By. Dr. Claudia Welch
The Purusha or self-conscious personality is born from Rasa. Therefore an intelligent person should carefully preserve his bodily rasa by adopting a proper regimen of diet and conduct. (1)
Ayurveda, literally “the science of life”, seeks to support a rich, flavorful life on all levels. The Sanskrit word rasa translates as “juice,” “sap,” “taste,” or “flavor.” It is also the name of the primary nutritional substance of the body that is associated with plasma, lymph and chyle(2). Every cell of our body requires rasa. If rasa is healthy, we are likely to have vitality, feel satiated, content and find enjoyment in life.
One important way to support healthy rasa, is to have an optimal daily routine—called dinacharya. Dinacharya takes advantage of the shifting qualities in each time of day, season, and environment to determine the best activity to engage in and when to engage in it. For example, because “like increases like”-a law of Nature, according to Ayurveda—we observe that the relative heat of midday increases the power and capacity of agni, the digestive fire. This means that the middle of the day is the best time to eat our main meal. In that way we are taking advantage of the natural increase of heat.
There are also times when we need to adjust our actions to counteract the natural qualities of a given time. For example, dawn is a natural time of change—from darkness to daylight. While we can take advantage of that transformational energy to encourage a fruitful meditation, the grounding, quiet stability of a meditation practice also counteracts the potentially anxiety-producing aspect of change.
If we are interested in maintaining a healthy equilibrium, it is incumbent upon us to recognize the qualities inherent in times of day and our environments (3) and learn how to respond in a manner that maintains balance. Sometimes this means taking advantage of the qualities inherent in our environments, and sometimes it means learning how to counteract them. The best response to our environment will, in part depend on our individual constitutions. What will feel good to one person may cause irritation or anxiety in another.
While there are certain elements of dinacharya that may need to be tailored to our unique needs, there are guidelines outlined in the classic ancient Ayurvedic texts (4) that can benefit most of us, most of the time.
It is interesting to note that, while general life principles are given as guidelines to live our daily lives, the bulk of specific directions are geared towards a morning routine, from waking sometime between 3am and dawn, to meditating, grooming, exercising and bathing. All this takes place before breakfast. From breakfast on we are left to our discretion, to apply ethical living to our particular needs and patterns. Why is so much emphasis given to our early morning routine?
There is a principle accepted by Eastern Medicine, called the Law of Microcosm and Macrocosm that can help us understand this better. Dr. Robert Svoboda offers a succinct explanation:
According to the Law of Microcosm and Macrocosm, everything that exists in the vast external universe, the macrocosm also appears in the internal cosmos of the human body, the microcosm. Charaka says, ’Man is the epitome of the universe. There is in man as much diversity as in the world outside, and there is in the world as much diversity as in man.’ When the individual becomes aligned with the universe, the lesser cosmos functions as a harmonious unit of the greater. Dr. Robert Svoboda (5)
If everything that exists in the macrocosm exists in the microcosm, then the reverse must also be true: everything that exists in the microcosm exists in the macrocosm. This can have profound implications. But first let us look at some various examples of this principle at work.
In Ayurveda, a common application of this law is in the elemental macro and microcosms. In the human being, as well as in the universe, there are five creative elements—earth, water, fire, air and ether—and three forces: one that governs movement, one transformation and the third structure. In the Universe these forces are called anila, surya and soma, respectively. In the human being, they are the doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha, respectively.
The microcosm will always reflect the macrocosm. For example, in the fire of summer—governed by surya—we may have more of a tendency to suffer from internal Pitta conditions, such as ulcers, anger or skin rashes. The macrocosm of the seasonal environment is affecting the microcosm of the human environment.
The microcosm affecting the macrocosm is expressed in the now famous example of the butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world and this affecting whether patterns on far away continents. Sometimes clearly expressed and at other times subtle or difficult to perceive, the Law of Macrocosm and Microcosm is nonetheless a fundamental principle in Ayurveda.
