One of the most important ways that we can maintain harmony and good health is by starting each day with a deliberate and mindful Ayurveda morning routine. That’s because in its most natural form, the human body aligns rhythmically with the passage of days, months, and seasons. Departures from ideal health are associated with departures from these natural bio-rhythms.
When we live according to nature’s cycle, we experience balance, peace, and optimal health.
Ayurveda Morning Routine
The following rituals are based on Ayurvedic tradition and are intended to create the conditions for sustained health and happiness.
1. Wake before sunrise
Ayurvedic principles recommend waking before sunrise or no later than 6:00 AM. When we wake with the sun, we are activating that transition of time and energy. During this transition, there is freshness and renewal, a state that prepares the body and mind for the day ahead.
If we sleep past 6:00 AM, we enter Kapha time, which can create more heaviness and sluggishness. It’s also important to note that it can sometimes be beneficial to alter your wake time based on your constitution. For example, Vata types often do well rising before 6:30 AM while Pitta types can benefit from waking before 5:30 AM and Kapha types enjoy benefits from early mornings of 4:30 AM.
If you are able to develop the routine of rising with or before the sun, you may be waking in the dark. Use a lighted candle to illuminate the early morning. Bright lights (especially electrical light) are not recommended while your body and mind acclimate to the day.
2. Clear the gunk
After waking with the sun, the next step in an Ayurveda morning routine is to “clear the gunk.” During the night, our bodies have been releasing what we no longer need and sweeping toxins into evacuation channels. It’s important to detoxify by:
Hydrating. Begin by ingesting 8 to 16 ounces of room temperature or warm water to re-hydrate after sleep. This will help to cleanse the GI tract, stimulate peristalsis and balance PH levels. Make sure the water is not cold, as this will “shock” the system, forcing your body to use energy to warm the water. Add lemon and spices based on your dosha to enhance the detoxifying effects and boost your health.
Evacuating. In the morning, our bodies transition from lunar energy, which is calming and cooling, to a detoxification and absorption cycle. If you’re unable to rid yourself of the previous day’s waste, toxins can be reabsorbed into your system.
Brushing teeth (Dantdhavanam). Brushing your teeth is a necessary step to cleanse the mouth and remove tartar, mucus and other ama. Brushing your teeth also stimulate the taste buds and digestion, preparing the body for breakfast.
Tongue scraping (Jivha Nirlekhan). On the tongue, the coating that you may see is a build up of toxins, or ama, that the body is releasing. To clear this coating, scrape your tongue (preferably with a stainless steel or copper tongue scraper).
Washing the face and eyes (Mukh Prakshalan). Splash water on the face to create a sense of freshness and maintain hygiene. Be sure to use warm and not hot water so as to remove heat and any build-up from the eyes. Eyes are considered the seat of the pitta dosha (the fire principle).
Applying oil to the nasal passages (Nasya). Tilt your head back and apply a couple drops of sesame, sunflower or herbal oil to each nostril. Before nasya, it may be beneficial to cleanse using a neti pot. The practices of neti and nasya clean, nourish and open the sinuses to improve the flow of prana. Our nose is also the door to the brain, so this can help clear mental fogginess.
Oil pulling (Gandush). Hold or gently swish 1-2 teaspoons of sesame, coconut, or olive oil around in your mouth for 1-15 min to “pull” bacteria from your mouth and gums. Avoid swallowing and spit the oil into the trash when you’re done (so it does not clog the drain). You can brush your teeth either before or after this practice.
Collectively, these practices clean the body, allowing us to approach the day ready for new information, experiences, and sensations.
3. Apply oil to the body (Abhyanga)
In Ayurveda, Abhyanga is an integral part of the morning ritual. Abhyanga is a self-massage with warm oil that is typically performed 15 minutes before bathing. Oiling in Sanskrit is called sneha, which translates to love. Abhyanga is essentially the practice of loving self-massage, and provides a number of health benefits, including increasing circulation and detoxification, softening the skin, toning the muscles, calming the nervous system, improving sleep, and lubricating the joints.
