In order to take flight, first develop the root.
Lightness is cultivated from grounding. Start here. With a number of opportunities to establish roots in the practice, when learning to ground, move the energy downward through the limbs. The rebounding energy, in turn, surges upward, allowing the subtle channels of the body to flow and energize, arising first from a place of stability.
Look in nature. The tallest trees in the world, the redwoods, have a vast intricate network of roots supporting their skyward stretch. I like to think of it the same way in practice. Whenever my hands or feet are touching the floor I consciously ground my awareness and energy down toward the earth. This is where I gather my strength. It’s an offering.
If you've taken my class before I often say while your hands or feet are pressing into the mat, "Stop... look at your hands... look at your feet. These are your roots. Spread your fingers wide. Ground down into the earth at all four points... these are your roots and you are a strong, yet flexible tree." Do you remember me saying this?
I've been studying Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois's books and Youtube videos about Ashtanga Yoga over the past two weeks... preparing for my course next week. Currently I am reading, "Yoga Mala". Quite possibly, one of my favorite yoga books thus far.
Primary Series, among other things, is designed in a manner to ground and center, attaining an intimate relationship with our bodies. Starting from the gross level of awareness, then through time and practice, slowly, moving upward into the subtle reaches. It’s intelligently designed. Often I feel gathering strength originates from focus and awareness. Even if it hasn’t physically manifested yet, it doesn’t matter. We are working the most challenging muscle of all in between the ears. If we work with internal guidance the outward manifestation will start to form. It really isn’t the goal, think of it more as the byproduct of consistent, devotional practice. Practice is the goal. Then we taste the true experience.
Grounding doesn’t always correlate into working with the downward flow of the body, even though this is an important step. It is also about fully inhabiting the body from root to tip. Every inch, every layer, ALIVE. Every part of our bodies integrated with the greater whole. This doesn’t mean tensing, grasping or holding. This simply means awakening every cell of the body through the breath. If we can’t feel it, we can’t transform it. Equally stated, we can’t let it go either. Truly, what we are aligning to is the conscious awakening of the parts of ourselves that lie dormant or inert. We already encompass everything. Think of it as an excavation. Some may have to dig deeper than others, however in the larger of scope of things it doesn’t matter. Our body, our lesson.
There’s a pulsation. Feel it. Through the breath our sensitivity toward this pulsation arises as we channel the energy. Grace begins to take form. Join with it. It onsets by inherently listening, feeling the natural flow of the body emanating from the center, radiating outward. This too is grounding. The center is the area of Mula bandha up toward Uddhiya bandha. The entire area. Encompass this area. Even if it feels dead, it doesn’t matter, send your awareness there. Like I said, before it initiates in the mind, then in time, the body follows. We are creators, it takes consistent effort and patience. The refinement of the bandhas happen over a duration of continual practice. Don’t get too wrapped up into it if it doesn’t make sense, because it’s still a mystery, even to me. All I know is connecting toward center brings the energy down into the body where the intelligence resides. Ever had a gut feeling? It never lies. Does it?
“Start by doing what is necessary;
then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
~ St. Francis of Assisi
As cliché as it sounds, the power is within. I like to say, in an Ashtanga yoga practice, it’s about having an in-body experience. We begin with what is tangible, and accessible, our bodies, and often before we have considered entering into daily practice we haven’t become intimately connected with what houses our souls. I remember when I first began my yoga practice at Devi Yoga in Sedona, AZ... a primarily Ashtanga yoga studio; I was amazed at what took place as I settled into the body. Through the power of the breath and the conscious connection centered on each movement the synergy created was a revelation. Ah-ha. The gateway to greater liberation is through the body revitalized by conscious breath. Of course there isn’t only one way to freedom. However, from this realization the power of practice started to unfold. Layer upon layer we lighten up, whether it manifests in our body, or better yet, in our hearts and minds, never forgetting the added element bringing in a sense of discovery and curiosity in the process.
Lightening up isn’t only about fancy entries and exists out of postures. It entails bringing a sense of devotional wonder into our hearts through the experience of yoga. Each conscious step we take to dive inside through this physically demanding practice will begin to shed the unnecessary. What holds us down, what blocks our light, through observation comes clarity. “Mind medicine,” as Guruji would say.
“We don’t use the body to get into the posture we use the posture to get into the body.”
– Bernie Clark
Yesterday, my friend Daniela and I went exploring and managed to climb 1008 stairs to the very top of the Chamundi Hill here in Mysore, India… all in order to see a temple. 1008 steps people! I think that’s the most stairs I’ve ever climbed in one attempt and I am totally feeling it today in my calves. Lucky for me, today’s blog topic is abhyanga (pronounced ah-bee-yawn-ga), which just so happens to be the perfect solution for my sore muscles.
Over the past few days we’ve some spent time exploring the importance of the Ayurvedic practice dinacharya (daily routine), as well as the benefits of jala neti. Today, we are going to break down the practice of anhyanga, which is one of the principle actions within a strong and healthy dinacharya, and we are going to answer the following questions:
Abhyanga – What is abhyanga?
Abhyanga is the anointing of the body with oil. Often this oil is chosen specifically for your particular dosha or condition while keeping the current season in mind. The oil is usually warm and is massaged into the entire body before bathing.
It is believed that the effects of abhyanga are similar to those received when one is saturated with love. From my experience, I completely agree. Like the experience of being loved, abhyanga can give a deep feeling of stability and warmth. There is no greater expression of self-love than lovingly anointing ourselves from head to toe with warm oil. Doing so allows the oil/love to pass through minute channels in the body and to penetrate deep layers of our bodily tissue.