If we apply this principle to the passage of time, we see temporal microcosms and macrocosms. In these, each time cycle is a microcosm of the next. There is the 24-hour cycle of night giving way to daytime. This daily rhythm goes on and on and on, mimicking the grander cycles: The cycles of seasons, where the winter with its cold, lifeless months melt into the new growth of spring. There is the cycle of life, from conception to birth, childhood, middle age, old age, death and—if we accept the idea of reincarnation—to rebirth. Some spiritual traditions talk about cycles of ages, where an age of light and wisdom gives way to increasingly dark and ignorant ages, and finally returns again to an age of light.
While we may have little or no control over the grander cycles of ages, the seasons, or even our present lifetime, we do have an opportunity each day to take advantage of a new cycle, be reborn into the new life of the new day, and act wisely.
If we overlay the 24-hour cycle microcosm over the cycle of a lifetime, we see that predawn through early morning roughly corresponds to pregnancy, birth and early childhood. Morning corresponds to later childhood, midday to midlife, and late afternoon through twilight equates to old age or the twilight of life. Nightfall signifies death and, if we accept reincartnation (not a necessity to benefit from dinacharya), nighttime would correlate with the mysteries encountered by the unembodied soul between lifetimes.
If the macrocosm of our lifetime can be affected by the microcosm of one day, it follows that it is important how we spend that day. The sages who first delivered the precepts of Ayurveda were well aware of this and outlined a daily routine, called dinacharya, which serves as a guideline for us to follow. It provides a structure that we can adjust according to our various needs and constitutions.
Being able to affect the macrocosm of a lifetime via the microcosm of a 24-hour cycle, offers tremendous healing potential. For example, it offers us a way to address lifelong maladies.
Whenever we see a pattern that dates back as far as we can remember in our lives, we can guess it has its inception in conception, pregnancy, birth or very early childhood. These are the stages of life most crucial to forming lifelong patterns and rhythms because all our organs, meridians and proclivities are developed during this time. Physical, mental, spiritual and emotional patterns established then are difficult to change because they are so deeply ingrained. Imbalances during these critical early stages often create khavaigunyas—challenge areas—that can last a lifetime.
Many people have difficult lifelong physical or emotional patterns that may be the result of trauma suffered during these early stages of life. One may feel a vague, free-floating sense of anxiety for her entire life. Another may have always had a weak digestive system. Still another may find herself unable to have healthy intimate relationships. Often there is a sense of hopelessness about changing these tenacious patterns.
If we apply our Law of Microcosm and Macrocosm to this dilemma, we see that we could use predawn through early morning as a window of opportunity every day to affect old, stubborn patterns and thereby change or heal negative patterns. Each morning we have a new opportunity to establish healthy pathways that will replace the negative ones created during our pregnancy or birth, or to reinforce the positive ones that may have been created. Each new day ushers in a cascade of new possibilities and a shower of second chances.
If we follow the daily routine that the Ayurvedic sages recommend, we will be harmonizing Vata and cleansing the channels of the mind—affecting vitally important forces in pattern development. Vata is active both at birth and the pre dawn through early morning hours. It is, by nature, easily affected by both positive and negative influences. It also, serves to affect the development of the mind, through prana, our life force.
The meditation and oil massages outlined in the daily routine both serve to pacifyVata. Additionally, notice that all the sense organs—the eyes, ears, nose, skin and mouth are cleansed or oiled. Because the sense organs are associated with the channels of the mind, (6)what we are doing is cleansing and renewing our mind and perception each morning.
When we meditate lovingly during predawn hours, we are able to accept spiritual nourishment in the same way we might have received sustenance during our in utero and birth experience. When we follow this and the rest of the morning routine, we pacify Vata, prana flows freely, our mental and physical apparatus becomes well organized and we are delivered into the new day as a healthy individual. And perhaps we are healing the relative macrocosm of our in utero and birth experience at the same time, thereby benefiting our entire life.
Now, if the microcosm of our lifetime can be lovingly affected, then perhaps even the macrocosm of the ages will be positively affected.
Dinacharya: A Daily Morning Routine
The Charaka Samhita and the Ashtanga Hrdayam are two ancient classical Ayurvedic texts that are still referenced today. These classics outline a routine for daily conduct. They begin with a morning routine as follows, and discuss general approaches to life that are beneficial.
Wake up during brahmamuhurta
The healthy person should get up (from bed) during brahmamuhurta, to protect his life (8).
