A “Dinacharya” Day in the Life of Alex
Note: Dinacharya is an Ayurvedic word which means “daily routine”. Dinacharya is collection of general preventative and maintenance lifestyle guidelines which cover most aspects of daily life including self-hygiene, exercise, diet, sleep and sexual behaviour.
One of my E-learning students asked me recently:
“What type of Dinacharya do you follow regularly and how has the implementation of this daily routine affected your overall health, well-being and/or management of Doshas? Would be really nice to hear your testimonies in this area.”
Here is my answer:
I wake up naturally early, I always have done. I would say at about 6-7 am depending on how late I have gone to bed. First of all I will put the kettle on, then I’ll do a few ablutions: wash my face, gargle some warm water, scrape my tongue. I put some sesame oil or ghee into my nose. Then I’ll drink a large glass of hot water with a dash of lemon in it. I’ll follow this, a few minutes later with a few rounds of Surya Namaskar (sun salute Yoga sequence). Then I’ll have some more hot water. I am not that strict on myself and not much into physical exercise, so a few rounds is all I manage. I don’t always shower every day, it depends on what time of year it is. If I do shower, or take a bath, I usually apply some oil to my skin and rub it in. Sometimes before bathing (and I’ll longer over this, 15 minutes or so) and sometimes after bathing (then I’ll use less oil and spend less time). I go through phases where I slacken up my self-oiling, like when I am feeling more balanced, or in the spring and early summer (since this is when my dominant Dosha, Vata, is naturally protected by the season). As soon as I notice increasing dryness or itching in my skin, or a stiff back, I do some oiling on a more regular basis. You have to realise, I live a fairly sheltered life in the countryside, and this goes a long way (I feel) to keeping my Vata in check). I reckon that if I was still living in Glasgow, and leading a typical city life, I would do a more self-massage and restorative exercise.
On school days I will help get the girls fed and off to school. One thing I am fairly disciplined about is trying to stick to regular meals times. I feel it is one of the most useful and simple ways to keep Vata ticking over smoothly. Of course, I am not fanatical about this. For breakfast and dinner, I would say I respect a 30-45 minute slip in the time I actually eat. For lunch I am stricter. I am the timekeeper in the house, so my family also benefit from this little Ayurvedic routine. I have noticed that the more regularity I structure into meal times, sleep times and activities in general, the more my Agni gets regular (I know because I can tell the time by my hunger). On the other hand, if I start to eat and sleep less regularly, my appetite begins to fluctuate, as well as elimination and energy levels.
The food I choose to eat for meals is based on several factors such as personal preference (taste), convenience (what’s left in the cupboard etc.), the appropriateness of the food to my prakriti and the season etc. I used to be more fanatical about food, but have relaxed in more recent years, paying more attention to basic dietary Dinacharya and less attention to the fine detail.
One thing I do is keep a personal health journal, and as part of the commitment to ayurveda, I keep a reasonable eye on my dosha functions and try to correlate that with my diet and lifestyle. I am careful not to change many factors at once. For example, I will ‘experiment’ by not drinking any milk for 3-6 months, and then see what effect it has. I won’t go into detail about my diet because it would is individualised to my prakriti and unique nature, activities etc. But in a nutshell, I eat a simple wholefoods diet, mainly plant based, with small amounts of dairy (butter, ghee, cheese and egg) as well as occasional servings of meat (mainly chicken). One thing I don’t do is drink tea or coffee, I never have, but I know that when I do (I have tried!) they dry me out a bit and leave me feeling tired and rough around the edges. I prefer to drink hot water with a dash of lemon, or ginger root tea. As far as alcohol is concerned, I’m a lightweight and don’t enjoy being drunk (neither does my stomach the next morning). But I do like the taste and mild inebriating effect of drinking a beer or two once in a while, especially with friends or if I want to let my hair down a bit (not that there is much of that left!)
Once I have eaten my breakfast, I brush my teeth then do Gandusha Snehana (oil-in-mouth) providing I have remembered to fill up my bathroom jar of sesame oil. I have quite dodgy teeth (positioning wise) so I like to use a good electric toothbrush and a Waterpik device which helps gently remove the food from between teeth and gums. The main problem I have with doing these daily hygiene practices is keeping all of the paraphernalia available and in stock!
As far as daily activity and scheduling is concerned, I do follow a few Dinacharya guidelines, such as:
- No computer use after dinner (it is over stimulating for my Vata/Pitta nature).
- Any heavy physical work or sport (I occasionally take a mountain bike up the hills) I try to schedule for the morning when Kapha is abundant.
- I try to avoid long days in the office, trying spreading my work duties to incorporate a mix of intellectual and physical tasks.
- After lunch I like to go for a short stroll, and then lie down on my left hand side for 5-10 minutes.
There are no doubt other things that I do as part of Dinacharya, but can’t think of them at this time. However, there are certainly ‘weak points’ in my daily regime. For example, though I do often feel tired around 10 pm, I often stay awake until midnight in order to be with my wife who is more of a night owl and likes to watch a film. But I don’t let this come a routine, and intersperse late nights with earlier nights preceded by a warm bath and a self-oil massage.
Another thing that I am aware of as a weakness in my lifestyle is the lack of regular daily exercise. This has ebbed somewhat since my daughters were born, but is now beginning to flow again for various reasons. The main thing that I realise is that I do not have an innate attraction towards sport, though I am highly active creatively. This is no doubt in part conditioning; neither parent was remotely sportive. So what I have realised is that I have to trick myself into regular exercise through combining it with creativity or social activity or responsibility (we have two donkeys, and a large garden that needs moving).