Abhyanga — the Ayurvedic oil massage — is an integral part of the daily routine recommended by this healing system for overall health and well-being. Traditional ayurvedic texts wax eloquent on the benefits. Here's what one says:
“The body of one who uses oil massage regularly does not become affected much even if subjected to accidental injuries, or strenuous work. By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age”. ~ Charaka Samhita Vol. 1, V: 88-89 - (One of the Great ancient texts of Ayurveda
Benefits – What are the benefits of Abhyanga?
"By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age." ~ Charaka Samhita Vol. 1, V: 88-89
Abhyanga provides the means for trans-dermal absorption of the healing qualities of the material used in the massage, and it helps the skin, which is the largest organ in the body, perform its diverse functions efficiently, whether it is allowing toxins to be released from the body or nourishment to be absorbed by the tissues. It is like oiling the engine of your car — if you do it regularly, your engine will be in peak condition, and give you years and years of trouble-free performance.
Oils – Which oils should I use?
Oils used can vary depending on the season and the individual’s constitution (prakrti) but commonly used oils include sesame, coconut, sunflower, mustard and almond. The seasons change and therefore if we are to live in harmony with the seasons, we must change as well. For example, during the winter, you may want to use a warming oil such as sesame oil which is particularly helpful for the cooler, lighter vata dosha. However, being that pitta is already a fiery dosha, you may want to balance it out during the winter by using sunflower oil, opposed to the heating sesame oil or the cooling coconut oil. No matter which oil you are using, attempt to find organic, cold-pressed oils as they are better for you opposed to regular cooking oils.
If you would like to learn what your dosha is and/or receive a recommendation of an oil for your abhyanga, feel free to look over my Ayurvedic Services and then contact me. I’m happy to help!
Sesame Oil: If you choose sesame oil, look for cold-pressed, chemical-free organic sesame oil for the best results from your massage therapy. Sesame oil contains antioxidant properties, and is helpful in protecting the skin from free radical damage. It is considered highly nourishing for the physiology and has heating properties.
Coconut Oil: Coconut oil has keshya properties -- that is, it improves hair quality. In Southern India, women apply coconut oil to their hair every day – which gives them long, lustrous locks. Applying it to the body results in a cooling effect.
Sunflower Oil: Sunflower oil is basically a neutral oil which is good for every dosha at some point throughout the seasons. It can be mixed with sesame oil to lessen the heating properties of that oil or it can be added to coconut oil to increase the heating properties of that particular oil. Sunflower oil also has a natural anti-bacterial property which makes it great for infection prone skin.
• Vata Dosha: Sesame oil or sunflower oil
• Pitta Dosha: Coconut oil or sunflower oil
• Kapha Dosha: Sunflower oil
Routine – What are the steps of an abhyanga routine?
The ayurvedic massage is traditionally performed in the morning, before your bath or shower to facilitate the release of toxins that may have accumulated during the previous night.
Enjoy the feeling of having nourished your body, mind, and spirit and carry that with you throughout your day. Daily abhyanga is generally followed by yoga or gentle stretching exercises and meditation.
Today I slathered myself in coconut oil and instead of showering it off, I left it on the entire day and it felt glorious! Take a look at my makeshift abhyanga station. I boiled some water and then turned off the heat. Instead of placing the plastic bottle of organic coconut oil into the boiling water, I placed some of the oil in a small metal bowl and then kept the bowl afloat with a large spoon. After a short period of time I dipped my finger into the oil to confirm that it was warm and then used a small spoon to repeatedly lift some of it out to place on my palm. I slathered it into my hair, my face (which I washed off at the end), my ears and joints, my body and feet. It was an amazing and super nourishing morning. I have felt so calm and peaceful all day. I hope you enjoy abhyanga as much as I do. You may not get to do it everyday, but trust me, just a few times a week makes such a difference in your overall well-being and health. Enjoy!
Oh! It's especially helpful before your yoga practice because it lubricates the joints, allowing you to sit in lotus more comfortably for example. Shower before the yoga though or you'll slip all over your mat!
While I was ill this past week, one of the most annoying symptoms that I had was a clogged or runny nose. Because of this, I was unable to think efficiently, breathe properly, or practice my yoga adequately. So, what did I do about this particular problem? I grabbed my neti pot.
Perhaps you know what a neti pot is. Maybe you don't. Either way, please proceed with an open mind if you can. ;) I promise you will find that what is shared here is enlightening and, if practiced, totally worth it in one way or another, whether or not you practice yoga or any other form of Ayurveda.
Dinacharya - The use of Jala Neti is one of the key ingredients in a healthy dinacharya (daily routine) practice. A large part of this blog post is referenced from my most favorite yoga book of all time, “A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya,” written by my teacher, Swami Satyananda Saraswati.
With his guidance, we will cover the following common questions about Jala Neti:
Because this particular post is so informational and therefore a little long, if you are a subscriber to this blog & are currently viewing it within your email box or on your phone, it is suggested that you read this post from my actual website for better viewing. Simply click on the post title above or the link provided here… Oh, and thank you for subscribing & taking an active interest in your own self-healing & well-being. <3
This blog post is very detailed since most of it is coming directly from Swami Saraswati, and he doesn’t miss a thing. If you are patient, you will learn quite a bit about Jala Nati and the human body. At the end of the blog, I will gladly share with you my first experience of using a neti pot… it was quite harrowing, but in the end, totally worth it. I will also offer up some recommendations and tips to help guide you on your journey toward having a healthy and balanced lifestyle through the Ayurvedic practice of dinacharya and Jala Neti.
Swami Satyananda Saraswati says...