Brahmamuhurta or amritavela—the ambrosial hours—are names for the early hours of each day. My teacher included 3am through dawn in these ambrosial hours.
The first moments of a day, like the first seconds of an infant’s life, are minutes that can set the tone for an experience. If we allow the first attention of the day to be peaceful, grateful and infused with a sense of joy, it is more likely that our day will be pleasant.
Early morning is a natural time to urinate and have a bowel movement, as apana vayu, the downward flowing energy in the body, is active at this time. This is a time when we should not be in a rush, and should allow the natural rhythms of our bodies to carry out their functions. Triphala, a mixture of three dried, powdered fruits, is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine to support regular bowel habits and healthy digestive tracts.(9)
Neem, an extremely bitter herb, is said to be especially good for oral health. These days, there are neem toothpastes available. Bitter, astringent and pungent herbs are said to be best for fighting cavities, as they are Kapha-pacifying and often have antibacterial and antiviral activity.
Scrape the tongue
This is best done with a smooth tongue scraper made of gold, silver, copper, tin, brass or stainless steel. Tongue scrapers are U-shaped and it is most effective to hold the two ends and scrape from the back to the front of the tongue several times; each time discarding the collected material. Then swish your mouth with clean water and spit out the dirty water.
This routine cleans and freshens the mouth far more than simply removing plaque from the teeth. It also offers an opportunity to consider the appearance of the tongue coat daily. If the coat is thick, it is better to eat a simple, easy-to-digest diet until it clears up, as the coat is an indicator of the health of the digestive tract and the rest of the body. Ideally, the coat should be easily scraped off, leaving a pink, uniformly shaped tongue with no coat, but it should not appear raw either. If you are not sure what a healthy tongue looks like, most young children still have healthy looking tongues, as long as they don’t have colds, are on pharmaceutical drugs, or are ill. If your tongue is not clean after you scrape it, it is a good idea to check with an Ayurvedic practitioner to learn if there are simple changes you can make to improve your health.
Drink a glass of warm water
It is good to drink water after brushing your teeth and scraping your tongue, as you will not then swallow the bacteria collected over the course of the night. It can also aid in peristalsis and so may help stimulate a bowel movement.
Gargle with warm sesame oil
Gargle with warm, untoasted sesame oil to provide strength to jaws and voice, development of face, maximum taste and relish in food. Ayurvedic classics teach that this practice benefits the throat, lips, prevents dental cavities, roots the teeth firmly, reduces dental sensitivity and pain and help make the teeth strong enough to chew even the hardest food items.
Massage gums with warm sesame oil
Ayurveda teaches us that, if prana—life force—circulates smoothly, then blood will circulate smoothly, too, and will carry nutrition to, and waste from tissues, and that this supports the health of the tissues. My periodontist seems to agree with this as he has explained to me that the health of my teeth depend on the health of my gums. Massaging the gums with warm, untoasted sesame oil increases prana and blood flow to the gums. If you have gum disease, you might try massaging with neem oil, as neem is considered to be antibacterial.
Apply daily cooling salve or cool water to your eyes
A daily salve would need to be recommended by your natural health care provider, but anyone can enjoy splashing some cool water in their eyes in the morning. The eyes have a lot of work to do, especially in this computer-dominated age. Dr. Vasant Lad regularly recommends the use of a drop of food-grade rose water or castor oil in each eye and I have experienced benefit from this practice, but it is important not to put anything in your eyes without the guidance of a trained health care practitioner who knows you and your eyes. If you are not able to consult with someone or if you are not comfortable putting anything in your eyes, you can simply splash some cool water in your eyes, to cool and refresh them.
O traveler get up; it is dawn-it is not right that you continue sleeping.
One who awakes, he finds, One who is asleep, he loses.
Get up and open your eyes from slumber and meditate on your Master.
One who awakes, he finds, One who is asleep, he loses.
Get up and open your eyes from slumber and meditate on your Master.
From Ayurveda to Ammachi to Swami Sivananda, to my own lineage and to Christian and other religious traditions, early morning hours are emphasized as being the best ones for meditation, prayer and obtaining true knowledge.
