My Daily Ayurvedic Rituals
My first experience with Ayurveda was overwhelming. It was briefly mentioned during my first yoga teacher training program with little explanation given and no guidance as to why or how to incorporate Ayurvedic practices into daily living. Since I was “all in” on anything related to yoga at the time, I tried doing my own research to better understand it. The result was that I had a very superficial understanding of the doshas (the foundation for Ayurveda) and thought that the guiding principles of the system involved meticulous planning of meals that needed to directly support your dosha and time-consuming morning and evening rituals that involved specific activities (such as dry brushing, tongue scraping, and oil pulling) done in a very specific order. It ended up being too much for me to figure out, and, with no expert to help me better understand it, I gave up on it.
Well, it took five years, but, after learning more from Justine Miller, an Ayurvedic Educator, yoga teacher and life coach, I understand Ayurveda so much better and am a big advocate for everyone learning more and trying some of its practices. While I’m definitely still a total beginner, here is what I’ve learned and how I’ve been including Ayurveda in my life.
What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda (translated means the science of life) is a holistic health and wellness system that was developed over 5,000 years ago in Ancient India. Ayurvedic practitioners have long preached what modern medicine is now finding through scientific research – that our minds and emotions affect our bodies. So, this approach to health looks at balancing mind, body and spirit AND preventing illness rather than just treating the physical body when you get sick. That’s not to say that there aren’t treatments for when you get sick, because there are, but the focus is on promoting health.
Before I dive into my favorite part about Ayurveda (sneak peak: establishing routines & rituals that help keep you at your healthiest), I want to give an overview of the doshas since they are the foundation for Ayurvedic medicine.
What are the doshas?
First, it’s important to know that there are five elements - earth, water, fire, air and ether - in Ayurveda that make up the building blocks of all things - our environment, our food, and our bodies. These elements combine to create the doshas. So, what are the doshas? When talking about people, doshas are described as mind-body types or life energies that make up an individual’s physical and mental constitution. For me, I think of them as the three main categories that Ayurveda uses when describing physical attributes and personality traits. While everyone tends to have one dominant dosha (maybe two), each person is a unique mix of all three doshas.
The Three Doshas:
Kapha Dosha – This dosha is a combination of the water and earth elements.
Pitta Dosha – This dosha is a combination of the fire and water elements.
Vata Dosha – This dosha is a combination of the ether and air elements.
Want to determine your dosha? Here are some free quizes that you can take online:
(Word to the wise: There are a lot of factors at play in determining a dosha, so try taking a few different quizes. It’s also good to note that doshas can change over time so even if you think you know your dosha it won’t hurt to check in again.)
Recommendations for starting to incorporate Ayurvedic practices into your life
Routines and rituals are a big part of an Ayurvedic-based lifestyle. And, fair warning, they can be really overwhelming if you try to tackle every aspect of the routines traditionally prescribed. It wasn’t until I talked to an actual expert in Ayurveda – Justine Miller in Episode 10 of the podcast – that I gave myself permission to take bite-sized chunks of these rituals to try. (As much as I’ll preach it to others, it’s hard for me to remember that wellness is NOT all or nothing.) Here are the recommendations that Justine gave in our interview with her.
General Tips to Implement (not part of a routine):
1. Eat seasonally – everything in Ayurveda is pushing us to live in harmony with nature and its cycles. In some ways we already do this, think chiles and stews in the winter and salads and watermelon in the summer. When I heard this advice, it seemed so obvious to me – in many ways, our bodies crave the seasonally appropriate food. But we also override it by having smoothies and salads in the winter (cold foods during a cold season) or spicy tacos and margaritas in the summer (fiery/heating foods during a hot season). Ultimately, you don’t need to completely cut out foods you love, but choosing to eat seasonally more often will help your doshas stay balanced and help you generally feel nourished.
2. Play with warming spices & warm foods – one thing we didn’t really dive into is the importance of the digestive fire (aka agni) in Ayurveda. Per Ayurvedic medicine, making sure you have a strong digestion, or should I say balanced digestion, is important for your overall health and longevity. Cold, uncooked foods tend to dampen the agni, which is why many practitioners advise on eating mainly warm, cooked foods. Another way to help your digestion is to use warming spices in your foods such as ginger, cumin, black pepper, turmeric, and fennel. (Ironically, I was also told by my Acupuncturist that I needed to have more warming spices in my diet so there’s clearly something there.)
3. Eat mindfully – when was the last time that you ate a meal sitting down with no distractions? Or with just friends/family at the table? In our modern age, we allow technology and demands on our time to disconnect us from what we are putting in our bodies. This simple principle asks for more awareness when we eat. By doing so, we should be more in tune with our bodies – how eating something makes us feel, if we are full before we have finished all of the food in front of us, etc. As an additional benefit, eating mindfully allows you to fully taste and appreciate your food (and wine.)