Yogic science gives as much importance to certain cleansing processes as it does to asanas or pranayama. Without regular cleansing of the system you will not gain maximum benefits from your practices. Without purification of the body one will not be ready for the higher practices of yoga. When the body is free the mind also functions properly.
Body cleansing is gained through the practice of shatkarmas or the six purificatory techniques. Shatkarmas are excellent practices, which are designed to purify the whole body and bring about first class health. They also bring clarity and harmony to the mind. They are very important from the point of view of physical and mental health, and these simple techniques are also highly valuable in healing internal disorders. Today I will share with you one of the main groups of shatkarmas or yogic cleanses: Neti.
What is Jala Neti? Jala neti is a process of cleaning the nasal passage with salt water, and is essential in allowing free breathing as required in many yoga practices, as well as in helping to ensure your good health.
What are the functions of the nose? The nose is the body’s organ for ensuring that the air that enters the lungs is of sufficient purity and warmth not to cause harm. The air that we inhale is rarely suitable for entry into the lungs. It is generally too cold, too dirty and too germ-ridden. It is the function of the nose to rectify this situation.
First of all, the air we breathe contains dust and small insects. These larger impurities are initially screened out by the vibrating hairs at the entrance to the nasal passages. These hairs vibrate in the opposite direction to the air as it enters the nose and prevents impurities from proceeding further.
In the deeper regions of the nose there are special body structures that are covered with a thick, spongy, germicidal mucus membrane, through which circulates a large, rich supply of blood. The mucus membrane follows a long winding air passage which ensures that all the inhaled air comes in contact with the membranes. These mucus membranes remove millions of germs that are contained in the air and which could cause the lungs much harm, and in fact do in the case of pulmonary tuberculosis, bronchitis, etc. This mucus membrane also removes small particles of dust that have passed through the first defense of the hairs. This membrane both heats and moistens the air to a level that will not harm the lungs. Cold and dry air can result in much injury to the lungs.
Deeper in the nose there are a set of glands which further help to eliminate germs that have managed to escape the previous defenses. Additionally, our sense of smell prevents us inhaling noxious gases. As soon as we smell something unpleasant we immediately stop breathing, or if possible seek clean, fresh air.
By now the reader should be aware of the importance of the seemingly insignificant organ – the nose. It should also be obvious why it is so unhealthy to breathe continually through the mouth as so many people do. When air is inhaled through the mouth instead of the nose, it escapes all the mechanisms of the nose which prepare the air for admittance to the lungs. All the dust, germs, cold and dry air directly enter the lungs. The mouth and throat do have mechanisms for removing these impurities and air conditions, but they are nowhere nearly as efficient as the nose.
If the nose is blocked, or if the mucus membranes are profusely covered in impurities, then the nose cannot perform its duties effectively. In fact if the nose is completely blocked, then one is forced to breathe through the mouth. And we have already explained the disadvantages of this process. This is the reason why we blow our nose to operate efficiently. However, the normal nose blowing does not remove all impurities. Ingrained, dry mucus can remain. This is one of the reasons that the practice of neti was developed: to ensure the best possible cleaning of the nose.
There are other reasons for the use of neti such as the stimulation of various nerve endings in the nose; this leads to improvement in the brain and organs to which these nerves connect and also helps in the stimulation of ajna chakra, the midbrain psychic center.
Equipment - What kind of equipment do we need? A pot or lota (pitcher) should be used to introduce salt water into the nostrils. There are various designs and even a teapot can be used if nothing else is available. I recommend the shape of the pot to be as shown in the provided picture at the top of this blog. This pot is known as a neti lota. It can be made of brass or any other suitable material which does not contaminate water, but the important thing to remember is that the nozzle on the end of the spout should be suitably sized so that the end fits comfortably into your nostril.
Salt Water - How do we prepare the salt water? The water used in the practice should be pure and lukewarm; body temperature is the ideal temperature for pouring the water into your nose. The water should then be mixed with clean salt in the proportion of one teaspoonful per half liter of water. Make sure the salt is fully dissolved in the water.
People often wonder why salt water is introduced into the nostrils instead of ordinary water. The reason is very simple and very practical. Salt water has a much higher osmotic pressure than ordinary water, which means that salt water is not easily absorbed into the delicate blood vessels and membranes in the nose, whereas ordinary water is. If you try this practice with ordinary water you will discover for yourself, in the form discomfort or a little pain in the nose. However, we don’t suggest you do this, though it is not at all dangerous.
In conclusion, salt water is ideal for jala neti, because while it thoroughly cleans the nostrils of impurities it is not absorbed into the delicate nasal membranes. As such no discomfort will be felt when the water flows through the nose.
Posture - What posture should we take? One may either sit in a squatting position known as kagasana, or one may assume a standing position, bending the shoulders and head forwards. This position is most suitable for doing neti into a sink or washbasin, while the other position, kagasana, can be done in the garden or in a shower.
Personally I simply lean over my sink. :)
Let this lady show you how it's done!
Technique - What exactly is the technique? Fill the neti pot with the prepared salt water. Hold the bottom of the pot with one hand, as shown. Gently insert the end of the nozzle into the end of the left nostril (or, if this is blocked into the right nostril). There should be no force involved, but the nozzle should press firmly against the side of the one nostril so that no water leakage occurs.
Progressively tilt your head to the right side while simultaneously raising the neti pot in such a way that water runs into the left nostril. Make sure that you keep your mouth wide open so that you can breathe. Some people say that the mouth should be closed and the breath held during the practice, but we feel this complicates, especially for beginners, a practice that is essentially very simple. If the pot is in the correct position, if your head is tilted at a suitable angle and if there is a tight fit between the nozzle and the sides of the nose, then the water should flow in through one nostril and out through the other nostril. It doesn’t matter if water flows into your mouth or throat, but if the practice is performed correctly with relaxation this should not happen. Allow the water to flow through the nostrils for 10 to 20 seconds.