During these hours, the environment is serene; the mind is quieter and more inclined within. There is a quietness and peace in the predawn hours that help center the mind and refresh the senses. Within these hours are found the seeds that will form the new day and, as darkness gives way to light, the spiritual aspirant can take advantage of this transformational quality to enhance her own inner journey towards enlightened consciousness.
Saints from many traditions have told us to lovingly meditate during these hours. One of my teachers used to say, “Never understand meditation as a burden. Always do it lovingly.” There are secrets to this that go deeper than the obvious meaning. The obvious meaning here is that love and longing pull us closer to the Divine, while doing sadhana (spiritual practices) as a chore may render it little more than an exercise in mental focus. However, we will see that it is possible that approaching sadhana with love can also aid our physical, mental, emotional well-being and serve to reformat negative patterns that may have been established in utero or during birth.
Meditating with a loving attitude will exert a healing influence on the Vata that is predominant during predawn and dawn, and the resulting relaxation will allow for the smooth flow of prana. Prana is the equivalent of Qi in Chinese Medicine and martial arts and it is well known in these paradigms that qi cannot flow if the practitioner or patient is not relaxed. This is also true in the practice of hatha yoga: if the practitioner is not relaxed, prana will not be able to flow. So, if we are tense and result-oriented or rushed while we do our spiritual practices in the morning, the qi or prana cannot flow and this results in disturbance in the body, mind or spirit where prana flows. On the other hand, if we are so relaxed that we sleep through these hours, we encourage tamas, or the force of inertia in our lives, to create obstacles to the free flow of prana.
Chew aromatic herbs
Cardamom or mint is readily available. These can be chewed well and swallowed. The Ayurvedic classics teach that this practice leads to increased clarity, relish for life and food as well as freshening the mouth.
…lightness of the body, ability to do hard work, keen digestion, depletion of excess fat, stable and distinct physique accrue from exercise. Persons suffering from diseases of Vata and Pitta; children, the aged and those having indigestion should avoid it.(10)
Exercise to the point of excessive sweating and exhaustion is a product of the common “more is better” approach that often prevails in many modern cultures. It is easy to think that nothing much is happening when we watch a yogi’s slow progression from one posture to the next or the qi gong practitioner who may not sweat or even breath heavily, but if we simply observe adept practitioners of restorative yoga, tai qi or qi gong, we can find that they are in pretty good—sometimes very impressive—physical condition. Ayurveda teaches that it is ideal to exercise to half your capacity; that is, to stop at the appearance of sweat on the forehead, nose, armpits, joints of the limbs and the beginning of a dry mouth. This too is only recommended for a strong person and in cool seasons. Otherwise only mild exercise is optimal. Ayurvedic classics detail many problems that arise from too much exercise, including bleeding diseases, difficult breathing and emaciation. Excessive exercise, along with insomnia, too much sex, laughing, speaking and other endeavors that spend excessive prana, exhausting the person.(11)
In general, it is best for Kapha individuals to exercise strenuously. Weight lifting, brisk hiking, jogging, running and energetic forms of yoga all serve to energize and stimulate Kapha folks in a positive manner. Pitta people do well to exercise moderately. Swimming, brisk walking, moderate hiking and challenging but moderate forms of yoga are good choices. Those with a predominance of Vata benefit most from gentle exercise like brisk walking, gentle restorative yoga, qi gong or tai qi.
Abhyanga or Warm oil self massage
Abhyanga should be resorted to daily, it wards off old age, exertion and aggravation for Vata; bestows good vision, nourishment to the body, long life, good sleep, good and strong skin… It should be avoided by persons suffering from aggravation of Kapha, who have just undergone purification therapies (like emesis, purgatives etc) and who are suffering from indigestion.(12)
As a lubricated axis becomes strong and jerk-resistant, the body becomes firm, smooth and free from Vata and tolerant of exertion and exercise.(13)
One unique feature of Ayurvedic medicine is its generous use of oils for therapeutic purposes. Abhyanga is the anointing of the body with warm, often herbal oils. (...)
