One of the first things I was introduced to in my studies of Ayurveda is called dinacharya or daily self-care. I clearly needed it. I was stressed out, burnt out and a basically exhausted. Someone told me that what I really needed was more self-care. I thought to myself, seriously? I go to the spa, get my nails done, have facials and massages, sit in the sauna and take hot baths. I am all about self care, my dear. Little did I know that this was just scratching the surface.
I read all about dinacharya in numerous books and took a course by Dr. John Douillard called the 28-Day Ayurveda Challenge. He essentially introduced one thing each day and on every fourth day let us integrate the previous lessons. I thought it would be so easy. After all, a daily routine is not exactly a foreign concept. We all have our daily cleansing, eating and exercise rituals, don't we? Well, it wasn't. It was really hard. But, over time it got easier and just became what I do.
When the challenge began, one of the first things they taught us to do was to get up before the sun rises. Well…. I have always been a night owl, love to sleep in and to get out of bed at the very last minute. I could probably count on one hand how many times I have been up to see the sunrise and a few of those were because I hadn't been to bed yet. I mean, because I was going on vacation. ;-)
As I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, Ayurveda provides guidelines on daily routines, diet, exercise, and behavior based on each person's unique constitution or prakrti. But, there really are a number of rituals that everyone should follow in order to establish and maintain balance. Some of them can be adapted depending on your constitution, the time of year etc. These rituals allow us to care for the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch and to stay in alignment with the rhythms of nature. After all, if nature is any indication, we really are meant to be creatures of habit.
I have compiled a list of all the rituals I have learned are essential to establishing and maintaining my own version of balance (or zen, as I like to call it). And I can assure you I have not just read about them. I have lived them for the past few years. In the spirit of transparency, some days I don't check all of them off my list. But, I decided long ago that I am no longer going to beat myself up when I can't do everything as planned. Practice makes perfect, right?
So, here goes. Don't freak out by the number of them. Some literally take 10 seconds.
1. Rise just before the sun
Right before the sun rises is considered to be the most auspicious time of day. To be perfectly honest, I really love to sleep in and the only time I used to enjoy getting up this early was when I was headed on vacation. But, I am blessed (and cursed) with a cat who insists on being fed by 6am each morning. Clearly, his instincts tell him it is time to get up. So, I try to follow his lead. Every morning I sit and watch the view from my window (which is pretty splendid any time) and as the light changes it is the most peaceful feeling. Even in my busy view of NY.
2. Drink 1-2 glasses of room temp water upon waking
The last thing I do before I get into bed each night is pour myself a glass of water in my copper cup. I found the cup at a great exotic food store called Kalustyan's - on Lexington Ave. It is the best exotic food and spice store and they make this awesome lentil soup. I am sort of addicted. Everyone must go there once. Anyhow, the copper cup sits on my bedside table so I can drink it as soon as I wake up. It really helps with the dryness in my apt. But, I am also told by my Ayurveda teachers, it kick starts my liver, washes my GI track and flushes my kidneys. Sounds good to me.
3. Meditate and practice gratitude for 20 minutes
Before I leave my bed each morning, I take 20 minutes to meditate. Some days I practice on my own by sitting upright and silently reciting a sound mantra or a prayer. When I am struggling to get up, I play a guided meditation. I have a number of good ones from Abraham Hicks and, my all time favourite, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar from the Art of Living. They are all on youtube and free, so all you have to do is a quick search. Recently, I did the Oprah & Deepak 21-Day Meditation Challenge which was a nice change in routine. I also picked up some new mantras like "Om Ram Ramaya" which means "Perfect balance energizes my body, mind and spirit". A very appropriate mantra for a student of Ayurveda!
4. Evacuate wastes from the bladder and the bowels
You would think this one is pretty self-explanatory, but when I am working with clients it is amazing to hear that quite a few people surpress these urges. I get it if you have to go when you get to work. No one wants to be that person. But, surpressing them is really not a great idea. Let's just say those toxins are eliminated for a reason, my friends. And if you drink a little warm water with lemon that should help.