Then remove the neti pot and remove the water and impurities from your nose by closing the left nostril and breathing quickly and forcibly through the other nostril. Don’t blow so hard, however, that you damage your nose and cause bleeding. In this respect the practitioner should use his/her discretion.
Now close the right nostril and blow forcibly through the left nostril. Now pour water into the right nostril for about 20 seconds and repeat the same process. Again pour water into each of the nostrils in turn, repeating the same technique just described.
Personally, if I am using a large stainless steel neti pot (which I like to call the Cadillac of netis) I use one half of the water in one nostril, pause to blow, then use the remaining half of the water in the other nostril, pause, blow. Done.
Drying the Nostrils: After completing this practice the nostrils must be dried and any further impurities removed.
Stand erect. Bend forwards so that the trunk assumes a horizontal position. Close one nostril by pressing the side of the nose with the thumb. Breath in and out vigorously up to 10 times in quick succession. The exhalation should be especially emphasized to expel the moisture from the nostrils. Repeat the same procedure with the other nostril closed. Then repeat the same procedure with both nostrils open.
This simple practice should remove most of the moisture from the nose. If moisture remains the vigorous breathing should be repeated until the nose is perfectly dry.
Duration - How long will this take? Once the practitioner is familiar with the technique, the whole process can be completed in a short period of time. Not including preparation of the water, the whole process should take less than five minutes.
Neti is ideally practiced early in the morning before breakfast. However, if necessary, it can be practiced at other times of the day, excepting straight after meals. Once a day is sufficient, though if one has a nasal catarrh, a cold or any other specific ailment, it may be practiced more times.
Limitations and Precautions: People who suffer from chronic bleeding of the nose should not do neti without expert advice. Make sure that the water is not too hot when you introduce it into the nostrils. Do not breathe in and out too deeply when removing the moisture from the nose; we are trying to improve the condition of your nose, not damage it. Also, if sinuses are blocked with mucus, be careful not to blow your nose hard. It is very easy to push the mucus further into the cavities. Ensure that the salt fully dissolves in the water before pouring it into your nose.
Be careful to hold the head correctly and not to hold the neti pot too low. In order for the water to flow into one nostril and out the other, the water level in the pot must be higher than the region at the back of the nose, where the two nostrils merge with each other. If you tilt your head too much then the water will go down your throat instead of the other nostril. If you tilt the pot too much the water will merely overflow out of the pot. You must adjust the position of your head and the pot so that they are at correct levels.
People who have great difficulty passing water through the nose may have a structural blockage such as a polyp. Expert advice should be sought. If there is a slight burning sensation in the nose during your first attempt with salt water, don’t worry. This will disappear as your nose tissue becomes accustomed to contact with water.
BENEFITS - What are the Benefits of Jala Neti?
Neti is the best method of preventing and eliminating colds. An effective cure for the common cold has not yet been found. Neti is not foolproof, but it goes a long way to solving the problem. A cold indicates something significant, namely that your body is in a weakened condition. If this was not the case, the cold virus would be unable to penetrate the defenses of your system; your auto therapeutic powers would be strong enough to withstand such an attack. The cold virus flourishes in nerve tissue, particularly the olfactory nerves in the nose. During a cold, neti greatly helps by removing the accumulated mucus in the nose, this being a breeding ground.
Regular practice of neti when you don’t have a cold keeps the nasal passages working at optimum efficiency and thereby helps to maintain a healthy body. Remember, breathing through the mouth or insufficient treatment of the inhaled air prior to entry into the lungs, due to nasal blockage and congestion, can encourage the onset of disease, by allowing germs to infect the lungs, or by generally weakening the state of health in the body.
Neti is also a help in curing sinusitis, ailments of the eyes, nose and throat, tonsillitis, catarrah, as well as inflammation of the adenoids and mucus membranes. It is effective in removing headaches, insomnia and tiredness. Neti has a subtle influence on the various nerves which end in the nasal passages, such as the olfactory bulb and other adjacent nerves which innervate the eyes, ears, etc. This has a very soothing influence on the brain and can help to relieve such ailments as migraine, epilepsy, depression, tension, etc.
Neti helps in no small manner to prevent and cure lung diseases such as asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, pulmonary tuberculosis, etc., for the reasons already mentioned. Respiration becomes much easier, which leads to an improved intake of oxygen, improved removal of carbon dioxide and consequently better health.
Importance of neti in yogic physiology: The science of yoga maintains that the flow of air in each nostril alternately changes. If you test this for yourself, you will find this to be true. At present one of your nostrils is admitting more air that the other. After some time the other nostril will admit the greater amount of air.
This alternate flow of breath through the two nostrils in turn has a profound influence on the energy cycle of man. It controls our thinking and physical activity, our introversion and extroversion. This cycle has a great bearing on our mental and physical health. Now if one or both of the nostrils are permanently blocked, then this natural alternation of breath flow cannot occur. Our health can suffer. This is another reason why jala neti is so important; it cleans both nostrils and allows the breath to alternate freely between the two.
A Quick Story - My Showdown with Neti
The first time I was introduced to neti was back in 2007 in Sedona, AZ. My boyfriend at the time had tried repeatedly to get me to add this practice to my daily routine, however just the idea of putting water in my nose made me cringe. So I ignored him… until one day I was sick and I was standing in the bathroom, miserable, trying to blow my nose. It was then that he came to me, placed the ingredients that I needed for jala neti next to me, smiled a devilish smile and then wandered off.
