By Nadia Marshall
To say Ayurveda is big on routine is the understatement of the year. In the classic texts there are lists of things to do as part of your daily routine, nightly routine, seasonal routine and sexual routine that are longer than your arm. If you followed every recommendation, you'd never get anything done. Let me reassure you from the get-go that this article is asking a little less of you!
The level of 'routine' I am encouraging you to esteem is pretty simple and revolves mainly around the timing of things. In a nut-shell I'm talking about:
1) Getting up at a similar time each day.
2) Eating at similar times each day.
3) Going to bed at a similar time.
Not just pay attention to or to consider vaguely important but to ESTEEM!!...
Beyond this, how your routine looks is really up to you. However, the more similar your routine each day, the better. The more similar your routine each week, well, that's better too.
Here are three reasons why routine should be esteemed, according to Ayurveda:
1) Routine Improves Digestion
From an Ayurvedic perspective, one of the best way to balance your digestive fire or 'Agni', is to eat every meal at a similar and reasonable time each day. For example, breakfast between 7am and 8am (after sunrise); lunch between 12noon and 1.30pm (when the sun is at its highest in the sky) and dinner between 6pm and 7.30pm (around sunset, depending on the time of year).
This simple, yet surprisingly difficult principle helps encourage our digestion to be more balanced, regular and in line with the cycles of the sun. Our body begins to develop a rhythm based on the structure we have provided for it and actually starts to expect food at a certain time each day - and our Agni is stronger at those times as a result. We are training our physiological intellgences to gear up and do their thang at a similar time each day.
If you have Vata-type indigestion where your appetite is sometimes very strong, sometimes non-existent like a candle blowing in the wind or you suffer from bloating, gas, pain, distention, dry constipation or loose motions, it is especially important to follow this guidance.
Ayurveda also recommends eating your heaviest meal at lunch time, if at all possible, and a lighter meal in the evening. For example, if you're going to eat meat, lunchtime is a better time to do so, unless having it as a soup.
2) Routine Improves Sleep
Sleep problems affect 35-40% of children and adolescents and mild insomnia affects 1 in 3 adults in Australia! (1 & 2) How much of this has to do with bed times and poor bedtime routines? From an Ayurvedic perspective, A LOT.
Ayurveda teaches it is best to go to bed at about 9.30pm so we can get to sleep before 10pm. Why? Because this is a Kapha time of night when the atmosphere is a little heavier and we're more inclined to feel sleepy. Past 10pm, we get a 'second wind' as we click over into Pitta time and it is a whole lot more difficult to fall asleep.
Before bed it is a good idea to keep the lighting low, avoid blue screens, avoid excessive stimulation and keep your sensory inputs relaxing and mellow, conducive to sleep. The trick is to harmonise your body and mind, as much as possible, with the rhythms of nature.
It is also a great idea to get up during Vata time in the morning, before 6am or not long after. Past this time and we move into Kapha time again. Even if it's harder to get up earlier, you may notice that you actually feel more fresh, awake and alive at this time than you do getting up during Kapha time.
Here's a hot tip...If you find it hard getting up at 6am, start going to bed at 9.30pm and it will soon get easier. If you find you're not tired at 9.30pm, start getting up at 6am and you soon will be!
If you improve your bedtime routine, you will fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. If you have trouble sleeping through the night, there are a vast array of Ayurvedic remedies to add to your routine that will help. For example, rubbing warm sesame oil on your feet before bed or doing a Shirropicchu, having a warm turmeric milk or a teaspoon of ashwagandha in warm milk.
3) Routine Pacifies Vata
When it comes to pacifying Vata, it almost doesn't matter what your routine is so much... it is having a routine that matters most.
Vata, or the wind element in the body, is agitated or stressed by change and the unknown. When the body/mind knows what is coming next, and trusts that it will come, it feels much safer... Vata feels safe. Helping Vata to feel safe is one of the most important things you can do for your health and happiness!
Why? Because aggitated Vata is no picnic to live with. When the winds of the body become disrupted it disrupts all the things Vata is responsible for governing; namely circulation, communication (via the nervous system and endocrine system), elimination and movement. Aggravated Vata tends to draw the other doshas and the mind out of balance as well, not to mention the digestive fire.
Imbalanced Vata feels like the electricity has been turned up in your body and you can't turn it down. It can manifest as: gassy or painful indigestion; dry constipation or excessively loose stools; variable appetite; increased sensitivity to food; excessive stress, anxiety or worry; insomnia; dry or rough skin; dry or brittle hair and nails; muscle spasms/twitching; heart palpitations; increased feelings of cold or pain in the joints; and hearing problems such as tinitus (the ears are related to Vata), just to name a few. And, from an Ayurvedic perspective, it is rather important to note that the majority of diseases manifest due to the involvement of aggravated Vata.
Needless to say, it is best to devote ourselves to calming the winds in our body each and every day. And having a good routine is one of the best and easiest ways to do this.
I used to have a fantastical vision of how I'd like my daily routine to look, especially in the mornings. It generally involved doing stuff that I just never ever managed to do, so I always felt like I was letting myself down... I began every day feeling like a failure and beating myself up about it. So eventually I got wise and decided to flip that sh*t.
Instead of organsing my routine around what I thought I should do, I decided to organise it around what I love doing and what I already do... and to appreciate that I already had a routine, more or less. Then I just had to tweak it a little to make it more balanced.
So what do I like?
In the mornings, I love lingering in bed and pressing my snooze button at least twice. So, if I'm getting up super early, I still set my alarm a little earlier so I can snooze! I love cuddling my puppies first thing... for ages. I love being quiet and not speaking too much for a while. I love going to the beach, taking the pups for a walk and maybe having a dip in the ocean. I love having a stretch. I savour my morning cuppa. And, I rather like cooking breaky.
So now I organise my mornings around these things and make sure I do most of them most days. Some things have got to give, of course. If I do yoga, I won't make it to the beach with the dogs... so I take them in the afternoon instead. It's good to be flexible... but to have a few pillars in place that create a stable foundation for the day.
Thanks to this rather tiny (and probably obvious) shift, I now have a routine that I'm actually successful at following because I love it! It doesn't bore me or burden me... it grounds me and nourishes me.
So my advice is, when considering your daily routine, make a list of what you love, choose the things that are relatively wholesome and work the rest of your day around them. Most importantly, don't forget to factor in plenty of rest and relaxation. Aggravated Vata responds quite well to that too!
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Agni - the digestive fire.
Ama or Aama - undigested food waste, toxins.
Ojas- the foundation of our immune system and longevity.
Dhatus - the tissues of the body.
Srotas - the channels of the body.
Vata - the air/ether
intelligence in the body.
Pitta- the fire/water
intelligence in the body.
Kapha- the water/earth intelligence in the body.
Sattva- the quality of purity, intelligence, peace and love.
Rajas- the quality of
turbulence and activity.
Tamas- the quality of
dullness, darkness and inertia.
Rasa - the taste of a food (Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent, Bitter, Astringent)
Virya - second level of digestion (either Heating or Cooling)
Vipaka - third level of digestion, the deep taste of a food (can be Sweet, Sour or Pungent)
Prabhav - the 'special effect' of a food or herb/spice
Rasa - also the name for plasma tissue
Rakta - blood tissue
Mamsa - muscle tissue
Meda - fat tissue
Asthi - bone tissue
Majja - nerve & bone marrow tissue
Shukra - sexual reproductive tissue