Administer nasya (nasal) oil
Nasya is an oil or an herbal oil that is either applied to the inside of the nostrils, or sniffed in through them. It is taught that it benefits the head, face, hair, vision, smell, hearing, stiff neck, headache, facial paralysis, lockjaw, rhinitis, migraine, head tremors, veins, joints, ligaments and tendons of skull; that the face becomes cheerful and well developed, the voice melodious, stable and grave. The Ayurvedic classics advise us to keep out of the wind and to stay warm, take good food and control the sense organs when we practice nasya. Very particular methods of making nasya are detailed, including descriptions of many drugs boiled 100 times in pure rain water, with the remaining decoction added to equal quantity of goat milk, etc. While most of us do not have access to all the listed herbs or time to prepare such a concoction, most of us will do well with warm, untoasted sesame oil or herbal oil. It is wise, again, to check with your health care practitioner to determine what would be best for you. I like Super Nasya Oil at the Ayurvedic Institute.
Oil ears with warm oil
While some people enjoy filling each ear with about 10 drops of warm oil and leaving it in each side for about 10 minutes, others are more comfortable simply moistening the pinky finger with warm, untoasted sesame oil and lubricating the inside of the ear with this. Vata collects in empty spaces in the body and has a particular affinity with the ears and the sense of hearing, so this practice can help to pacify Vata, especially in the ears. It can be effective at helping ear diseases that are due to increased Vata, like tinnitus, loss of hearing, as well as in local tissues like a stiff neck, trigeminal neuralgia and TMJ.
Apply some warm oil to top of head
Classics advise to moisten the head with warm (not hot) oil daily to prevent headaches, hair loss, graying or thinning hair and to keep the sense organs cheerful and to promote sound sleep.
Massaging warm oil into the feet, especially the soles of the feet, is said to benefit not only our overworked feet, but also the vision. In the common massage practice called reflexology, each part of the feet represents a different organ or system of the body and so is a micro system that can affect the whole of our body. While most of us can’t get a daily, deep massage to our entire bodies, we can get some benefit by giving our feet a good massage each day.
Udvartana is the practice of massaging the body with soft, fragrant powders. It is said to mitigate Kapha, liquefy fat and produce stability, compactness and strength in the body and to support excellent health of the skin.
Bath & Grooming
Ayurvedic classics teach that bathing is purifying, aphrodisiac, that it promotes life and appetite; it eliminates fatigue, sweat and dirt, is resuscitative and promotes immunity and strength and valor. It removes itching, dirt, exhaustion, sweat, stupor, thirst, burning sensation, and even sin. Perhaps this is Ayurveda’s equivalent statement to “cleanliness is next to godliness.” While it is so highly rated, there are some specific considerations that the classics outline:
- Pouring warm water over the body bestows strength, but the same over the head, leads to loss of strength of the hair and eyes.
- Contra-indications for bathing: facial paralysis, diseases of the eyes, mouth and ears, diarrhea, flatulence, putrid nasal discharge, indigestion and immediately after eating.
- Along with bathing, one should cut hair, nails, and mustache, keep the feet and orifices (ears, nose, eyes, feet, urethra and anus) clean of waste to promote intelligence, purity and longevity.
- After bathing, apply natural pleasing fragrances, like natural essential oils of aromatic flowers or other plant parts. These produce good smell, longevity, charm, nourishment, strength and pleasing manners.
- After applying a fragrance, dress in clean clothes which are not extravagant but are pleasant to look at. This practice enhances charm, fame, life span, removes inauspiciousness and produces pleasure
- Wear precious stones, potent hymns and herbs in an amulet.
- Wear ornaments that contain gems, to support ojas—a refined substance of our bodies that is responsible for immunity as well as spiritual progress. Gems can also support various planetary strengths and mitigate others, if prescribed by a competent Jyotishi, or astrologer.
Just as massaging the feet can benefit vision, Ayurveda encourages the use of footwear to benefit eyesight and tactile sense organs as well as to protect the feet. It is also said to support good energy and healthy libido.