SO THERE I STOOD... Leaning over the bathroom sink, head cocked at a 90* angle, wishing I had a level with which to verify that my forehead was in fact higher than my chin. Then I had this moment. There was this moment when I thought to myself:
Okay, I'm going to do it now.
No... now. Now! ... ... ... ... hmm... ... ... ... ...
Okay, 1....2....3.... Now!
Wait! I need to collect myself.
It's like the moment after you've cut your finger and you are contemplating putting alcohol on it…
Okay, I'm going to pour it NOW…
No… how about now! Maybe if I close my eyes?? Okay, go! Now!
Aaaannnyyy minute now.
But you keep hesitating! It's like there is a completely confused survival mechanism inside of you saying, "DO NOT POUR THAT STINGING ALCOHOL ON YOUR CUT. IT WILL HURT!" But at the same time you know deep down inside that in order to clean a wound, you have to momentarily suppress your will to live.
The same is true of your first time neti pot use. :)
There is something inside of you saying, "Do not pour that teapot full of water up your nose. That is a bad idea." But then you also kind of know it's probably helpful. You just need to bite the bullet!
Well… I stood frozen for a few minutes. I started breathing through my mouth, lifted the pot, and poured. I bit the bullet and I am here to tell you that exactly one eternity passed between the moment the water entered my right nostril and the moment it started flowing out of my left. I was so sure in the moment of eternity that water would soon be leaking out of my eye sockets, and that this was how it would all end for me… Me, slumped over the bathroom sink, neti pot in hand. Toast… death by neti pot.
But then it worked! I was pouring water into a hole in my face, and watching it flow out of a different hole in my face, and I thought, "THE HUMAN BODY IS A FREAKING ROCK STAR." And I blew my nose like I've never blown it before. It was glorious! :)
Neti Pot Reviews:
Yesterday we discussed and researched what the Ayurvedic practices of dinacharya are, as well as the benefits of adding this regular routine to your daily life. We discovered that dinacharya is a daily routine developed to ensure proper hygiene and dosha balance in the human body.
A daily routine invites health, vitality, and a sense of clarity into our lives. Adopting an appropriate daily routine is undoubtedly one of the most grounding and nurturing things you could do for yourself, and while the concept of having a daily routine is at the heart of an Ayurvedic lifestyle, no single prescription is right for everyone. So imagine yourself now as your own healer; realize that the general template I am providing can and should be adapted to meet the needs of each individual’s (your) constitution and current state of balance. And that’s the beauty of it, because the right daily routine can dramatically improve your life.
Keep in mind that it takes some time to establish a habit or new routine, so be gentle with yourself if you miss a day. Just come back to the routine the next day. The benefits of dinacharya to your health and wellbeing are immense, so it’s worth putting your time and attention on developing a nurturing balancing routine for your self.
In the last blog post we explored a few practices contained within a morning dinacharya routine. Today we will explore the options available within an evening dinacharya routine. Tomorrow we will dive further into the details, applications, and benefits of jala neti, abhyanga, and mindful-meditation.
Twilight Dimming: As the sun goes down, lower the lights in your home to signal to body and mind that the frenetic pace of the day’s activities is coming to an end—and that it’s time to stop being “on.” According to modern Ayurvedic experts, that means minimizing screen time on your electronic devices for at least an hour before bed, too. Wind down by reading something uplifting or spending time with your family or friends.
Stick to A Consistent Dinner Time: Ideally, we would eat dinner early enough that our food has time to move completely out of the stomach before we go to bed. This means allowing your body a minimum of 2-3 hours between dinner and bedtime. It may also mean eating a lighter dinner than we might otherwise be accustomed to. These practices allow for proper digestion, prevent the unnecessary accumulation of toxins, and support healthy sleep patterns.
Take Triphala: Triphala is a traditional Ayurvedic formula comprised of three fruits that are balancing for vata, pitta, and kapha. It is revered for its unique ability to gently cleanse and detoxify the digestive tract while replenishing, nourishing, and rejuvenating the tissues. About half an hour before bed, steep ½ teaspoon triphala powder in a cup of freshly boiled water for 10 minutes. Cool and drink. Or, take 2 triphala tablets with a glass of warm water.
- Brushing the teeth
- Washing the face
- Applying oil to the feet and scalp
- Other soothing, quieting activities that appeal to you
Note: Reading in bed is not recommended, as it disrupts the desired association between being in bed and sleeping. If you like to read before bed, designate a specific place – other than your bed – and enjoy. But keep in mind that reading before bed can be quite stimulating to the eyes and the mind, which can disrupt healthy sleep patterns. If you tend to struggle with disturbed sleep, you might want to try giving up your bedtime book for a while to see if you notice a difference in your quality of sleep.
Soothe: There are several marma points, or Ayurvedic pressure points, on the foot that correspond to the entire body. Doing a foot massage, can relax the entire body in just a few minutes.
I will write more about marma points in the future if you're interested in learning about them. Just let me know by leaving a comment below this blog.
Wash and dry your feet. Apply warmed, organic, cold-pressed sesame oil to one foot at a time, using your palms to rub the sole from heel to toe in small circular motions. Repeat on the top of the foot. Massage the ankle, followed by the sides of the foot. Interlace your fingers between your toes, gently push the foot to flex and point, and make clockwise and counterclockwise circles. Beginning with the little toe, rub each toe gently, and apply a little pressure in the webbing. Finally, pull each toe slightly, rub either lavender (soothing) or vetiver (grounding) essential oil into the sole of the foot and then put on clean cotton socks to sleep in.
