Ayurveda 101: Remedies for a healthy life

Balance your energy, boost your health and savour the benefits of introducing a natural selection of traditional Ayurvedic routines into your lifestyle.

STORY BY SHANNON SEXTON

IF WAKING UP IS A STRUGGLE, midday finds you crashing, and you’re restless and alert at bedtime, it may be time to reset your clock.

According to Ayurveda, yoga’s 5,ooo-year-old sister science, one of the keys to good health and feeling great all day long is living in tune with nature’s cycles. Literally and energetically, that means using the sun as a guide for when to rise and when to go to bed. To help you align your system more closely with the cycles of nature, Ayurvedic tradition recommends a routine of morning and nighttime practices collectively known as dinacharya. These rituals are designed to give you calm, focused, sustainable energy to support meditation, yoga, and everything you do throughout the day.

“When I do my dinacharya, there’s a sense that I’m taking really good care of me,” says Kathryn Templeton, founder of the Himalayan Institute’s Ayurvedic Yoga Specialist Training program and an Ayurvedic practitioner in New Haven, Connecticut. “My ability to meditate, teach, parent, and practice feels steadier and easier. And I experience more peace of mind.”

To get back in sync, overhaul your daily routine with the simple Ayurvedic routines. The morning practices are cleansing and energising and will infuse you with a calm sense of presence. The evening routine will help you wind down for a restful sleep. Movement, such as yoga asana and meditation, are also essential to dinacharya. Consider incorporating asana before breakfast and meditation in the morning and evening.

SUNRISE
According to Ayurveda, the predawn hours are dominated by the Vata dosha, a subtle energy that makes it easier to get out of bed. Waking up before sunrise fills you up with a vibrant energy for the rest of your day. On the other hand, if you wake up after sunrise, the hours dominated by Kapha dosha, you are likely to feel sluggish.

MORNING
To flush out any germs, pollen, dust or congestion that have accumulated overnight, try Jala Neti, a nasal cleansing technique that rinses the sinuses with warm saline with the help of a teapot like vessel called Neti pot. Jala Neti is best done before a pranayama and meditation practice in the morning, as it equalizes the flow of breath between two nostrils and balance the ida and pingala two nadis–two energy channels that pave the way for inner exploration.

SIP
Before you brush your teeth, eat or drink coffee or tea, mix the juice of a half-lemon in a cup of warm water (you can add 1/2 tsp honey if you want), and drink it up. This drink flushes the kidneys and gastrointestinal tract and stimulates your digestive fire.

MASSAGE

According to Ayurveda, massaging your body with warm, pure oils promotes detoxification and moisturises skin. Massage also stimulates circulation and quiets the nervous system. Treat yourself to a ten-minute abhyanga (warm- oil massage), traditionally performed in the morning.

Templeton suggests standing on a towel in your bathroom with warmed, organic, cold- pressed sesame oil at the ready. Using circular strokes, begin with your scalp, followed by your face and neck. Apply oil to your palms as needed, and work your way down one shoulder, arm, wrist, and hand, using long, up-and-down strokes along your limbs and circular strokes on your joints. Repeat on the other side.

Massage your chest and back, and then gently massage your abdomen in a clockwise direction. Rub your hips in a circular motion, and massage one leg at a time, using long strokes on your leg bones and circular strokes on the joints. If you have time, relax and let the oil soak in for ten to 20 minutes. Then, standing on a wet towel in the shower to prevent slipping, scrub off with a mild cleanser. (Don’t want to put oil on your scalp or face? Use dry fingertips instead.)

DIM
As the sun goes down, lower the lights in your home to signal to body and mind that the frenetic pace of the day’s activities is coming to an end—and that it’s time to stop being “on”. According to modern Ayurvedic experts, that also means minimising screen time on your electronic devices for at least an hour before bed. Wind down by reading something uplifting or spending time with your family or friends.

BREATHE

To calm yourself for sleep, or before you sit for evening meditation, spend a few minutes doing Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (also known as alternate-nostril breathing). This cleansing breath practice calms the nervous system and, on a more subtle level, opens and balances the sushumna nadi, an energy channel that quiets and steadies the mind.

Shannon Sexton is a regular contributor to Yoga Journal. Her poems and creative nonfiction have been anthologised in five books, including the series Stories from Where We Live.