Do you have a Dinacharya?

ayurveda brain health healthy eating healthy living mindful movement real food resilience sleep stress-free Nov 19, 2022

HINT - it’s your Optimal Daily Routine!

As a followup to The Rhythms of Nature (click to read last week's blog) let’s look at what this means for our daily routines.  How can we design them with purpose, to promote health and reduce anything that may be harmful?

If you recall, the 24 hour day is divided into six 4-hour periods, each representing the three doshas, twice in each day, starting at 6 - 10 with Kapha, then Pitta is 10 - 2, and Vata is 2 - 6, both am and pm.

Ideally we would sleep for 7 - 8 hours, during 2 of these periods, between roughly 10 pm to just before 6 am, leaving 4 periods during waking hours.  Let’s call them Morning, Mid-day, Afternoon, and Evening-Bedtime 

Your Dinacharya then, includes the various habits that you want to practice in each of these time periods.

A growing body of science reveals how closely our bodies are linked to the circadian rhythm of light and darkness, right down to the cellular level.

The practices suggested are not in a specific order, although it is good to start with meditation! They should be integrated in the order that seems right for you, in other words, choose the ones that resonate with you for now.  What is most important is to add in a few practices gradually. Incorporate the parts of the daily routine will make a large impact on your life.

Most lists of daily habits start with the morning routine, but I’m actually going to begin “the night before” as I have found that that’s where we can set ourselves up for a better day “tomorrow.”

Restful Sleep!

And of course an effective evening/nighttime routine includes a great sleep, so let’s first of all look at how you can make that happen.

Restful sleep provides the foundation for your mental and physical well-being. After a day of stimulating activity, your body is ready for and needs deep sleep. Just like in nature, our physiology is dependent on cycles of activity and rest. 

Aim for seven or eight hours of sound slumber without the aid of medication. 

The hours of sleep before midnight are generally the most rejuvenating. Therefore, if you are sleeping eight hours between 10 pm and 6 am, you will feel more rested than if you slept eight hours between midnight and 8 am. This is because our circadian rhythms follow nature’s rhythms, and we therefore feel most invigorated by sleeping when it’s dark and rising with the sun. 

To cultivate restful sleep, aim to be in your bed with the lights out by 10 pm. 

If you are not used to getting to bed this early, try adjusting your sleep schedule in 15- or 30-minute increments. For example, if you normally go to bed at 11 pm, aim for 10:45 or even 10:30 for a few nights, eventually shifting it back so that you are tired and ready to sleep by 10.

And make sure to avoid caffeine late in the afternoon and refrain from drinking alcohol in the evening, as this can easily disrupt your ability to enjoy restful sleep. 

Eat a relatively light dinner no later than 7 pm, and even earlier is better.  Remember, the time you eat dinner now is a habit, and habits can be changed!  Once dinner is over, close the kitchen!  Avoid late-night meals or snacks, and don’t go to bed with a full stomach because this interferes with sleep and your body’s nocturnal detoxification processes. It may help to brush and floss your teeth right after dinner, so you aren’t tempted to snack.  And if you are in the habit of snacking, ask yourself if it is tied to another habit, like watching TV.  Perhaps it’s time to also disrupt that habit so you won’t also snack mindlessly!

Instead, take a leisurely stroll after dinner and look for other “winding down” activities that will have you looking forward to your rest, long before 10 pm.

There are many suggestions to help you wind down:

  • For example, about an hour before bedtime, you could run a warm bath into which you place a few drops of calming essential oils, such as lavender, sandalwood, or vanilla. You can also diffuse this scent in your bedroom. 
  • If your mind is still active, journal for a few minutes before bed, “downloading” some of your thoughts and concerns so you don’t ruminate about them when you shut your eyes. Read inspirational or spiritual literature for a few minutes before bed.  Practice Restorative Yoga (Legs up the Wall!) or Yoga Nidra. 
  • Try a mantra meditation before bed or if you wake up in the middle of the night. Silently repeat the sleep mantra Om Agasti Shahina. The vibration is associated with calming down thoughts and helping with sleep. Even if you don't fall asleep right away, the mantra will create relaxation in the body and mind. 
  • Above all, avoid intense mental activity, emotional interactions, or overly stimulating or distressing reading material. 