5. Care for the eyes - rinse with fresh water or rose water
This is how I start off my daily cleansing ritual. I splash my face and eyes with rose water or fresh water. It gets the sleep out of my eyes, cools them down and gets the red out if I am tired. I make rose water with fresh water and rose petals. But… word of warning. If you use store bought rose water, be super careful. Not all of it is meant for the eyes. I made that mistake once. It stings like crazy and makes your eyes redder. Not pretty.
6. Care for the ears - insert warm oil into the ears
I used to stick cotton swabs in my ears every morning until I was warned that it can be damaging to the ear drum. I still do it on occasion, if there is a build up, but I try to use sesame oil instead. It keeps my ears lubricated, which they say are the windows to the brain. I also find it is easy enough to clean my ears with a bit of water in the shower. No need for q-tips most days and I no longer have that dry, itchy sensation in my ears.
7. Care for the mouth - rinse, scrape, brush, floss!
I rinse my mouth in the morning and evening with a little salt water or coconut oil to get rid of bacteria and to strengthen my gums, teeth and jaw. This is a great replacement for Listerine which is what I used for years. The other thing I do is scrape my tongue to remove dead bacteria, improve digestion and to stimulate my internal organs. Yep. That's what happens when you scrape your tongue. Take a look at it when you get up tomorrow. It's pretty gross, especially if you have been overeating or drinking alcohol. Once my tongue is clean, I brush my teeth with an herbal toothpaste and floss. My favourite is herbal mint by Himalaya. But, there are lots of high quality herbal toothpastes on the market. I buy mine in the Indian grocery.
8. Care for the nose - rinse and insert oil in the nostrils
A few times a week, I use a neti pot to rinse my nasal passages with warm water and sea salt. I follow this ritual by inserting 2-4 drops of nasal oil in each nostril. I have weird bouts of seasonal and dust allergies and this is the only natural technique that seems to help. I prefer a sesame nasya/nasal oil in a bottle with an eye dropper, but I also use the tip of my finger and inhale. Either way works just fine. I have been vigilant lately and I haven't had any allergic reactions to the cat or dust in weeks. Amazing.
9. Care for the skin - massage the skin with oil before or after a warm shower
A daily massage is called abhyanga in Sanskrit and it is one of the kindest things you can do to your body each day. When I was in India I was blessed with this massage each day by two massage therapists. I can not begin to express how good that felt. It was so soothing and my skin never looked or felt better. But, giving yourself a massage each day is an essential habit to form. It helps to remove fat from the skin, improves circulation and is great way to practice self-love. I do it every morning after my shower and work my way from my head to my feet to ground and center myself before I get dressed. I love it.
10. Get some exercise that suits your mood and constitution
Lately, I have been lazy and not exercising much except for yoga in my living room. Last week, I started at a new gym that is right across the street from my apt. They have a little bit of everything, so I am excited to "get back in the saddle". What I have learned over the nearly 20 years I have been doing personal training, and in my studies of Ayurveda, is that it is important to switch up my routine depending on how I feel. If I wake up feeling tired and lethargic, I do energizing yoga postures, go for a run or take a spin class. If I am feeling anxious or stressed, I focus on grounding postures and alternate nostril breathing. The key is not to do the same thing every day just because it is easier. I adapt to how I feel and my unique constitution. It helps.
11. Eat a wholesome, warm cooked meal and some ginger tea
I try to focus on warm cooked foods for breakfast vs. cold cereal or fruit. This is the easiest food for my body to digest and I honestly prefer it. I often have warm oatmeal with maple syrup or scrambled eggs and a ginger tea. If I eat fruit, I have it by itself. That way I don't disturb my digestive process and leave ama (undigested food) in my stomach. I will leave you to think a bit about that because I plan to write a whole blog post on this topic. There is a whole theory behind eating fruit on its own. It all makes sense, but needs further explanation for sure.
12. Get to bed between 10pm and 11pm each night
And last, but not least, I try to get to bed between 10 and 11pm each night. This is a tough one for me because I love to stay up late. But, when I do it I feel amazing the next day. When I get into the differences between the energies, Vata, Pitta and Kapha, I will also explain why this is the best time to go to bed. For now, let's just say it is midnight and I am way past my bedtime!
Have a good night and thanks for reading!