Just as a city dweller looks after his city; just as a charioteer maintains his chariot; so too should a wise man be vigilant in the care of his own body.
Thus, Guru Punarvasu Atreya sums up the importance of a healthy daily regimen in Charaka Samhita, a 3,000-year-old treatise on Ayurveda.
Lifestyles have changed considerably in the last three millennia. So a daily regimen recommended in Ayurvedic literature may seem dated now. On the other hand, it may serve as a reminder of what we have lost over time and may want to reclaim to take better care of ourselves. With that in mind, an abridged version of the Ayurvedic morning regimen is presented below.
A healthy person should wake up at Brahma muhurta, or at the crack of dawn. At this early peaceful hour the body and mind are well rested and refreshed. Also, waking up early gives one time to perform the morning rituals and get ready for the day.
Do a quick checkup of yourself. Examine your face in the mirror. Ask yourself, “Do I feel well rested?” If you have had adequate sleep you would have woken up spontaneously without an alarm feeling refreshed. “Was the last meal well digested?” If not, you need some more sleep.
Evacuating Waste Matter
Now sit at the toilet to pass urine, flatus, and feces. Timely evacuation of waste matter alleviates constipation, abdominal distension, and a feeling of heaviness; and ultimately increases longevity. But remember that each individual has a different constitution and different bowel action. So if the urge to evacuate is not there, don’t sit at the toilet for too long, and don’t try to force it. A healthy and regular diet and lifestyle will help you achieve a regular bowel routine.
Twigs of trees like neem, karanja, and khadira, which are bitter, pungent, and astringent in taste are recommended in ayurveda for brushing teeth. Not only do they cleanse the mouth, they also remove any bad taste or odor, and balance the doshas. In modern times soft toothbrushes are available which are convenient for brushing teeth and gently massaging the gums, so we have stopped using twigs. Use toothpaste or toothpowder made from bitter, pungent, or astringent plants for better oral hygiene.
Cleaning the Tongue
Using a metal tongue cleaner (made of silver, copper, or stainless steel, and without any sharp edge that may cut the tongue) scrape the top surface of the tongue clean. This removes any deposit on the tongue, improves oral hygiene, eliminates bad breath, enhances relish for food, and gives a sense of lightness of body.
Two types of gargling are described in ayurveda-gandusha and kavala. Gandusha is filling the mouth fully with a liquid and holding it. In kavala the mouth is filled only partially so that the liquid can be swished around. Do one of these gargles until the eyes start watering and the nose starts running. Phlegm or excess mucus may flow into the mouth. Then spit it out and take a fresh dose. Repeat a few times until the mouth feels light and clean. Gargling like this can be done with warm water daily.
Washing the Face
Splash cool water on your face. This prevents pitta disorders like nose bleeds, discoloration of skin, and boils, and improves vision. Or use lukewarm water to balance kapha and vata.
Drinking water first thing in the morning has many benefits. It balances all the three doshas-vata, pitta, and kapha; and improves the digestive agni too. Warm water is particularly helpful for the throat, runny nose, cough, bodyache, and constipation; and for flushing the urinary tract.
Next, apply warm oil on the skin and massage gently along the direction of body hair. Massage the whole body, giving particular attention to the scalp, ears, and feet. This is called abhyanga. You may use sesame oil, or a medicated oil (mahanarayan taila, dhanvantara taila). Done regularly, abhyanga calms vata dosha, slows aging, and removes fatigue. It brings clarity of vision, good sleep and longevity. It nourishes the skin, makes it supple and reduces wrinkles. Abhyanga should not be done if there is indigestion, fever, increased kapha dosha or fat.
Those who have excess of kapha dosha or fat will benefit from a different body rub called udvartana. Take coarse dry powder of triphala, barley, or chickpea. Warm it to slightly more than body temperature. If your skin is dry, you may add some mustard oil or sesame oil. Now, rub the mixture on your skin on the arms, legs, and trunk against the direction of body hair for 15 minutes.
Regular exercise is most important to maintain good health. Follow a routine that you enjoy. Walking is one of the best exercises. Yoga asana and pranayama strengthen both body and mind and prepare one for spiritual pursuits. You may choose to play your favorite sport, or do weights, swimming, jogging, martial arts, tai chi, or dance. When you exercise, pay attention to yourself-feel the muscles working, the flexibility of joints, your breath going in and out, the body warming up, and beads of sweat forming on your forehead. You may observe a feeling of exhilaration due to a rush of endorphins as you exert yourself.
Exercise has many benefits. It tones the muscles, builds strength, improves agni, reduces fat, gives a feeling of lightness of body, and enhances one’s ability to undertake difficult tasks. How much should you exercise? Up to half of your endurance, according to ayurveda. Who should not exercise? If you are suffering from a vata or pitta ailment, you should avoid exercise. Don’t exercise for a couple of hours after a meal or if you have indigestion. Children and the elderly should not do heavy exercise.
After exercising, wait to cool down before taking a shower with warm water. Then rub yourself dry with a towel. This removes dirt, sweat, itching, fatigue, thirst, and any burning sensation. After a shower the digestive agni becomes stronger. A shower also enhances libido, strength, and longevity.
Clothes, Perfume, Ornaments, Gems
Apply naturally fragrant body lotion, or fragrance-free products. Similarly, applying a natural perfume (sandalwood, henna, khas) dispels odors, and promotes self-confidence and libido. Ornaments of precious metals, particularly gold, are auspicious. They may be studded with gems selected to counter the ill effects of planets.
Keep your nails clipped, and facial and body hair trimmed.
Now you are ready for your morning meal. Diet is another important topic that we will discuss in detail later.
Try it Yourself
The ayurvedic morning regimen detailed above probably includes practices that you perform already. Yet, some may be unfamiliar to you. Choose one new practice that intrigues you most and try it out. Do it daily for three weeks. If you feel any adverse effect, it may not be suitable for you, and you should stop. Observe any changes in how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. Some changes may be subtle, but you may be surprised by the sense of wellbeing they bring to your life. Make the timeless wisdom of ayurveda work for you.n
Ashok Jethanandani, B.A.M.S., and Silvia Müller, B.A.M.S., were classmates at the Gujarat Ayurved University, Jamnagar. The concepts presented here are based on classical ayurveda texts. Illustrations are original works by Silvia Müller. Dr. Jethanandani practices ayurveda in San Jose, Calif. www.classical-ayurveda.com.
First published in December 2013.