So much in our world is uncertain. And reading and watching the news rarely gives us direction or imparts peace of mind. Recently, I was on a call with a colleague who re-stated a phrase I’ve heard before from one of our wise, Ayurvedic doctors, and it went something like:
Dinacharaya, your daily routine, will save you.
What this meant to me: A good daily routine will, at the very least, ground you and bring you to the present moment.
The only thing that we can control are (some of) our routines. Even if our day is dictated by mandatory work hours, children and family, we generally have some control over morning or evening moments that can really make a difference in how grounded, centered, or healthy we feel.
You may have read about dinacharaya, which are guidelines to healthy routines, helpful keystone behaviors, that we hone as we make our way through a day or a life that’s hectic and full of unknowns. A mentor of mine used the term book ending–or to at least have healthy morning and evening routines since many of us cannot control all that happens in between. With that said, here are the suggestions.
is a microcosm of the beginning of our life when we were most impressionable, so it’s important to start our day by “getting up on the right side of bed.” The rising of the sun offers the possibility for a new start–the birds begin their songs, the insects come alive, and most animals awaken to look for food or get with their mates.
Therefore it’s important to
*Greet the day with hopefulness, for you are alive.
We only have so many days on this planet, and those days can be counted!
*Take a deep breath, stretch, arms up over the head (to alleviate kapha), open the blinds or curtains, let the light in from the horizon.
Bathroom: *After you relieve yourself, splash a little cool water into the eyes (to pacify pitta), clean out the ears, blow your nose (kapha accumulation). Tongue scrape, gently, 7 times, back to front (Seven represents our tissue layers or dhatus) and brush your teeth (you don’t have to use toothpaste, just get the gunk off your teeth that’s accumulated overnight.)
*Brush your hair or rub your scalp to get your brain working. There are 3 significant marma points on the scalp (BrahmaRandhra, Adhipati, ShivaRandhra). Stimulating those will pacify all three doshas, regulate prana, help relieve headaches, neck pain, and improve your emotional state.
*Take another deep breath.
*And say something nice (or funny!) to yourself in the mirror. Please don’t put yourself down.
Before breakfast is the ideal time to defecate. *Drinking warm water first thing in the morning helps. Try sitting on the toilet the same time each morning after your beverage if you have irregular bowel habits. NEVER force. If you don’t go, that’s okay; your body will eventually get the idea about timing.
*If you have trouble eliminating daily, try soaking 3 – 4 prunes in hot water for an hour or so and drink the water and eat the prunes before bedtime. Triphala powder, 1/2 teaspoon in a glass of warm/room temp water, also helps to condition the colon. You can take the triphala every night before bed. I generally take mine in the morning as to cut down on nighttime bathroom visits. I recommend against strong bowel stimulants as they could cause an imbalance, increasing (vata) too quickly.
Do gentle exercise, ideally before you eat. If you don’t have time, spend a few minutes stretching and breathing in deeply. Set good intentions.
*Drink another glass of warm or lukewarm water before you take in any coffee, tea, etc.
I don’t recommend ice-cold smoothies. It’s best to eat a warm breakfast, one that’s suitable to your constitution. Vatas need to eat and include protein, pittas will be hungry as their digestive fire is ready for food. And kapha types can skip breakfast if their blood sugar level is balanced.
is most people’s waking hours, often taken over by work and other obligations. If you’re not working or do not have a family living with you, it’s best to have some routine in place, even if it’s loose. Example~ in the morning run errands, afternoons read, garden or study, late afternoon call a friend. Find something that gives your day rhythm. And eat your meals at the same times each day.
Our bodies LOVE rhythm
If you’re working, make sure you’re eating lunch and have good water on hand. When I taught school with just 30 minutes to eat, I usually had a hot, homemade meal in a large thermos ready to go in order to avoid having to use the microwave to heat frozen cardboard boxed food. I also tried to eat lunch alone so that I wouldn’t have to engage in talk. I’m very sociable, but found other times to connect to my teacher friends–just not while I was eating and trying to digest my food. Taking in food is a nourishing act that is sacred.
*Plan your snacks to prevent your brain from wanting a glucose hit. (That’s when people crave sugar.)
Sometimes, I take a spoonful of Chyawanprash (a sweet, herbal, ghee based mixture that I enjoy the taste of) or eat some fruit. Since I have a lot of vata/pitta, I just make sure my snacks are not dry, processed or sugar laden. If you’re hungry for sugar, your lunch or meals are not nutritious or big enough.
is time to wind down. Hopefully you’ll have a plan in place for dinner and will have sat at a table to enjoy it before or around sunset. Look at what you’re eating. Avoid eating front of the television or screen. After dinner, close the kitchen. Take a walk, sweep the kitchen floor, check out the sky. Prepare to slip into night and close the day. It’s okay to go back in for a warm drink hours before bedtime, but if you’re hungry before bed, then your dinner wasn’t big enough or nutritious enough. Satisfying dinners keep us from late night snacking.
This is tough for many of us. Even young people now are experiencing issues because of screen time engagement.
Keep whatever you’re doing at night, pleasant. This is when I try to stop worrying about the future and let go of the day’s dramas. If you notice your worry level go up in the evening, shine a lot of awareness on this pattern. Worry is mind-generated and vitiates vata. Negative patterns don’t thrive in awareness or consciousness. We can only dissolve patterns when we know that they’re there.
Watch pleasant movies, read easy to digest materials. Listen to positive podcasts.
I’m not going to have definitive answers to everyone’s sleep issues. Sleep is important and you’ve got to figure out how to get to bed and relax well before the eleven o’clock hour. A lot of folks are doing sleep medications. But it’s generally covering up deeper issues like hormonal imbalances, stressful life situations, poor bedtime patterns, etc.
There are also traumas that some of us haven’t digested that interrupt our being able to relax into sleep.
Again, shining awareness on these issues can help to dissolve them. So set your intention. Try visualization. Let go.
I find that warm/hot milk with ashwaghanda before bed helps. And absolutely engaging in no upsetting media. I also do not look at my phone once I’m in bed. If there’s a movie that we want to see that contains violent imagery, we’ll wait and view it on a rainy afternoon. Digesting images and ideas are just as important as digesting your foods. We don’t want mental, physical, and/or spiritual indigestion which manifests as stress in the body and the mind. It’s always easier to digest in the daytime and that goes for food, images, and ideas–everything.
Sleep can also be elusive for some of us since it’s the microcosm of the end of life when we slip into a very deep dream state. Some are afraid to let go of the day–since it’s like letting go of life. Sleeping takes trust. It also takes energy to get or stay sleep, so we don’t want to become overly tired.
Whatever is keeping you up, try and figure out what can help you balance so that most of the nights your sleep is good. And don’t worry as that very emotion vitiates vata. Vata is to blame for an overactive mind and rambling thoughts that are never about the present.
Oil (on the body) helps to contain vata. I love using Banyan’s sleep oil on the bottoms of my feet or massaging ashwagandha bala oil on my body before my evening shower. (Start with hot water, but turn your shower taps to lukewarm/cool before drying off. Just no hot water on the head, please!)
Oil massages, change of diet, creating good daily routines, enjoying life, calming podcasts, gentle music, and even forward bends can help to relax the nervous system. Try one thing at a time. And be gentle and soft with yourself.
I see that a lot of people think that there is a perfect way to live. Some believe that all these healthy practices should be in place 100% of the time and that they should be able to attain peaceful and happy lives by following instructions while engaging with a dysfunctional society and world.
First of all, perfect and human are not synonymous. We are truly a work in progress. The worst thing you could do is beat yourself up because you’re not doing what you think is supposed to be good for you.
Even seasoned practitioners deviate from routines when they need to. What separates them from the fray is that they’re not hard on themselves; however, they’ve long practiced good routines which helped to create stability in body and mind– so taking breaks from routine is not a negative. After all, it’s what we do MOST of the time that counts. Routines really do strengthen us– body, mind and spirit, so that when we deviate, we’ll want to get right back on it.
I suggest starting with where you are. Try just ONE new thing a month. Or ONE new thing every two months until it becomes second nature. My morning routine practically does itself now. But it took me several years to get those practices in place where I don’t even think about it. They just feel too good to skip over.
Go easy, start slowly.
Just remember that our bodies do appreciate routines because our “food body”, i.e. the annamayakosha, is able to adapt better to whatever you’re doing on a regular basis.
England’s 95 year old Elizabeth II is said to be a routine queen. One account states that she has cookies, cereal and earl grey tea just about every day for breakfast. She has one alcoholic drink at night and loves chocolate. But she’s also quite disciplined and has healthy, light meals with protein for lunch and dinner. The important thing is that she generally eats and drinks the same time each day, so her body has adapted to the routine. And I bet she doesn’t sit in front of a computer and eat either. When you have an established routine that’s relatively healthy, the body doesn’t have to “think” its way through another process. The point is that the body appreciates knowing what’s going to happen with it. And it doesn’t do as well with erratic schedules or behaviors.
Once you feel like you’ve got a good routine going on, don’t be hard on yourself if you deviate. It’s best to develop a compassionate awareness and non-judgmentally note how you FEEL rather than let your thoughts run you down.
OF COURSE, it takes mental fire and determination to change and to see things through. And I recommend fostering your will-power. Nevertheless, it’s unproductive when we’re down or hard on ourselves like some internal emotionally abusive parent.
Start with love. End with love.
These things, too, can save us.
Lastly, limit your visual and auditory intake of the news and media which can be likened to junk foods or hard to digest substances.
Not focusing on everything that’s out of your control can save you. In the end, we can perhaps save our world by learning to take care of ourselves.
Remember, ROUTINE IS what we HAVE. Everyone can splash a little cool water on their eyelids in the morning. Everyone. This is not contingent upon what’s happening in Ukraine or with the pandemic. Yet this simple action can save you— your moment, your prana, your peace of mind.
Sending love and hope out to you
and to all in our world~