Dinacharya & Vyayama
Daily Routine and Exercise
Ayurveda pays an enormous amount of attention to daily routines and its enormous impact on preventing illness and disease in the body. The beauty of Ayurveda is that it does not miss a detail and so it is not surprising that dinacharya is written with a very specific sequence of steps – from when you open your eyes (say thank you) to when you finally sit for your breakfast (keep it warm, light and easy to digest). And though there are specific “How & When To’s”, rigidity and repetition of the same steps for too long is contraindicated. In fact, the healthiest daily routine acknowledges what’s happening in the body and mind on any given day as well as what is happening in one’s space and time which includes seasons and other changes in the environment.
Ayurveda asks us to focus on experiencing more right movements in the right context than “right” movements in the wrong ones. For example, if the weather is very windy and dry, practicing more grounding therapies and eating more grounding foods to nourish and lubricate the body would be a good idea. Swap running, cycling, or other fast movement i.e. aerobic exercises for asanas that warm the body and encourage a natural healthy flow of energy throughout it. Vata is the one dosha that can make your body or break it. Literally. Highly considering your Vata on the daily is always a good idea.
This level of attention to your mind and body will begin to tell you if you should take it slow or step it up. If you should take a run or do some mat exercises or stretching. Slowing down and observing how you are feeling and what is happening in your environment will tell if you should have soup for dinner or a more hearty grain dish. Taking on a practice without any real understanding or guidance on how to “listen and adjust” can make for as deficient a routine as not having one at all.
Soon, when this starts to feel like a dance, your practice becomes a really profound experience and you are literally feeling yourself, in real-time, being healed and transformed. This is why when you start, it’s hard to stop and when life throws a wrench in your schedule and you can’t practice for weeks or months, you literally ache for the day when you can get back to that amazing feeling place.
Ancient texts discuss Dinacharya and Vyayama for their ability to cleanse the mind, create lightness in the body, physical efficiency and a well-developed and fit physique. When done properly, your routine and exercise practice efficiently moves Prana throughout the entire body, activating every cell and pore along the way. Think of Prana not as oxygen, but rather as that which gives oxygen life. It is the deeper and infinite breath and with this in mind while practicing, you clear your Tamasic, stagnant, slow & lethargic mind/body experience, release any excess Rajasic fire, aggression and passion and hopefully fill up on that Saatvic state of mind i.e. restored, grounded and at peace. Oh what a brilliant day it is.
Classical Dinacharya Sequence: First, wake before the sun. This is to honor and thank it for its nourishment, light and kindness. Some view sleeping after the sun has risen as an insult or show of disrespect. Also, this time of the morning is very auspicious. It is quiet and allows the clarity and space needed to get re-acquainted with yourself and set the tone for the day.
After waking and greeting the sun, elimination is next and for those that are constipated, Ayurveda may even advise stabilizing your agni first before delving too deep in your practice. From my own experience, it’s when I began my practice that my bowel movements became very healthy and regular and not just first thing in the morning but after every single meal too. Remember, Ayurveda is an individualized medicine and this is why listening to your body and being more self-aware is so beneficial for your health.
Ayurveda also talks a lot about bowel movements so you just have to get used to it;)
The next step is scraping the tongue and then brushing. This removes any Kapha that has accumulated overnight in the mouth, (one of Kapha’s major sites in the body). Purifying the sense organs with eye drops, nasya, scalp massage and applying warm oil to the body are next and it is only after applying oil that we exercise. This is because oil grounds Vata, which can easily become aggravated with exercise.
After one exercises, it’s time for a cool (not hot) bath followed by a nourishing but light breakfast.
This entire routine can be completed in 45 minutes.
Vyayama i.e. Exercise, has its own Classical instructions and contraindications:
Your practice may be a 12-sequence routine of Surya Namaskar AKA Sun Salutations or maybe a light run or yoga. In the classical texts what’s as important as what you do is how you do it. Ayurveda says to exercise to only half of one’s full capacity. Breaking a sweat and maintaining it there during your activity is ideal. Ayurveda goes further to say that one yields when the forehead breaks a sweat.
Exerting yourself to the point of excessively heavy breathing is not advised. If you feel nauseous during or after a workout, you have gone beyond your entire capacity, not just half of it. Don’t do that. Ayurveda says if you are tired after exercise or fatigued before you start then don’t. It’s one thing to be tired in the morning and completely awake after a few minutes and quite another to feel weak and fatigued before you even start your practice. Definitely harness that disharmony before exerting yourself in physical activity.
Exercise should also be done between 6-10 a.m. when Kapha dominates the body. And come late winter through end of spring i.e. Kapha season, it is important to stick with your exercise routine and maybe even kick it up a notch.
This is because Kapha is the dosha that protects, grounds and stabilizes the body but can very easily become heavy in all its fluid and earthy unctuousness. A stable Kapha needs lightening up so being mindful to break up any potential stagnation and heaviness in the mind, body and spirit is key. Kapha will easily gain weight and not lose it and when off-kilter will slip into depression and isolation all while emotionally eating and sleeping along the way… Clearly there is no better remedy for any of these burdens than exercise.
Ayurveda also says that exercise should be done without undigested food in the body so keep your morning belly light. Maybe have Chyavanaprash, which is ideal before exercising, an apple or a few almonds just to give you a lil boost. Remember nothing is written in stone so tailor your practice according to your body’s needs. If you must eat before working out a good rule of thumb is to avoid animal protein, heavy grains, breads and cold foods… the former take too much time to digest and cold foods extinguish your digestive fire. Remember, if your agni is impaired, you tend to that, not exercising.
Children too should not participate in rigorous exercise. Ayurveda says that their dhatus (very simply translated as tissues) are not stable enough at a young age for over-exertion and because they are already working out their unbounded energy with tons of play and extracurricular activities, adding extra physical activity can be contraindicated. But again look at the time and place. Most kids are less active now due to COVID, schooling at-home so no sports or physical education classes and technology keeping them more attached to their computers than the great outdoors. For them a few laps around the block would probably be best.
Ayurveda writes Maintaining a balance in our diet is essential if we are exercising so remember it’s not just about protein. Equally as important are healthy carbohydrates, essential fatty acids and mineral rich foods – mostly found in grains, fruits and veggies. Replenishing what is lost is key for preventing premature cellular and physical aging.
Ayurveda is rich with content on both Dinacharya and Vyayama but this is a good beginning. Learning to be less rigid and more fluid and intuitive with your practice is where its at and even though so much wellness advice involves diets and lifestyles that focus solely on what’s good and bad (foods and habits) Ayurveda would rather you listen to your body, be more centered and create a individualized routine. Knowing what your needs are, how to recognize them and tailoring your lifestyle to suit them while staying consistent with your practice is the key to happier days and more restful nights. You will always get side-tracked but as long as you find your way back all is good. Very good indeed.