What habits of daily living will best support health, vitality and longevity?
Ayurveda offers a rich, easily understood description of an ideal daily routine based on harmony with the forces of Nature.
The Primary Importance of the Sun
The ancients saw that human physiology is inseparably connected to the natural environment and the Cosmos. The daily cycle of the sun’s movement across the sky has the greatest influence. It is mirrored by variation in the strength of our digestive fire (Agni). This means that digestive capacity is maximum at mid-day and lowest in the early morning and evening. If we are a machine for creating consciousness from food, then the process of digestion is as important as the qualities of the food we ingest. Optimal digestive function requires that the volume and type of food consumed match our digestive capacity. This is why Ayurveda recommends taking the main meal at noon and choosing food lighter in quality and quantity at morning and night.
That’s not likely what you do. If so, it might be one of the most healthful changes you could make to your daily routine. The effects can be dramatic. I once met a dentist who spontaneously conquered his portliness simply by shifting calories from dinner to lunch.
The Sleep-Wake Cycle
Our sleep-wake cycle is also closely tied to the sun. Have you noticed that Nature wakes up an hour or two before dawn? The birds, in particular, love to vocalize at that time. This quality of liveliness is highly desirable. The Vedic tradition calls it the Hour of the Creator (Brahma Muhurta) and honors it as the ideal time to awaken for meditation practice.
The rising sun has a pure and nourishing influence, which gives calm, sweet, strong and stable qualities to the early morning. People who sleep past sunrise miss both the liveliness of Brahma Muhurta and this nourishment. They thereby invite heaviness, lethargy and dullness into their day. Conversely, for those who are awake, the early morning (before 10 AM) is the ideal time for exercise. In particular, a brisk outdoor walk at sunrise strengthens the body and uplifts the mind—highly beneficial to those suffering from stress, anxiety and depression.
The essence of work is transformation. In that sense it resembles digestion and metabolism. Work involves heat and energy even when the activity is purely cerebral. Thus, the daylight hours are the most conducive to work. The sun is also deeply connected with our eyes, sight and insight.
Sunset marks the close of the day. After sunset, Nature begins to settle down. The calm, sweet, stable quality that characterized early morning reappears. As a result, by 8-9 PM or so most people feel some fatigue and Nature rewards preparation bed by making it easier to fall asleep. Moreover, sleep beginning by 10 PM is more restful and efficient at restoring vitality for the next day.
The Danger of Staying Up Energized by Second Wind
Those who stay up working past 10 PM commonly experience a “second-wind” that can keep them going for hours. That energy comes in part from the influence of the sun rising high on the other side of the world. This untimely wakefulness is aggravated by use of the eyes. If you must work on a computer in the evening, you can at least get f.lux software to minimize the exposure to blue wavelengths that most strongly stimulate wakefulness.
Those who get their second wind often experience hunger as a result. Unfortunately, it’s a terrible time to eat because the digestive fire is weak and the task of digesting a food load diverts bodily resources from their primary nocturnal task, which is to remove toxins and develop healthy tissues. What is more, a full stomach at bedtime disturbs sleep and promotes acid reflux.
In this short review, we’ve validated Ben Franklin’s aphorism about early to bed and early to rise in light of ancient Ayurvedic knowledge about ideal daily routine. We also made a case for taking your main meal at noon. Next time we’ll look more deeply at other eating habits that support health and growth of consciousness through good digestion.