Nourishing food, proper rest and regular exercise are commonly recognized health principles. We all agree, and do our best to abide by them. What I found unique to Ayurveda is the strong emphasis on a daily routine based on the changing energetic qualities of the day.
So in this post, I would like to explain how three overarching energetic principles in nature act on us in a daily, 24-hour cycle of work, rest and nourishment.
The main concept to grasp is that there are three energetic principles: movement, transformation, and cohesion. These are the trinity, so to speak, of all life processes. Ayurvedic savants know these principles as Vata, Pitta and Kapha- but we don't need to worry about the terminology.
Ayurveda teaches us how this trinity governs the course of the day (the course of all "time" really) and is reflected in the daily (and life-cycle) of us living beings. In a 24 hour period, the three energies repeat in a roughly 4-hour pattern, and as they do, they govern physiological functions within us.
The diagram on the left shows the daily repeating pattern on the face of a clock for simplicity
The day would begin by awakening with the "stirring-up" energy of the early morning. The elements of air and space are in play here. Movement energy dominates at this time. It is when the mind and body naturally start to activate. You might notice your sleep getting lighter in these pre-dawn hours. Ever notice how birds start singing much before sunrise? Waking up at this time makes for an alert and peaceful mind. It is when the body naturally wants to "move" toxins out of the body (hence an ideal time for a bowel movement). Roughly this would be from 2- 6 am. It would be best to wake up by 6 am at the latest. It is a great time for creative activity!
The next phase starts at around 6 am. The energy of cohesion dominates here. The elements of earth and water are governed by it. It is has a stability, even heaviness to it. This is why sleeping into this phase of the day brings a sluggishness to the body-mind that lingers through the morning. It is best to do some kind of exercise at this time, followed by a self-massage and shower (see my previous post titles "Self-massage with oil" for details). Then a light meal by 8 am to keep the body feeling energetic. A heavy meal at breakfast will intensify the heaviness that is already characteristic of this phase.
At 10 am we enter the third phase: transformation. It is the prime time for metabolic processes, as the element of fire dominates here. The main meal of the day, lunch, should be had at peak of this cycle, when digestive powers are strongest. This is another reason to eat an early breakfast. Since digestion can take anywhere from 3-6 hours, you want to ensure you have digested breakfast in time to eat lunch by noon or 1 pm to make the best use of the strong fire!
From 2 pm on, we are back in the first phase of the cycle: the element of air; the principle of movement. It is another good time for creative activities, and exercise- if you did not get to it in the morning.
At 6 pm we are in the second phase again: the element of earth and water, the principle of cohesion. This is when a slowing-down occurs at the onset of the evening. Just as plants switch over to their non-photosynthesis resting mode and birds quiet down to roost at sunset, the subtle channels of our mind start to fill with a heavy energy, and we begin to feel calm in the evening and then, sleepy by nightfall. Dinner is best eaten by 7 pm so that our system has finished digesting by bedtime - which should be around 10 pm. By sleeping in this phase we use the natural heavy energy present in nature to go into a deep sleep. Often, modern technology makes it hard to perceive this. Electricity keeps our homes bright long past sundown, television and computers keep our minds stimulated till late at night. We then tend to stay awake past the natural sleepy time, and have trouble falling asleep altogether.
The reason we have trouble sleeping after 10 pm is because the previous heavy phase is followed by the final phase of fire or transformation from 10 pm and 2 am. This is a dynamic and stimulating time, when one may get a second wind to keep working or socializing till late into the night. However, it is a crucial time for the body to be resting. It is during this first phase of sleep, that we process and assimilate all the information that has been taken in by our senses in the day. Also, many purification processes occur in the metabolic systems. This is why it is best to have a relatively empty stomach when we sleep- to allow for the cleansing and resetting that the metabolic fire at this time is intended for. Ever notice how hungry you get if you stay up past 10 pm? That is natural, because your fire is raging. However, eating at this time taxes the system by preventing the deep cleansing that the system needs to do. So it is best to be deep in sleep by the time this fire kindles.
This brings one daily cycle to an end.
Ayurveda is all about harmonizing with nature. It creates harmony within us. That inner harmony then manifests as good health and an open heart. Try out tweaking your daily routine to synchronize with the cycles of nature and see how you feel. It may be initially challenging, but stick to it for a full 4 weeks (that is how long the body takes to switch over to a new rhythm). I assure you, though, that you will start to feel different well before that.
I know you will have questions- I sure did when I first discovered this. So write to me!