Try These 7 Simple Āyurvedic Morning Rituals For Optimal Health
Every day we set out to avoid the pitfalls of our busy lives (stress-eating or drinking, binge-watching TV shows), but seem to fall into repeat patterns that leave us energy zapped and reaching for the carby snacks and the remote. Spring is the perfect season to hit refresh on our health habits, and morning is the perfect time to introduce healthy rituals that will reboot your body's mental and physical health. For the best ideas of how to the start of your day, from what you eat (a warm, plant-based breakfast) to your mental state (which can be helped with mindfulness meditation and exercise), we turned to Āyurvedic practices to learn how to take better care of your health from the minute you wake up until noon.
Many of the morning rituals we now think of as normal (brushing our teeth, making our bed, and stretching) have their root in the ancient practice of Āyurveda, an alternative medicine system that originated in India over 5,000 years ago. Ayurveda translates to "the science of life." Followers of Āyurvedic practices are dedicated to this natural system for achieving optimal physical, mental, and spiritual health starting from the moment they wake up to eating healthy and feeling calm and energized for the rest of the day. In the Āyurvedic tradition, starting the day off with a few easy rituals sets you up for a full day of moving toward a healthier state. Sages believed that the body’s circadian rhythm impacts the quality of one's health and that the more we are aligned with natural influences such as the moon phase, the Spring Equinox (on March 20th), the sun in the sky, the healthier we will be.
For how to hit refresh this season and begin to feel more energized and healthier, we asked Vasu Dudakia, who has been practicing Āyurveda for 10 years, studied in India, and now leads workshops in it, to recommend simple morning rituals to live happier, healthier lives.
Try these 7 simple morning rituals to help you live a happier, more healthful life.
1. Scrape your tongue to get rid of toxins
Scraping your tongue immediately upon rising and before eating or drinking anything with a copper tongue cleaner has been known to help the body get rid of toxins. The white coating that appears on the back of the tongue each morning is known in Ayurvedic practice as ama, or toxins that the body is trying to expel. Copper is naturally antimicrobial, so it's especially effective for tongue scraping. One study published by the Cleveland Clinic found that tongue scraping can reduce unwanted bacteria and bad breath more than brushing your teeth alone.
2. Use Oil Pulling to rinse your mouth and kill bacteria, reduce bad breath
Next, sip hot water (I use a copper cup because the copper ions have been shown in studies to kill bacteria) and then try the ancient act of oil pulling with organic coconut oil, essentially rinsing it around inside your mouth, flushing it between your teeth and gums to loosen any tiny particles so you can spit it out and know you've cleansed your mouth fully. Do it for a few minutes while making your bed to create yantra, or sacred geometry, in your home. Use coconut oil in the same way you would mouthwash, by swishing it around the mouth for 30 seconds to one minute which is thought to kill bacteria.
3. Head to the toilet shortly after you get up in the morning
Okay getting personal here. You need to empty your bowels shortly after waking up, to restart your digestion and rid your body of any toxins that have been building up in your digestive tract overnight. According to the book, Everyday Āyurveda, by Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya, your body is ready to start anew every day, so by emptying your bowels and expelling toxins or "ama" you have a new chance to eat healthier, feel more energetic, and begin your health journey with a clean slate. To aid this, if you're not used to this morning ritual, simply sit on the toilet and sit there, until your body gets the message. If you still have trouble, add fresh ginger to your morning cup of hot water.
4. Build your morning mindfulness or meditation regimen
A central tenet of Āyurveda is understanding vāta, pitta, and Kapha—the three forces that nature imposes on our physical bodies. Vāta is the element of wind, pitta is the element of fire, and Kapha is the element of earth, and each one is present in a person’s body in different quantities. Your body composition may have one dominant, one primary, and one secondary doṣa, or more rarely, all three elements are present in equal quantities.
Different periods of the day are ruled by either wind, fire, and earth. The early morning hours are regarded as ruled by wind, for instance. So once you determine the most auspicious time of day for spending time with one’s self in meditation, self-study, or yoga postures practice that is the best moment for you to choose your quiet mindfulness practice.
One way to enjoy this practice, any time of day, is a calm bath. This art of bathing has given way to the quicker, more efficient shower, but many of us would benefit from taking a calming bath each day, especially after daily exercise in urban settings. If you're worried that you're sitting in rusty water or an unclean soak, check the purity of your city's water at the Environmental Working Group’s website: ewg.org.
5. Eat and drink to optimize digestion: Your noon meal should be your biggest
According to Āyurveda, the cycles of our digestive fire (agnī) run parallel to the cycles of the sun. Based on this, timing dictates some of our best practices for eating. Since our digestive fire is strongest at noon, it is practical to have your heartiest meal within a couple of hours of noon, when the sun reaches its zenith. If you eat three meals a day, observe the quality of your digestion, energy, and stool (sorry, anyone who doesn't look in the toilet, but this is an extremely effective measure of your digestive health). You may find that fewer than three meals suit you and keep you sustained throughout the day.
Āyurveda suggests that we naturally do well with two meals a day, spaced about six hours apart, to allow enough time for the first meal to fully digest. Renowned yoga teacher B.K.S. Iyengar stated that yoga āsana and prānāyāma (breath control with strong contractions of the navel and pelvic floor) should not be practiced until four hours have passed after eating. That is likely true of your other exercise as well, so running out the door for a tough session after breakfast or lunch may be less effective than first thing when you wake up, before eating, or drinking much.
Use these basic rules to plan your mealtimes (but don't become rigid). The first rule is to eat whenever you feel true hunger (characterized by a rumbling stomach, coolness of the skin, slight weakness, brain distraction, and salivation). Some days, three meals serve you best, but other days two home-cooked healthy, mostly plant-based meals are the best choice.
6. Choose to eat a warm meal at breakfast, such as stewed apples or sprouted millet
For your first meal of the day, it is helpful to stoke the fire of your agnī with a warm meal. An excellent breakfast can be made by stewing apples. Place washed unpeeled organic apples in a pot, and add water until it reaches an inch below the top of the apples. Add any other fresh or dried fruit that you would like (such as pears or rhubarb) and cover the pot. Boil the apples on low heat until they are cooked through, drain off the liquid, and add spices such as cardamom, cloves, ginger, vanilla, to taste and sprinkle with some nuts or seeds.
Another warm breakfast is sprouted oatmeal or millet porridge. Organic sprouted oats are readily available online and you can sprout millet with just a jar, cheesecloth to cover the top, held in place with a rubber band. Sprouted foods are up to 100 times more nutrient-dense as foods that are not sprouted. Simply start by warming vegetable oil in a small pot on medium heat, and then add spices for a minute or two before adding two parts water or plant-based milk to one part grains, and any dried fruits. (For sweetening your sprouted millet or oatmeal, evaporated sugar cane juice or brown sugar is a prized herb in Ayurveda and is a digestive aid, source of energy, and sweetener with a medium glycemic load.)
7. Incorporate movement into your morning, especially stretches
Whatever exercise you prefer, be it yoga, running, or stretching, morning is a doubly good time to do it. For yoga and stretching, you can access more strength and control in your forward folds and handstand variations on an empty stomach because your core can engage fully—the navel can draw the whole stomach in toward the spine and up, creating more stability. An excellent morning practice before eating or drinking to prepare the digestive tract for ablution is nauli kriyā which you can see demonstrated in this video by yoga teacher Henry Winslow.