Once weekly apply an irritating drop to the eyes
The eye is full of tejas and has risk of troubles especially from shlesman (Kapha) hence rasanjana should be used once a week, to drain it (Kapha) out…(14)
Rasanjana is prepared from the decoction of daruharidra (berberis aristata). It is an irritant and so used to produce more lacrimation.(15)
It may sound odd to irritate the eye, but there is a reason for it. The eyes contain a great deal of tejas, which is a heating and transformative force in the body. Kapha can come to protect the channels of the eyes from being damaged by the heat oftejas. This Kapha can then become stagnant. If the eye is caused to significantly tear once a week, this can clear out the channels of the eyes. This should only be done under the guidance of your health care practitioner. These drops should only be applied at night, as the eyes are weaker during the day, and their tejas is increased and aggravated by the sun.
Dinacharya: General Life Guidelines
While the above guidelines outline a daily morning routine, our Ayurvedic classics do not provide such an intensive regimen for the rest of our day. Instead, the Ayurvedic sages understood that, after our morning routine, most of us will go out into the world and need to attend to our jobs and families. However, there are some general life guidelines they include in their discussion of daily routine, that are useful to keep in mind as we go about our business. Some recommendations are simple, like using an umbrella, which is just common sense. Others, like some of the moral ideals, are more difficult to master even in a lifetime.
Use an umbrella
Use one, if necessary, to protect against rain or intense sun. While the sun is healthy, too much can aggravate the health of skin and increase heat in general in our bodies.
Avoid harsh environments
Avoid direct breeze, sun, dust, snow, dew, strong winds, or extreme weather.
Have a good posture
Specifically during certain activities. For example: don’t sneeze, belch, cough, sleep dine or copulate in improper postures, lest you throw your back out or create some other problem.
Avoid spending time in improper places
The classics instruct us to avoid the shade of a holy tree or other shrine in which deities reside and to avoid dirty and unholy things. Along these lines, they advise us not to spend the night in trees, social or religious places and, what to speak of nights, to not even spend our days in places of slaughter, forests, haunted houses and burial grounds.
In the modern day we may not believe in ethereal beings, much less be concerned about where they may be spending time, but we can use our intuition to avoid places that feel dark, dirty, contaminated or otherwise polluted or depressing, unless we have good reasons to do otherwise. Such places might include graveyards, slaughterhouses, bars, dark and dirty alleys or other places that tend to attract energies that resonate with these qualities. Whether or not disembodied spirits are a concern to you, it is wise to avoid many of the same places, as they are either places where thieves, thugs or diseases tend to prevail, or are places that may promote a morbid mood…which doesn’t help anything.
Supressing natural urges
Natural urges like coughing, sneezing, vomiting, ejaculating, passing gas, eliminating, laughing or crying, should not be either repressed or initiated prematurely by force, lest the smooth movement of prana be aggravated. Suppressing these urges can lead to stagnant prana or prana that is forced to move in an unnatural direction. This is never a good idea, as when prana moves in a wrong direction, disharmony and eventually disease is bound to result. For example, repressing the urge to go to the bathroom may lead to constipation, diverticulosis, indigestion or other uncomfortable symptoms.
While not to be suppressed, Ayurveda does recommend covering your mouth when you sneeze, laugh, or yawn. You may not have realized it, but your mother was practicing Ayurveda when she told you the same thing. Spraying our germs around our environment is a good way to perpetuate illness. We can also add that it’s a good idea to wash hands regularly, especially when we are sick or people around us are ill. Washing hands, while rubbing them together for 20 seconds, under warm water, is one of the best methods to avoid delivering or recycling germs. No need to get carried away, however, and use Triclosan-laden antibacterial hand-sanitizers every five minutes. It is usually natural to be exposed to our environments, and for our immune systems to rise to the challenges.
Don’t sit on your heels (literally) for long; don’t make ugly movements of the body, or blow your nose forcefully or unnecessarily. This is an odd assortment of admonishments, but useful. Sitting on the heels too long can encourage sciatica. Making “ugly movements” of the body means to make jerking movements, which can encourage pulled muscles. For example, one of my sisters, on her first time out on cross country skis, flailed her arms and limbs in a comical way that made us all laugh, until the next morning, when her low back was so painful that she could barely walk.
I don’t know what would make someone blow his nose forcefully or unnecessarily, but it would not be a good idea. Forceful blowing can burst local blood vessels, stimulate nosebleeds and can disturb the smooth flow of prana in the head.
