Dinacharya refers to Ayurvedic daily routine recommendations that help enhance health, vitality, life quality and prevent disease.
How you live your day to day life is the key factor in the quality of health and overall life experience. What you do every day either builds vitality, health & disease resistance OR weakens ojas, wears you down and makes you more susceptible to illness. Usually it’s in our day to day habits that Ayurveda sees the causative factor of disease; healthy choices and mindful dinacharya promote healthy nervous, immune, endocrine & digestive system function as you re-connect to circadian rhythms.
Ayurveda recognizes that we are a part of, and not separate from nature and its rhythms: the alternation of day & night and the cycle of the seasons affect us greatly.
Think about it: nearly everywhere you look in nature, creatures engage in some sort of consistent daily routine. Where there may be some seasonal variation, many plants and animals engage in a predictable routine and as a rule, seem to live by it. The natural world is deeply influenced by the rhythms of nature- sunrise, sunset and seasonal cycles affect the broader community of life.
As modern humans, we have largely gotten away from this habit. We light the darkness, engage in stimulating activities late into the evening, are wired to technology most of the day, have erratic sleep and meal schedules, travel frequently and often work jobs or other obligations that demand irregular hours. Add that on top of the stress and busy-ness of modern living- it’s no wonder our system is in a state of chronic stress and high alert with an inability to simply rest, relax or meditate.
Believe it or not, your physiology can adapt to and feel incredibly supported by some sense of regularity. This is exactly why dinacharya is such potent medicine. Having some sort of daily routine offers the grounding, stability and predictability that is largely absent from our hectic lives. When the body becomes accustomed to having routines around sleeping, mealtimes, bowel movements, self-care, exercise & spiritual or wellness practices, the nervous system can finally begin to relax and heal, support and nurture the body.
Ayurvedic daily routines put you back in harmony with natural rhythms; by regulating your biological clock you bring body, mind & consciousness to a higher level of functioning.
Where to start? Here’s some ideas:
Wake Up Early
At least aim to have consistency when you wake up every day. Ayurveda suggests rising before the sun comes up, usually between 5-7 am. (this is often affected by the seasons & doesn’t always apply to extreme latitudes like Alaska!) However, as animals hibernate and sleep more in the winter and sleep less as they are more active in the summer; it’s very acceptable for humans to do the same.
Ayurveda recognizes morning time, 6-10am, as the “Kapha” time of day. The later you wake up in this time frame, the more likely you will have the qualities of that dosha in your day: tired, heavy, groggy, unmotivated, slugglish, congested, slower & lethargic. Sleeping for a longer duration after sunrise also increases the prevalence of digestive disorders as the waste material (that wants to be eliminated upon rising stays in the colon, creating ama or toxins in the body.) It can eventually cause gas, bloating, acid reflux, and several other symptoms later in the day.
Rinse Mouth or Scrape Tongue
Saliva flow significantly reduces during sleep, which allows microbial growth in the mouth. (This is why we have bad breath in the morning.) A quick water rinse or tongue scrape removes this bacteria.
Drink Water Upon Rising
Ayurveda calls this “Ushapaan,” Usha meaning dawn and Paan meaning to take or drink. Drink a glass of room temperature or warm water. This helps to wash and cleanse the gastrointestinal tract while flushing the kidneys. It also stimulates peristalisis, supporting bowel regularity.
Try not to start your day with coffee or black tea; these beverages are not only habit forming, but drain kidney energy, overstimulate the adrenals and promote constipation in the long term. (Ironically, many people feel they “need” coffee for a bowel movement, but this only makes things worse in the long run. The body begins relying on stimulants to induce the peristalitic contractions necessary to create the urge to go to the bathroom. Ayurveda instead focuses on encouraging the bodies natural peristaltic actions)
Neti &/or Nasya
Neti is the process of cleaning the nasal passageways with saline water. Ayurveda suggest performing neti daily as it insures healthy nasal passages by removing excess mucous and environmental contaminants (dust, dander, toxins, etc). Keeping the nasal airways clean and clear enhances the proper absorption of breath (prana) & can help reduce respiratory and seasonal allergies.
Nasya is the nasal administration of oil. Putting a few drops of sesame or olive oil into the nose helps keep the nostrils lubricated (especially great for anyone living in a cold climate). Dry nasal membranes are more likely to get infected or irritated from airborne contaminants. Daily nasya also helps clean sinuses and can improve voice, vision & mental clarity.
We all know that massage promotes circulation, moves lymph, increases our immunity and helps alleviate body aches and pains. All science aside, massage just feels great. Ayurvedic self oil massage, known as abhyanga, has those benefits and more. Daily abhyanga can prevent vata disorders, reduce stress & anxiety, nourish & enhance skin tone, calm the nervous system and improve sleep quality.
Do some sort of exercise every day. A walk in the early morning air and some yoga postures are sufficient for most people, with some constitutions benefiting from additional aerobic exercise (depending on prakruti, age, seasons, physical ability, etc). As a general rule, Ayurveda recommends exercising up to one half of one’s capacity. Exercise in the big picture should give you energy, joy & vitality- not deplete or exhaust you.
Take some time for a self-enhancing practice. This can be meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, journaling, prayer, or other activities that bring well-being to your spirit and mind. Start small-even 5 minutes goes a long way! Something is better than nothing. The more you allow for these types of practices, the greater the benefits.
Regularity with mealtimes supports healthy digestion. When our body expects and gets used to being fed at certain times each day, our digestive system responds by getting ready with the various enzymes, required to process food.
It is best to only eat when you’re hungry and when the sun is up; Ayurveda recognizes that when the earth’s agni (the sun) is out, then the human agni (digestion) is strong. Ayurveda suggests eating a light but nourishing breakfast, having lunch be the biggest meal of the day and advocates for a lighter & earlier dinner; eating too late in the evening affects sleep and alters body hormones & chemicals.
Just as important is WHAT you eat is HOW you eat. Eat with mindfulness and respect for the food. Chew thoroughly, really eat, taste and notice what you’re bringing into the body. Do not eat while in motion, this aggravates all three doshas. Put away the phone, turn off the TV, postphone stressful or intense conversations while eating. Any emotions you generate while you eat also must be digested in addition to whatever’s being eaten. Ayurveda suggests that when the mind is fully digesting the meal, the body will digest it fully as well. 😉
Again, regularity is key here. Notice how children function better (socially, emotionally, academically) when they adhere to routine and regularity around sleep & wake times? We don’t magically transcend these benefits once we turn 18!
Ayurveda suggests being in bed by 10pm. When we stay up much later than that, we enter the pitta, or “fire” time of night (between 10pm-2am). Ayurveda regards this time as most beneficial for sleep (body systems are doing important repair and rejuvenation during this part of the evening); if we stay up much later past 10pm, we can get a “second wind,” and that fire energy can get utilized for activity instead of repair & restoration. Consistently missing out on sleep between these vital hours contributes to adrenal fatigue, digestive disturbances and nervous & immune system imbalances.
The Take Home Message
Traditional Ayurveda would advocate for all of these things to be done on a daily basis. All too often I see people try all of them at once, get overwhelmed, and then do none of them. Less is more, especially if you are new to the art of self-care. Most importantly, be kind to yourself– dinacharya is not meant to stress you out or feel like “another thing you have to do.”
Quite the contrary- dinacharya is a purposeful and enduring act of self-love. Adopt any tangible measure that works to prioritize your own health and well-being; the cumulative affect in showing up and caring for yourself is powerful and potent. Committing to some sort of daily routine often results in an improved sense of wellness in a very short period of time.