Savor: Before bed, heat a cup of organic whole milk until it boils. Add a pinch of ground cardamom, nutmeg (spices that, in Ayurveda, are said to promote sleep), and cinnamon (to aid digestion). Let it cool a bit and add honey to taste. Warm whole milk is used in Ayurveda as an insomnia remedy. Don't drink milk? Sip chamomile, valerian, or lemon balm tea.
Place your right thumb over your right nostril to close the airway. Inhale through the left nostril, and then use your ring finger to close off the left nostril. Lift your thumb, and exhale out of the right nostril. Breathing in through the right nostril and putting your thumb over your right nostril again, exhale out of your left nostril. This completes a single round; try to do 5 to 10 rounds per sitting. This practice helps you transition from activity to stillness.
Establish a Consistent Bedtime: The trick here is to be consistent. Having predictable sleep and wake times helps our bodies naturally attune to a daily rhythm. It is often helpful to work backward from your desired wake time and establish a sleep time that ensures that you get enough rest each night without being excessive. This is a beautiful way for us to honor our need for sleep and to ensure that an appropriate amount of rest is built into each day.
Seasonal Adjustments: Each of the seasons arrives with its own unique personality. We can support an improved state of balance throughout the year by making a conscious effort to live in harmony with the cycles of nature and by making small adjustments in our routines in order to accommodate the arrival of each new season. For more information on how you might adapt your routine as the seasons change, view my Ayurvedic Lifestyle Programs services and then contact me... or wait for future blogs.
Adjustments for Imbalances: Similarly, if we are dealing with imbalances that do not line up precisely with our constitutions, it is often helpful to adopt a routine that pacifies the dosha(s) that are most aggravated. If you are unsure of your current condition, contact me today and I will help you determine your current dosha. If you know your current imbalances and would like to adapt your routine to better support those doshas, let me know and we can create a routine suited just for you.
At the most fundamental level, our physiology is very much adapted to – and supported by – some sense of regularity. Actually, this is precisely why the daily routine is such potent medicine. In effect, having a daily routine offers the grounding, stability, and predictability that are largely absent from our hectic modern lives. The routine itself creates a number of familiar and comforting reference points throughout each day that send a resounding affirmation to the deep tissues of the body that all is well, that we can be at ease. And so, when the body becomes accustomed to – and learns to count on – a daily routine that includes things like adequate rest, appropriate exercise, and a nourishing spiritual practice, the nervous system can finally begin to relax. As a result, a daily routine can elicit profound rejuvenation throughout the body without requiring any conscious awareness of the healing process.
Adopting a daily routine is also a very purposeful and enduring act of self-love. Each day, our routines provide us with a tangible opportunity to prioritize our own health and wellbeing, regardless of what else might be going on in our lives. They quickly become poignant reminders that we are in fact worthy of a healthy dose of loving attention every single day. The cumulative affect of caring for ourselves in this way is quite powerful. And for many, committing to a daily routine results in a greatly improved sense of wellness in a very short period of time.
Adopting a daily routine is also a very purposeful and enduring act of self-love. Each day, our routines provide us with a tangible opportunity to prioritize our own health and wellbeing, regardless of what else might be going on in our lives. They quickly become poignant reminders that we are in fact worthy of a healthy dose of loving attention every single day. The cumulative effect of caring for ourselves in this way is quite powerful. And for many, committing to a daily routine results in a greatly improved sense of wellness in a very short period of time.
When I first began feeling ill I immediately went in search of Echinacea Oil because typically if I take Echinacea oil right when I start to feel ill I am able to avoid full blown sickness. It’s kind of amazing really.
Unfortunately I was unable to find Echinacea oil here in Mysore, so I settled for the next best thing, Echinacea leaf, which I made into a tea. I then purchased Vitamin C & Antioxidant capsules made by Organic India and I commenced a daily routine of resting, sipping tea, popping vitamins and occasionally Ibuprofen whenever a fever would raise its hot head.
Typically, this natural method works for me, but this time it isn't working. It is keeping the symptoms at bay for the most part, but the moment I quit the routine, the sickness feeling returns full force. So unfortunately I think I am going to have to resort to actual medication now in order to dispose of the pathogens in my body, but in the meantime I am curious about something.
The questions that I keep asking myself are:
- How did my immune system get so weak in the first place?
- What was I doing wrong in my daily routine that caused this to happen?
- What can I do to strengthen my immune system in the future?
To find the answers to my questions I started by taking a good look at my current lifestyle. I wake up every morning at 4:30 and practice yoga for a couple of hours and then follow that up with a healthy Ayurvedic breakfast at 8 a.m. and a healthy vegetarian dinner before 6 pm. I'm not drinking alcohol and I’m avoiding sweets for the most part.
Exercise & healthy diet = Check.
I’m not stressed. I spend my afternoons studying yogic texts, reading novels, practicing more yoga, writing, or relaxing in the park & figuring out how to fulfill one more thing on my mom's bucket list. Hard life huh?
Living a stress free, equanimous life = Check.
So what’s going on?
Upon further honest evaluation I realized my sleeping habits have been poor the week prior to getting sick. Both the daily yoga and the healthy diet provide me with so much energy that I find myself staying up late. I have the energy to talk on the phone late into the evening with friends in other countries whom are just waking up. I find I have more energy to read. I find I have more energy to write. Unfortunately all of this activity resulted in a lack of deep, restful sleep. Maybe 3-4 hours tops a night.