To practice this form of loving self-massage, start by warming your massage oil. This can be done by running your bottle under hot water for a few minutes. Then, rub oil all over the body, including the head (known as shirodhara), ears (home to essential marma points and nerve endings) and nostrils (door to the brain). Use circular motions over round areas, like your face, head, and joints, and sweeping circular motions over the rest of your body. Always massage toward the direction of your heart. For Vata types, use warm sesame or almond oil. For Pitta types, use warm sunflower or coconut oil. For Kapha types, use warm sunflower or mustard oil. Jojoba oil is good for all doshas. You may also want to add balancing herbs to your oil.
Once you’ve finished, be sure to wait at least 15 minutes before bathing so the oils can penetrate deeper into the tissues, maximizing the health benefits. You can either relax during this time or carry on with additional morning activities, like yoga or meditation.
One of Ayurveda’s best recipes to include in your morning ritual is Chyawanprash. This herbal blend was created nearly 5,000 years ago by the respected sage, Chywan, to improve the quality of life and increase longevity. The Sanskrit word “prash” means to consume intentionally. Just 1-2 teaspoons every morning on an empty stomach enhances your respiratory, circulatory, and digestive systems to boost energy, stimulate immunity, sharpen clarity and focus, and strengthen your body, mind and spirit connection. This makes it perfect to use before yoga, meditation, or pranayama.
4. Exercise (Vyayam)
In Ayurveda, it’s important to engage in movement as part of a morning ritual. This is especially necessary if your day is more sedentary. Yoga asanas are the perfect means to bring exercise and health benefits into your morning routine.
Early morning yoga stimulates the pineal gland, which excretes melatonin. This has an immediate effect on your alertness and energy. Over time, regular practice will help regulate your circadian sleep cycles.
Morning asana practice also warms up your digestive fire and invigorates vital organs to prepare the body for breakfast. It also brings clarity and focus, helping you to be more productive during the day.
5. Meditate or practice Pranayama
Meditation is an important part of an Ayurveda morning routine. Meditation in the morning helps create a feeling of calm and inner peace that protects against the day’s stressors. It also brings focus, direction, and clarity, which allows you to maximize your productivity throughout the day.
To meditate, the most critical thing is to find a reliably quiet place to sit in comfort so that you are relaxed and will not be interrupted (and don’t subconsciously fear interruption). Set a timer if required, and do what you need to create a sacred environment with appropriate music and sounds as well as candles or incense. Relax your whole body and put your hands on your legs with your palms faced upwards. Close your eyes and deliberately breathe through the nose, slowly and steadily. Focus on the thoughts that arrive without judgement, and if you find yourself becoming distracted, gently bring your focus back to your breathing. Just 5 minutes can provide substantial benefits to the health of your body, mind, and spirit.
Before or after meditation is also the perfect time to embrace a gratitude practice. Giving thanks and resetting this reverence in the foreground of our mind as we process and catch up to the challenges and frustrations that otherwise come at us helps us set a tone for what is to come each day. One way to practice gratitude is to fold your hands over your heart center and give thanks for the new day. You can also touch your right fingertips to the ground, sending your love and gratitude to Mother Earth.
6. Bathe (Snana)
After you’ve finished exercising and any meditation and pranayama you want to incorporate, it’s time to bathe. In many cultures, bathing is considered a sacred act that is both physically and spiritually purifying. According to the Charaka Samhita, “Bathing is purifying, life promoting, a destroyer of fatigue, physically removes sweat and dirt, is resuscitative and a promoter of ojas or divine energy.”
7. Eat breakfast
In Ayurveda, a healthy breakfast is about more than healthy food. Firstly, Ayurveda recognizes that different constitutions, or dosha types, require different types of food in the morning: Vata types benefit from breakfasts that are warm, dense, moist, sweet, sour and salty. Pitta types do well with breakfasts that have cool, dense, mild, and dry qualities and sweet, bitter and astringent flavors. People with a Kapha constitution benefit from morning recipes that are warm, light, dry, and fiery with astringent, bitter and pungent tastes.
In addition, a healthy meal is also about how, when, and where you eat. Be sure to eat your breakfast slowly and mindfully. Chew to a thorough consistency and stop when you’re about 80% full.
When you start embracing the Ayurveda morning routine and rituals, you’ll find yourself starting each day with increasing peace. Be patient as you seek to shift yourself from well-established routines, and don’t worry if you don’t incorporate all of the steps. Create a routine based on what makes sense for you. And remember that no matter how small your routine, you are having a positive impact on your life.