Another thing I am not making use of is fasting. Ayurveda recommends a one-day fast once a week to once a month depending on prakriti and other factors. The benefit is to give Agni a chance to digest the Ama (improperly digested food and resultant substances) that accumulates in the GI tract of all people irrespective of their wishes. My reasons for not doing this kind of fast are somewhat nonsensical, mainly it is that I haven’t got round to it.
Being a Vata/Pitta type, mainly with a Vata physical tendency, I notice the benefits of Dinacharya almost immediately. If I let this stuff slip, or if I get carried away with various activities and spend too much energy, I notice quickly a feeling of being rough around the edges, a little tired, less stable emotionally. These are signs of Vata accumulating. When I notice this, I put the brakes on and love myself up with early nights and oiling. This quickly brings me back into balance. This balance is, I should say, subjective and by no means perfect! But then I let that concept of perfect health go a good few years back. In terms of Kriya Kala (level of disease process), I would say that with the above daily routine, I keep my Doshas hovering at around about level 1, the accumulation stage.
I judge the results of these preventative and maintenance efforts by keeping an eye on my emotional and mental balance, energy levels and elimination pattern. Any ailments that come along, I log these in my journal and look back over this from time to time and draw conclusions about trends. How can I be sure Dinacharya is helping? I know from personal experience, from day to day, that it helps. Will it prevent me from aging so quickly? How will I ever know for sure, I cannot? It is a lifestyle choice based on what I feel is good logic and an increasing body of modern scientific population study that corroborates the Ayurvedic direction of thinking.
Though it may have nothing to do with any of the Ayurvedic Dinacharya stuff that I do, I have noticed an improvement in numerous mild health niggles mainly:
- Digestive complaints (malodorous flatulence and constipation)
- Itchy scalp
- Tendency to chronic congestion following a head cold
- Cracking joints
- Skin rash on my back
- Stiff lower back
I also do get a lot of feedback from students who are given homework assignments which include using the Dinacharya methods. I also have a small clinical practice which also confirms the results of Dinacharya. I am often so surprised by the positive results that I don’t ever get close to using more advanced Ayurvedic therapeutics because people just get better, or better enough for their own motivations.
Something that I would like to say in closing up is that taken as a whole, the Ayurvedic Dinacharya protocols can appear daunting and unrealisable in terms of time commitment and motivation. This is because they are! No normal human has the time and motivation to do all of this stuff to the letter, day in and day out. I have thought about this dilemma quite a lot on and off over the last 10 years and come to the following tentative conclusions.
First of all, each person needs to learn to respect their own inclination towards self-care and learn to accept that of others. There is no point in comparing yourself to your friends or loved ones and then either feeling superior or inferior. Accept yourself for who you are today. If you do find that you want to do more to care for yourself, realise that you may be up against some inner resistance to change thanks to the strength of the habit patterns you are carrying around with you. Know that there are many methods of pro-action that can help you un-learn old habits and replace them with healthier new ones. But the main thing here is that you need to go slow and steady and be patient and loving towards yourself and others in the process.
Second: prevention is better than cure, but we are only human. Intellect is often overridden by instinct or habit. Try telling a healthy young child that they should be cleaning their teeth twice a day and see how they forget every day to brush their teeth. Compare this to an adult who has got to have major dental interventions and been told by their dentist to floss and brush after every meal. See how the behaviour differs. I believe that the younger and healthier we are, the less we are likely to pay attention to caring for our bodies. It is only when we become ill that we begin to take notice and make more of an effort. Of course there are many exceptions. Health care professionals have known about this dilemma for ages, which is why they are always looking for tactics to help people get doing these dumb, simple daily self-care chores from an early age. Some examples would be the many religious rights that have a medical justification behind them (praying, fasting etc.) as well as perhaps the teaching of over-exaggerated benefits touted by authoritative scriptures (just look at the claims being made in the Ayurvedic and Yogic texts; “cures all known diseases” etc.). The solution to this dilemma is complex, but here are some tricks that can be used to get these daily self-care treatments in to place:
- Strength in numbers: the people you know who are doing it the more chance that you will do it also. Make friends with people who take care of themselves and get on the same wavelength.
- Little by little. Introduce things one at a time until they become a habit and you are not likely to forget about them because they are now automatic.
- Get a foot in the door. If you are a parent, start your kids off as young as possible with Dinacharya, making it part of their life is the best way to train them in these habits so that when they do leave home, they have that foundation in place.
- Re-enforce your resolve. Read about the benefits, keep a journal to record your successes and failings, you would be surprised how much this helps. Talk about this stuff with friend to help make it real. You do have to trick yourself somewhat from time to time.
- Love love me do! Finally, do nothing without first honouring the miracle of life and feeling love towards your body and mind. There is a sutra in the charaka samhita (the oldest Ayurvedic text) that says that non-violence is one of the pre-requisites for a long healthy life. No matter what you do in the name of ayurveda and in the name of health, it will backfire on you if you harbour the slightest resentment or contempt towards it (or whoever twisted your arm into doing it in the first place).
One thing is sure. There is no free lunch in life. Miracle cures do not exist, and if they do, they are few and far between and require exceptional circumstances. Ayurveda can go a long way to making people’s lives happier and healthier. The basic for all Ayurvedic treatments is Dinacharya: diet and lifestyle. Without this in place, Ayurvedic medical interventions are less effective and may only provide temporary relief. This is why Dinacharya is so important. They say that “medicine is useless without proper diet” then “when diet is correct, medicine is not necessary”. Food for thought!