Morning Routine Creates Health and Serenity

 Cold, dreary winter mornings can be hard to face -- the temptation to snuggle down deep into the covers and sleep a bit longer is even more tempting at this time of year. It may be an excellent time to consider the more soothing morning routine recommended in the Ayurvedic tradition, instead of subjecting yourself to the jarring alarm that makes you jump quickly out of bed and into the day. The Ayurvedic belief, based on India’s traditional medical system, is that awakening gradually and following a specific routine provides a gentle bridge that starts the day in a positive manner. Moving into your morning routine mindfully and deliberately allows time for self-nurturing acts that contribute to overall well-being. John Douillard, DC, PhD,  wisdom on how to start your day in a way that is both soothing and energizing.

Early to Bed...

Though the Ayurvedic tradition specifically addresses waking up with a variety of rituals, the real trick is to begin by going to bed early the night before, Dr. Douillard told me. He said sleeping in can actually make you more exhausted -- and sleeping later and longer on weekends doesn’t help. He explained that in the Ayurvedic tradition, the hours from 6 pm to 10 pm are considered to provide sleep of the best quality, while 10 pm to 2 am is when the body detoxes. Missing out on either period of time contributes to fatigue.

Early to Rise...

Ideally, Dr. Doillard said, "it’s best to awaken before the sun, when vata (or air) energy is abundant." Arising in concert with the sun is the first step in re-establishing an essential daily connection with the natural world, since Ayurveda is all about living in harmony with nature’s cycles, Dr. Doillard said. If you have an east-facing window that lets in the first vestiges of morning light, this is the most natural way to rouse yourself... but another option is to invest in one of the new wake-up clocks that are designed to help you ease into the day without the shrill bleats of an alarm. Now & Zen  makes a variety of clocks that will awaken you gradually with a series of progressive chimes that ring like Tibetan bells, while others use a gradually increasing light to bring dawn into your bedroom.

Wake Up on the Inside

Before retiring for the night, place a glass of water on your bedside table for the next morning so it can adjust to room temperature -- Ayurveda recommends against drinking cold fluids. Once your eyes are open, sit up and drink the water. The point is to replenish fluids and stimulate the gastrointestinal tract, while also encouraging the first morning elimination of waste. Some people add a squeeze of fresh lemon, which is nutritious and helpful, though not strictly necessary.

Purify and Cleanse

Once you’re feeling awake, visit the bathroom to empty your bladder and, if it comes naturally to you at this hour, your bowels. The Ayurvedic tradition encourages complete morning elimination and many of the rituals are designed to help bring this about. For instance, scraping the tongue is said to remove ama, the toxic residue that builds up overnight. Do this regularly as part of your morning wash-up and tooth-brushing and it may help make morning elimination a natural part of your daily routine.

Take a Deep Breath... and get moving

Even if you don’t have time for a full workout, it’s a good idea to stretch your muscles with a little yoga -- such as a sun salutation -- and to practice deep breathing. Dr. Douillard suggests the technique of "alternate nostril breathing," which not only provides oxygen to the brain but also has a calming effect on the central nervous system, helping to ground you for the day ahead. Here’s how to do it: Begin by using your right thumb to gently press your right nostril closed. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your left nostril. Press your left nostril closed with your right ring finger, removing your thumb from your right nostril. Exhale slowly and thoroughly through your right nostril. Then inhale through the right nostril and exhale through the left. Alternate between nostrils for about five minutes.

If you are able to fit it in, Dr. Douillard suggests taking a brisk pre-breakfast walk, noting that mornings are the ideal time for exercise. If the weather is just too awful to face, you can extend your yoga practice or treat yourself to 20 minutes with one of your favorite exercise DVDs.

Skin Brushing and Oil Massage

Before your morning bath or shower, you can further rev up your circulation and open your energy channels by brushing your skin with a natural-bristle body brush. Begin at your feet, using long strokes to brush up your legs in the direction of your heart. Next, brush the belly, hips and buttocks, always moving in the same upward direction. Brush the arms from the backs of the hands up toward the shoulders, and the upper chest downward toward the heart.

After your shower, try massaging a natural oil into your skin, following the same general pattern as the dry brushing. Use long strokes except around joints, which should be massaged gently in a circular pattern. While Ayurveda usually recommends sesame oil, you can use any pure, organic oil that suits you.

For an added aromatherapy benefit, blend a few drops of a pure essential oil with your base oil before you begin your self-massage. (Note: Check with your doctor first, as some essential oils may provoke allergic reactions in some people and also may interact with prescribed medications.) Specific oils are associated with particular therapeutic benefits. For relaxation and stress relief, try ylang-ylang, lavender, vanilla or clary sage... for energy, opt for pine, peppermint or cinnamon... and to lift your mood, add tangerine, lemon or sweet orange.

Nourish Yourself

An important aspect of the Ayurvedic tradition is to eat meals in a relaxed and mindful way, focusing on the nourishing ritual, rather than watching the news, reading the paper or eating while you pack up for your day or drive to work. Dr. Douillard suggests sitting down to enjoy a light breakfast, always focusing on foods that are in season -- the Ayurvedic system respects the change of seasons, considering each season’s harvest to be a form of natural medicine. Winter foods are warm and heavy to insulate the body from cold, whereas spring foods tend to be alkalizing and cleansing for detoxification. Skip the pastry and sugary cereals, and indulge in yogurt, fruit juice and a warm, comforting bowl of oatmeal or muesli with chopped apples, pears and nuts. By starting the day with healthy grains and fruits, you provide your body and brain with the fuel necessary to perform at optimal levels.

Doesn’t this sound like a great way to start the day?

John Douillard, DC, PhD,

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