Daily Routine Tips to Try:
I don’t go into too much detail on these, but have provided links where necessary to give you some instructions if you want to try them out yourself.
1. Tongue scraping – This is not painful and, in my opinion, is oddly satisfying. This is to be done in the morning before brushing your teeth. It is said to help remove bacteria and build-up from the tongue that aids in digestion as well as helps prevent bad breath. Tongue scrapers are pretty inexpensive at $3-$7. You can find a general tutorial here on how to use a tongue scraper.
2. Start the day with hot water or hot water & lemon/lime – Another tip aimed at improving your digestive fire by kick-starting it at the beginning of the day. To make it simple for me, I just drink hot water alone, but want to eventually have lemon or lime in there. (I have nothing against lemon or lime. For me it all comes down to simplifying things – one less step means I’m more likely to do it.) There are a whole host of other potential benefits that are being studied on drinking hot lemon water.
3. Make lunch the biggest meal of the day – No surprise here, this recommendation also has to do with your agni or digestive fire. Our digestion is strongest in the middle of the day so it makes sense that our biggest meal should be during this time. And with lunching being my biggest meal of the day, my dinner is lighter, and I don’t feel like I have a brick in my stomach when I go to bed.
How your dosha affects routines and rituals in your life
The more you learn about Ayurveda, the more you will realize how much your dominant dosha(s) play a role in all aspects of your life. How you respond to routine and structure is one of those things impacted. Sarah Kucera, author of The Ayurvedic Self-Care Handbook: Holistic Healing Rituals for Every Day and Season, gives these general descriptions of how the doshas respond to routine, ritual, and structure:
“Kapha: Your routine needs an occasional shake-up, but you are averse to change.”
“Pitta: You love systems and routine, but you risk being overly structured.”
“Vata: You need structure, but you resist structure.”
In reading those general descriptions, does one of those ring a bell for you in how you react to structure and routine? Perhaps it is a mix of them. Regardless, recognizing how you respond to and acknowledging the “obstacles” in your way of creating routine can help you to properly approach establishing a routine that will work for you.
What does this look like based on dosha?
Kapha: Your tendency can be to stay in the same pattern leading you to be stuck in your ways. Re-evaluating your routines on a seasonal basis and swapping out one or two things can give you the “shake-up” you need without overwhelming you.
Pitta: Your tendency is to be so strict with your routines that you are ruled by them. When creating routines, build them slowly so they support you rather than become another “to do” on your checklist. And, give yourself permission to skip a step without beating yourself up.
Vata: Your tendency is to see rituals as constricting, but they can actually be very freeing. In the words of Jacko Willink, “If you want more freedom, get more discipline.” The structure of Ayurvedic routine, helps you take care of your well-being so that you have the freedom to do the things you want in your unstructured time.
The Ayurvedic routines I use & recommend
After our interview with Justine, I wanted some more Ayurvedic self-care tips, and I found the perfect book for this in The Ayurvedic Self-Care Handbook: Holistic Healing Rituals for Every Day and Season by Sarah Kucera. (Side note: I highly recommend reading it if you are looking for holistic self-care tips. While her advice is based in Ayurvedic medicine, and she gives the Ayurvedic explanation behind this advice, she also looks at things from a “how can this fit into modern life” and urges you to take baby steps. What’s more, so many of the tips intuitively make sense so you can take or leave the Ayurveda reasoning behind it all.) Based on recommendations from our interview with Justine and reading this book by Sarah Kucera, I developed my own routines for morning, midday, and evening. I’m not perfect in doing these routines every day (and that’s ok), but I am consistent in doing at least part of these routines each day. Here they are:
Wake-up (between 5am-6am)
Meditate (10 min)
Boil water while going to the bathroom, spritzing face with rose water & tongue scraping (5-7 min)
Let water cool while brushing teeth (3 min)
Drink hot water (5 min)
Exercise (for me, this is either walking my dog, doing yoga, or running) (30 min)
Shower (10 min)
I now make lunch the biggest meal of my day. The following routine is usually around 2pm.
Drink hibiscus tea
Spritz face with rose water
Epsom salt bath or foot bath (if I don’t want to take a full bath) (20 min)
Screens off by 9pm
Read (15-30 min)
As a Pitta dominant person, I thrive on routines, but can also lean towards overwhelming myself with long/complicated routines or mentally beat myself up if I don’t perfectly complete them. So it’s definitely been a work in progress for me. However, as I’ve taken baby steps by first establishing my morning ritual then building my midday followed by evening, I’ve found that they are more sustainable. Plus, I feel like having these practices built into my day helps me feel grounded. I just need to remind myself every once in a while not beat myself up when I have to skip something.
All in all, I find these Ayurvedic self-care tips and rituals have helped me connect more to the rhythm of nature rather than that of technology and have helped me tap into my innate understanding of what feels good for me. You don’t need to follow my routines, but maybe try some of these recommendations and see how it feels for you.
Want to learn more or try it out yourself? Check out our Ayurveda episode: