If our pandemic year has taught us anything, it’s the importance of taking care of ourselves, both physically and mentally. Part of that is keeping up routines that help us realize our best selves. In Ayurveda, these daily rituals and practices are called dinacharya (in Sanskrit, dina means day and charya, routine) and are believed to support our overall health and wellness.
“Every human has an internal clock running in the background that carries out all the essential processes and functions at a proper time, very similar to nature, which follows the pattern of day and night, seasonal changes, tidal rhythms, and moon cycles,” says Hrishikesh Ashok, chief Ayurveda consultant at Naad Wellness in New Delhi, India. “Ayurveda recommends a routine of morning and nighttime practices collectively known as dinacharya, to maintain this connection between us and the circadian rhythms of nature”
After a year spent indoors, working from home, isolated from friends and family, with empty social calendars, it’s safe to say that much of our dinacharya have gone out the window. This has left many people struggling with physical symptoms, sleeplessness, anxiety, and a loss of purpose.
The good news is that you can start anew at any time—even this weekend! Here is a simple, yet effective schedule of Ayurvedic rituals to start incorporating into your day.
Dinacharya rituals, from morning to night
Rise & shine
Wake up early, before sunrise if you can, as the surroundings are often calm and soothing to refresh the mind and start your day out right. Don’t reach for your phone first thing. Instead, sit still for a couple of moments and utter a short prayer of gratitude to the universe.
“Ninety-six minutes before sunrise is called brahmamuhurta in Sanskrit, and according to Ayurveda, this is considered the best time to obtain knowledge, sustain perfect health, and is the hack to a longer lifespan,” says Hrishikesh.
Start your day with a 250 ml glass of water to activate the digestive juices. Later, brush your teeth, scrape the tongue, and gently massage your gums with your index finger.
“Scraping the tongue eliminates bad breath-causing bacteria, draws ama, or toxins, out of the body, and prepares the digestive system by stimulating the taste buds,” says Hrishikesh. “Massaging the gums gently increases blood flow to gum tissue and improves overall gum health.”
To prevent dry sinuses and headaches, and to protect against environmental pollutants, consider adding a nasya treatment to your dinacharya. In nasya, you drop Ayurvedic herbs or oils into the upper respiratory tract through the nasal passage.
“Smear or instill 2 drops of sesame oil or cow ghee into the nasal tract. This enhances the activity of sense organs and strengthens the respiratory system,” says Hrishikesh.
Sesame oil and cow ghee are particularly useful for this practice, as they are considered warm, calming, nourishing, and moisturizing. Ensure that you remain lying down for at least a minute post-treatment so you reap the full benefits.
Swishing 1–2 tablespoons of coconut or sesame oil in the mouth, without swallowing, is known as oil pulling or kavala graha in Ayurveda. It is said to improve oral hygiene, reduce bad breath, and prevent cavities. Additionally, this practice helps flush out the accumulated toxins in the mouth.
Stressing on the importance of oil pulling, Hrishikesh stresses this practice as an important dinacharya, saying that it reduces inflammation, keeps the gums healthy, and kills harmful bacteria in the mouth.
Yoga or other light exercise
According to Ayurveda, it’s important to fit at least 60 minutes of movement into your day. If practicing yoga, indulge in detoxifying asanas that include twisting poses like Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose), Bhunamanasana (Greeting the Earth Pose), and Vakrasana (Twisted Pose), which stimulate digestion and remove body impurities, and Parivrtta Utkatasana (Revolved Chair Pose), which improves the health of the spine and vertebrae while simultaneously toning the abdominal muscles.
“As abdominal organs are squeezed, the kidney and liver get stimulated. When a twist is released, blood enters these organs,” explains Tarannum Renavikar, yoga and naturopathy consultant at Naad Wellness.
She also recommends performing a Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) sequence daily to detoxify the body and improve lung function. Consider adding balancing poses, like Garudasana (Eagle Pose), which provides stretching to ankles, calves, thighs, hips, shoulders and upper back, and inverted poses like Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulder Stand) and Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose), which drain out the accumulated lymph fluids from the upper body and legs, for a deeper practice.
Practice abhyanga, or self-massage, before having breakfast to balance doshas, moisturize your skin, and enhance your overall well-being. Warm coconut or cold-pressed sesame oil (or any other Ayurvedic oil), using the double boiler method. Apply gently and with intention on your head, body, feet, and ears.
“Abhyanga nourishes and helps in elimination of toxins from the body, lubricates the joints, increases circulation, improves sleep, and also softens and smoothes skin,” says Hrishikesh.
Follow the massage with a lukewarm bath or shower, and then don fresh, clean clothes to help set the tone for the rest of your day.
Center your mind with 30 minutes of meditation and a few of the following pranayama breathing exercises:
- Sheetali Pranayama (cooling breath). Start with 9 rounds and increase to 15.
- Sheetkari Pranayama (hissing breath). Start with 9 rounds and increase to 15.
- Bhramari Pranayama (humming bee breath). Practice 5 to 10 rounds. In case of mental tension or anxiety, or when used to assist the healing process, practice for up to 15–30 minutes.
- Ujjayi Pranayama (the psychic breath) can be completed in 5 minutes, but you can also increase the time spent with this breathwork to 10–20 minutes in place of meditation.
- Bhastrika Pranayama (bellows breath). Practice 5 rounds to feel a sense of calmness.
Mealtimes are an important part of your dinacharya—and timing is everything. Hrishikesh recommends that you eat around the same time every day. As an example, breakfast should be eaten by 8:30 a.m. and lunch between noon and 2 p.m. A person’s digestive fire is higher during these hours, due to the pitta kala.
Dinner should ideally be before 7:30 p.m., and you should maintain at least a two-hour gap between your last meal and bedtime.
“As the sun sets, kapha dominance becomes extremely strong and our activity levels are on the wane. The later we eat, the worse our digestive capacity and food absorption is going to be,” says Hrishikesh. “Then the body will start to generate ama (toxin) instead of digesting the food completely. The undigested food will then putrefy inside the system, resulting in bloating and inflammation, reducing appetite, and increasing heaviness in the body.”
Settle down from the day by establishing a consistent bedtime routine that you perform every evening. Before turning in for the night, brush your teeth and wash your face, hands, and feet thoroughly to cool the whole body.
“Cleansing your face at the end of the day is important as it removes unwanted dirt, smoke, and bacteria that has accumulated from environmental exposure. Allowing these pollutants to settle onto your facial pores overnight can irritate your skin,” says Hrishikesh.
Washing the feet helps to maintain the body’s temperature as it is home to key circulation points, and helps one sleep better.
And speaking of sleep—night owls should make every effort to shift their bedtime earlier. Hrishikesh maintains that 10 p.m. is an ideal bedtime, so you can wake feeling refreshed and ready to start your dinacharya over the next day.