Recently, my meditation practice has suffered some as a result of the lack of sleep. Lately, instead of waking up and meditating, I wake up and sort of sit there sleepy like… then slowly I'll move to make a cup of hot water with honey which I sip groggily. I then wash my face, brush my teeth, scrape my tongue, sip the water, read and finally walk out the door. No meditation. No strengthening of my aura or energy field. No positive aspirations.
Then it dawned on me. I lack a complete and consistent dinacharya (daily routine) practice. According to Ayurveda, yoga’s 5,000-year-old sister science, one of the keys to good health and feeling great all day long is living in tune with nature’s cycles. Literally and energetically, that means rising and setting with the sun. To help you align your system more closely with the cycles of nature, Ayurvedic tradition recommends a routine of morning and nighttime practices collectively known as dinacharya. These rituals are designed to give you calm, focused, sustainable energy to support meditation, yoga, and everything you do throughout the day.
Could this lack of a dinacharya be the reason I got sick? Maybe. It has been the reason in the past. And this time a lack of sleep definitely allowed my immune system to weaken.
So, there are more questions here that I would like to explore with you:
- What is dinacharya?
- What are the practices within dinacharya?
- Why is dinacharya beneficial?
- How do we begin and maintain such a practice?
- Why are the individual practices so important?
- How do we perform them?
It’s these questions that I would like to research and re-explore and then share my findings with you here. All the while I will again begin and maintain a daily dinacharya practice myself. Feel free to follow along and to begin your own dinacharya as well! Let me know how it makes YOU feel and if you have any questions!
Ayurveda offers powerful daily practices that nurture health, create balance and a sense of inner calm within dinacharya. These practices are broken down into 5 parts of which we will discuss in further detail over the next 5 days:
- Beginning the day
- Cleansing and purification
- Meditation and mindfulness
- Winding down
Keep in mind that it takes some time to establish a habit or new routine, so be gentle with yourself if you miss a day. Just come back to the routine the next day. The benefits of dinacharya to your health and wellbeing are immense, so it’s worth putting your time and attention on developing a nurturing balancing routine for yourself.
When I do my dinacharya, there’s a sense that I am taking really good care of me. My ability to meditate, teach and practice feels steadier and easier. And I experience more peace of mind.
To get back in sync, make over your daily routine with the simple Ayurvedic practices. The morning practices are cleansing and energizing; they will infuse you with a calm sense of presence. The evening ones (which I'll share with you tomorrow) will help you wind down for a restful sleep. Movement, such as yoga asana, and meditation are also essential to dinacharya. Consider incorporating asana before breakfast and meditation in the morning and evening.
Choose one or two of these practices to start, and after a week, take note of your energy level and mood. Then add a few more and repeat the observation process. Over time, these practices may become as routine as brushing your teeth.
Let’s begin our dinacharya by exploring our morning dinacharya routine. Tomorrow we will explore the evening dinacharya routine. In the following days we will explore in more detail the benefits of jala neti, abhyanga and meditation.
It is good to wake up before the sun rises, when there are loving (sattvic) qualities in nature that bring peace of mind and freshness to the senses. In fact, it is the most fresh and pure time of the entire day and the time when Prana-vayu is flowing (air carrying the purest form of oxygen). Sunrise varies according to the seasons, but on average vata people should get up about 6 a.m., pitta people by 5.30 a.m., and kapha by 4.30 a.m. (If you would like to know your dosha (vata/pitta/kapha), contact me and I will gladly help you decipher which dosha you are at the moment.)
In the healing system of Ayurveda, morning is a special time when we are ready to be renewed for the day to come. Incorporating a few Ayurvedic practices to your morning routine will ensure that you are optimizing immune function, balancing mind and body, and preparing yourself to face the day with a calm mind and rejuvenated soul.
Let’s start here. To be healthy you need the energy to “perform.” Our body also has a natural rhythm of when it prefers to sleep and eat. There are three phases recognized in Ayurveda that occur throughout the day. The Vata phase (2 – 6), Kapha phase (6 – 10) and Pitta phase (10-2). They occur twice, one in the morning (a.m.) and once in the evening. (p.m)
Vata Phase (2-6): This is the time of day when the vata principle predominates. It’s in this phase that you are supposed to wake up and prepare to meet the day. It’s also “Brahma” time, which is the “time of God", which is also why it feels so good to be outside in the mornings and on a beautiful day. This is the quietest time of the day. In the early hours before dawn, the mind slowly becomes more aware. If the body has gotten to sleep early and is not chronically fatigued, it is quite natural to wake up at this time before the sunrise. This is a great time for meditation, which will help to entrain the body with the silence of nature. This is the best time to reset your internal clocks. Since they are in every single cell, and we have 100 trillion cells in the body, this may be the most important time of day of all.
In the afternoon, during Vata time, especially around 2-4, you may feel a little tired. Your body has hopefully been working to digest the lunch you just had and it's probably feeling sluggish at this time. During this cycle, the nervous system is most active. This is when the brain is demanding fuel from the previously digested large meal. If the fuel is not there because you skipped lunch or only had a salad, the brain will scavenge any available glucose or energy it can find and the blood sugar will fall. This can result in an afternoon lull, craving, or moodiness. If you find yourself reaching for a sweet, coffee, chips or a nap at this time, it may be that the brain is straining to get the fuel it needs to cruise through the afternoon. To give yourself a kick-start, consider going for a walk right after lunch. Also, consider practicing yoga nidra for 15 minutes after your meal if possible. It’s like a nap without actually sleeping. You might also consider having a cup of tea and some nuts or fruit to give the body a little extra energy.