Another recommendation involves the use of smoke inhalation of certain herb mixes and its proper and improper uses. Smoking is not advisable these days as most people have contraindications for it and the herbal recipes, methods and pipes that were used a thousand years ago are complicated, used for specific ailments, and were prepared in manners and with herbs that are not available to most of us today.
It is odd that we often consider fatigue a sign of weakness of character, when we honor other natural urges. If we are hungry, we eat. If we are thirsty, we drink. But, if we’re tired, we immediately think, “what’s wrong with me?” It may be that there is nothing wrong. We simply need to rest. The Ayurvedic classics advise that we stop the activities of the body, of speech and of the mind before getting exhausted. This can help us preserve prana – our life force – and stay healthy.
Protect your eyes
Don’t gaze at the sun for long, carry heavy weight on your head or stare at objects, which are minute, shining, dirty or unpleasant. In modern times, we can include staring too long at a computer screen, smartphone screen, iPod or similar small-screen devices, television or prolonged reading. The eyes have an associated srotas, or channel system, that is considered to be an important component of of the channel system of the mind. How we affect our eyes affects our minds.
Protect all your sense organs
The five sense organs are the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin. The classics advise that they should neither be too strained nor too lazy. As with the eyes, the other sense organs are also affiliated with the channels of the mind, so affect it accordingly.
While it is beyond the scope here to get too deeply into dietary concerns, there are a few guidelines that apply to most people.
- Maintain proper strength of digestion, by eating one-third to one half of the saturation point.
- One should regularly consume rice, pulses, rock salt, amla (a main ingredient in chyavanprash, an herbal jam that is used regularly in Ayurveda to support health, strength and stamina), barley, pure water, milk, ghee and honey.
- Avoid taking food, sex, sleep or studies at dawn or at dusk.
- Eat only after digesting the previous meal.
- Eat the main meal of the day in the middle of the day, when digestive capacity is greatest.
- Eat that which is suitable to you, in limited quantity.
- Generally follow the guidelines below for how to eat:Enjoy -
- Mostly whole, freshly cooked foods including cooked grains
- Warm, nourishing foods
- Warm drinks
- Chewing your food thoroughly, in a calm environment
- Taking a deep breath after swallowing your last bite, before going on to your next activity
- Eating meals at regular times every day
- Fruit or fruit juice within a half hour of any other food
- Highly processed foods (like frozen, canned, packaged or fast food)
- Cold food
- Raw food (fruits, veggies, salads), especially in the morning and evening. They are okay to have in the middle of the day, especially in warm weather.
- Cold or carbonated drinks
- Deep fried food
- Refined sugar
- Caffeine, especially coffee
- Alcohol (the classics tell us not to engage in anything associated with making, distributing or consuming wine)
- Red meat
- Eating while anxious or upset
For more specific foods that are appropriate for each individual, you can consult with an Ayurvedic dietary consultant.
Take up means of livelihood congruent with ethical living
All human activities are meant for the happiness of all the living beings; such happiness is based on dharma (righteousness, right moral conduct); hence every person should adopt (follow) righteousness always.(16)
Ayurveda suggests choosing an occupation that helps you achieve your life goals and that is also in accordance with high ethical standards.
The ancient sage Charaka taught that the best way to support healthy rasa and protect immunity is to make efforts to maintain a serene mind and to acquire knowledge. He taught that practicing non-violence is the surest way to encourage longevity, developing courage and prowess are the best ways to promote strength, learning is the ideal way to support nourishment, controlling the sense organs is the best method to promote happiness, knowledge of reality is the best method to promote pleasure and celibacy is the best of all paths. (17) Charaka was not just a philosopher. He wrote one of the fundamental texts of Ayurveda over a thousand years ago and this text is still referred to today. It is a very practical text. This makes Charaka’s advice all the more powerful, as he was a man who well knew the effects of habits, foods and practices on the health of the body.
In modern society happiness is associated with gratification of our sense organs, and that too in short order. If we are not able to satisfy our desires we feel dissatisfied. Charaka is teaching the opposite. If we control our sense organs and the desires associated with them, then we will find a life of contentment. This is closely related to a life of celibacy.