Do your best not to watch television or do work in bed. Also avoid devices with self-illuminating electronic displays, such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops, at least two hours before bed. The blue light suppresses melatonin and can trick your brain into thinking that it’s daytime and that you need to be awake and alert. 

Sleep in a totally dark room because darkness helps increase melatonin. For especially sensitive individuals, even dim light, such as a glowing clock display, can interfere with your circadian rhythms and melatonin secretion and disturb sleep. 

Once in bed, close your eyes and simply “feel your body.” This means focusing on your body and wherever you notice tension, consciously relax that area. 

Then, simply put your attention on your breath until you fall asleep. 

Scientific research is now discovering what Ayurveda has taught for centuries: sleep is as important to good health as the food we eat and the air we breathe. 

As you slumber, your body may seem inert, but in fact it’s actively engaging in many processes to repair and renew itself, such as: 

  • Eliminating accumulated stress and physical toxins, including the amyloid that can build up in the brain and lead to Alzheimer’s disease 
  • Repairing and regenerating cells and tissues 
  • Strengthening immune function 
  • Balancing your hormones, particularly leptin and ghrelin, which regulate your metabolism and appetite and help you maintain your ideal weight 
  • Consolidating short-term memories into your long-term memory 

Like to nap?  Here’s the general take on naps from an Ayurvedic perspective:

  • People who do benefit from naps should limit them to between 10-30 minutes, the ideal time being 20 minutes.
  • Research suggests the best times to nap are between 2-3:00 pm. This correlates with the transition between Pitta and Vata time. 
  • Pittas do best with a "power nap". They fall asleep fast and wake up fast and refreshed. 
  • Vatas benefit from naps at the beginning of Vata time (that 2-3:00 time) to rest and recover energy before going into a more active time of day. 
  • Kaphas do best without napping! They find it harder to wake up without feeling groggy and likely don't get the same benefits. They would do better with a relaxing meditation if needed in the middle of the day, or some movement to restore energy. 

So here’s a summary of your Evening and Bedtime Routines

  • Eat a light dinner at least two (preferably more) hours before bedtime so that the digestion process doesn’t interfere with your sleep.
  • Dinner should be a smaller meal than lunch. According to Ayurveda, lunch should be the largest meal of the day, to be eaten when the sun is highest in the sky—fiery Pitta time—so that our agni, or digestive fire, is strong and powerful.
  • Sit quietly for five minutes after eating.
  • Take a leisurely stroll for five to fifteen minutes to aid digestion.
  • Favour light (non-work) activities in the evening. Avoid intense mental tasks or emotional interactions, such as managing your finances, arguing with someone, or watching the news or violence on TV before you go to bed.
  • Try out some practices to wind down and get ready to sleep.
  • Take a warm bath, if you like, to relax your body/mind and begin to dim the lights. You can also use relaxing aromatherapy.
  • Avoid watching TV, engaging with your phone, and using other electronic devices in bed. Get all the electronics out of the bedroom!  Instead, enjoy some light or inspirational reading or listen to soft music.
  • Aim to be in bed with the lights off by 10 p.m.
  • At night, during Pitta time, the body performs important detoxification functions, which is one of the many reasons sleeping at the proper time is so important.

Try this Home Practice this week!  

  • For the next evening or two, simply notice your current practices:  level of activity (how stimulating?).  When do you turn off all your screens?  Any “wind-down” activities?  Time to bed and lights out?
  • The following morning, take note of how you feel when you wake up (refreshed and ready for the day – or not?)
  • In other words, how well did you evening and bedtime routines of the night before, set you up for the new day?
  • Then, over the next few days, If your bedtime is later than 10 pm, start to move it earlier by 15 - 30 minutes AND if you recognize that you have your screens on after 8 pm, or you’re engaging in other more intense activities, try to scale those back as well.
  • Again, the following morning, take note of how you feel when you wake up (refreshed and ready for the day?)
  • Know that it may take longer than a few days to change these well established routines and to notice some clear results, so do your best to keep them going – perhaps until they become habitual and you look forward to your stress-free evenings and earlier bedtime!
  • And remember, no judgment!

 

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