later it becomes like muscle memory and the body gets into a rhythm of bowel movements every morning.
- Use a tongue scraper to gently scrape your tongue from the back towards the front. Take note of the coating on your tongue – the color, consistency, and quantity. It gives insight into how much ama (toxins) you have and what doshas are exacerbated.
- Tongue scraping stimulates internal organs, helps stimulate peristalsis and digestion, and removes bacteria.
- Brush your teeth, gums, tongue, and all of mouth
- Neem is often used in oral care
- Gargling with oil – or oil pulling – is done to pull ama from circulation, strengthen teeth and jaw, improve the voice, and is thought to remove wrinkles from the cheeks.
- Nasya (Nasal Drops)
- In Ayurveda, the nose is said to be the gateway to the consciousness. Keeping the passageways clean, moisturized, and healthy helps improve voice, vision, and mental clarity as well as ward off respiratory illness.
- Put 3-5 drops of warm ghee or coconut oil (if Pitta) or warm sesame oil (if Vata or Kapha) in each nostril
6. Oil drops in ears (Karana Purana)
Tinnitus – or ringing in the ears, excess ear wax, poor hearing, and TMJ are all due to excess Vata. Place warm sesame oil in each ear, let it sit for a 3-5 minutes, and tilt head to drain and repeat on the other side. This helps alleviate those conditions.
The morning is an especially good time to incorporate an invigorating round of Pranayama (breath practice). Even 5-10 minutes can help energize you for several hours and get your day started off on the right foot. Consider starting with Nadi Shodhana to determine which nostril is more open. Next try a couple minutes of Bhastrika to clear your nasal passages, followed by a few minutes of Sama Vrtti Pranayama. Conclude with Kapalabhati. Pranayama increases circulation and oxygenation to all tissues.
Morning is the best time for exercise. Whether you prefer running, crossfit, or Yoga, find what works for you and what you are most likely to be consistent with and work to 50-70% of your capacity. It isn’t necessary to work to your maximum every day, but enough that you are winded and work up at least a small sweat.
Traditionally, Abhyanga oil is put on prior to bathing. Warm oil is methodically and gently applied in long strokes over long bones and circular motions over joints and the abdomen. Then, after 20-30 minutes take a warm shower or bath. Alternatively, I find it more conducive with a busy lifestyle to apply Abhyanga oil in the shower after washing. In this way you still get the benefit of a steamy shower and the oil stays on your skin.
Implementing a new routine can be both exciting and overwhelming. There are many ways to approach Dinacharya, but the ideal way is the one that best serves you. Embracing the process is far more important than ensuring your routine is perfect. I realize that not all of the above methods will resonate with everyone; it’s important to find what works for you. Some of you will enjoy gargling, while others would rather have the flu than swish oil. No problem. Even the most humble efforts should be celebrated, since no effort is ever wasted. For the best results, have fun with it, allow yourself to be nourished by the process, and add more to your routine only when you feel compelled to do so. Good luck, friends! XO