One of my teachers used to say that celibacy is not simply avoiding lustful thoughts & deeds, but requires chastity of each sense organ. Chastity of the ears requires not listening to gossip or harsh words. Chastity of the eyes requires us to refrain from looking at others with lust, enmity or rancor. Chastity of the tongue requires us to refrain from quarreling, spreading gossip, using harsh, abusive or dishonest words, and to avoid speech that causes dissension, division or discord, speaking with harmful intention. One should speak appropriate to the occasion, with words that are good—ones, which are truthful and pleasant. We can also discipline our sense of taste by consuming a sattvic (pure & balanced) diet in moderate proportions, so as not to disturb the digestion and state of mind.18 We can discipline the senses of smell and touch by curbing our desires for indulgences beyond what is necessary, and by utilizing purposeful and healing scents and touches.
Ayurveda teaches that pursuing a life of peace and study is more likely to ensure happiness than a life of chasing ambition and desire, which is more apt to ensure an exhausted nervous system and an imbalanced mind.
Adopt a middle path
The classics teach us to adopt a middle path, avoiding extremes in all dealings. This has quite a Daoist flavor as well. We might feel that this does not leave room for passion or enthusiasm in life. However, careful observation may show that those who are practicing life on the middle path may have a more sustainable enthusiasm with a high degree of contentment, whereas one who indulges passionately in his desires never seems to satisfy them—their passionate highs being followed by disturbing lows. Curbing our desires results in less violence, theft, jealousy and inappropriate or hurtful sexual activity.
Have compassion with all living beings
If we were to summarize the rules of conduct that the classics recommend, we could turn to the Golden Rule: Treat your neighbor as you yourself would like to be treated,(19) but we are also given some specific recommendations as follows:
- We need not be naive but neither should we suspect everyone.
- We should give gifts, within reason and help those who have no means of livelihood, who are suffering from diseases or are afflicted with grief, to the utmost extent. Beggars should not be disappointed or abused.
- We should become well versed in the art of adoring others.
- We should serve friends with affection and good deeds.
- We should keep good company; that is, those who try to lead ethical lives.
- We are not to find fault, or perpetuate misunderstandings or faithlessness with our elders, scriptures or other sources of wisdom. On the contrary, they should be worshipped.
- Even the animals, insects and ants should be treated as one’s own self.
- One should be helpful to his enemies, even if they are not helpful.
- One should maintain a centered mind in the face of good fortune or bad.
- One should be envious of the cause of the good welfare of others, but not of the effect. That is to say, it is worthwhile to emulate skill and ethical living, but not be envious of its result—like wealth or happiness—in others.
While we have gone into the daily routine in some detail, here is a summary of the morning routine.
A Morning Routine
- Wake up during predawn hours
- Brush teeth
- Scrape the tongue
- Drink a glass of warm water
- Gargle with warm sesame oil
- Massage gums with warm sesame oil
- Apply cooling salve or cool water to eyes
- Chew aromatic herbs
- Exercise appropriately for your constitution
- Abhyanga (Self massage with warm oil)
- Administer nasya (nasal) oil
- Lubricate ears with warm oil
- Apply some warm oil to top of head
- Foot massage
- Apply body powders
- Bath & grooming
- Apply natural fragrances
- Dress in clean, pleasant clothes
- Wear footwear
- 2. Rasa is derived from the root “Ras” to go, as it continuously flows through and permeates every vital tissue and cell of organism. It is successively transformed into each tissue of the body. Rasa flows out of the heart and continuously soothes, maintains, nourishes and irrigates the body by transudation. It supports the growth and life, owing to the dynamic effects of causes which lie beyond the ken of human understanding. The nature and course of this rasa, which runs through the whole system, can be inferred from the growth, attenuation, or other modified conditions of the body. Sushruta Samhita:Sutrasthanam:XIV:3
- 9. Triphala is commonly found in India and widely available online or at herbal vendors, like www.banyanbotanicals.com and other places. It is good to use organic Triphala, to avoid it entirely if pregnant, during menstruation, and in certain other conditions. It is important to check with your health care practitioner before including this or any herbal compound in your daily routine.