In the later part of this cycle, between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m, there is a period of stillness in nature. If you watch a lake at this time of day, it begins to calm down and often becomes very flat. This is an opportune time to meditate. It is when nature’s cycles become still that we have the opportunity to entrain our rhythms with those of nature, still the mind and de-stress.
Pitta Phase (10-2): This phase takes place when the sun is reaching the middle of the sky, and the fiery pitta principle is at its strongest. The digestive fire is most hot at this time and it is the best time to eat the largest and heaviest meal of the day, when the sun is at the highest in the sky. Studies have shown that when the largest meal of the day is eaten earlier in the day, there is significantly more weight loss compared to when the largest meal of the day is eaten later in the day or evening. Your agni in your body is at its peak and will have an easier time burning and breaking down your food as well as processing the nutrients it needs.
It’s important that you go to bed by 10:00 p.m. At 10 p.m., our bodies go into Pitta (Fiery) time. This is the time when pitta, which can be very stimulating, can rev the mind into thinking you are a night person. This will burn you out over time and weaken your immune system (hence my problem). Here is the rub: this is the time when the liver, which is the body’s major pitta or fire organ, is actively detoxifying and preparing the body for the next day. Late meals and late nights disturb this cycle and compromise the body’s ability to detox efficiently. Of course, this is no big deal when it happens on occasion. But when it happens for years, the liver can become congested and the body can build toxicity levels in the fat cells in the brain and throughout the body.
Kapha Phase (6-10): This is the kapha time of the day, during the first phase, the a.m. phase, the muscular and structural strength of the kapha principle naturally increases. This is the time of day for physical labor when the muscles are the strongest and the heat of the day has not yet set in.
The second kapha cycle, which lasts from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. is the time of day when the body’s energy hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, are decreasing. This is the natural time to start slowing down metabolism to prepare for sleep. Digestive strength is much weaker after sunset, which is why most traditional cultures always had a light supper. Even the word “supper” is an attempt to denote a smaller, supplemental or soup-like meal. A heavy meal at this time will be inefficiently digested and cause weight gain.
Another form of accumulated waste is the thick white coating that some people notice on their tongue when they wake up. In Ayurveda, this coating indicates a buildup of ama, or toxins, from the digestive process. Before brushing your teeth, first scrape the tongue from back to front to remove this bacteria. Doing so will also freshen your breath and stimulate digestion. (More about these below)
Pour a cup of warm water (sterilized or distilled) into a neti pot. Add 1/4 teaspoon of non-iodized salt (kosher or sea salt), stirring until it dissolves. Insert the spout into your left nostril, lean over the sink, and tilt your head slightly to the right so the water flows through the sinus passages and out of the right nostril. Gently blow your nose and repeat on the other side. When you are finished, lie on your back, tilt your head back, and put a few drops of warm sesame oil or ghee (clarified butter) in your nostrils. (I will include a detailed explanation of Jala Neti in the following blog posts.)
3. Tongue Scraping: Ayurveda recommends a practice called tongue scraping to remove the coating that appears overnight, which contains ama, or toxins, said to eventually cause illness. Using a tongue scraper, gently comb your tongue from back to front several times. Rinse the scraper between sessions. Doing this before you brush your teeth is thought to stimulate the digestive response and get your body thinking about its first meal. After you finish scraping your tongue, brush your teeth.
4. Sip Hot Water: Before you eat or drink coffee, mix the juice of half a lemon in a cup of warm water (with an optional pinch of rock salt and 1/2 teaspoon of honey), and drink up. This drink flushes the kidneys and gastrointestinal tract and stimulates your agni (digestive fire) so you are ready to metabolize breakfast.
5. Eliminate: Going to the bathroom upon waking will help clear your digestive system. A healthy “motion” will have a soft brown log quality, little odor, and will be well-formed (like a banana). Undigested food, foul smell, mucous, blood, excessive dryness or “pellet-like” quality, as well as “sinkage” indicates digestive imbalance. Altering diet, lifestyle and using herbs will help better this. If you find that you are still unable to have a daily bowel movement, consider adding triphala to your routine (taking a couple of tablets before bed).
6. Abhyanga (massage): Self-massage, or abhyanga, is one of our best allies for radiance. In fact, the old texts say its better to pay the “oil man” today than the doctor tomorrow. Massaging your skin daily nourishes and soothes the nervous system, stimulates lymphatic flow and aids in detoxification. It also improves circulation, boosts your vitality, and makes you feel more balanced emotionally and mentally. Use a high-quality organic oil such as sesame, sunflower, or coconut. Warm the oil in your hands or by placing the bottle in hot water, then rub down, making sure not to skip any parts. Let the oil soak in for at least 20 minutes and then shower.
I suggest standing on a towel in your bathroom with warmed, organic, cold-pressed oil (type of oil depends on the season and your dosha) at the ready. Using circular strokes, begin with your scalp, followed by your face and neck. Apply oil to your palms as needed, and work your way down one shoulder, arm, wrist, and hand, using long, up-and-down strokes along your limbs and circular strokes on your joints. Repeat on the other side.
Massage your chest and back, and then gently massage your abdomen in a clockwise direction. Rub your hips in a circular motion, and massage one leg at a time, using long strokes on your leg bones and circular strokes on the joints. If you have time, relax and let the oil soak in for 10 to 20 minutes. Then, standing on a wet towel in the shower to prevent slipping, scrub off with a mild cleanser. (I will include a detailed explanation of Abhyanga in the following blog posts.)
And the yoga... Ah the yoga, in the early morning sunrise, in the warmth of the tropical sun, among the satsang of congregated souls, with the bellows of the universe sharing prana with each atma as one. It is divine. It is almost indescribable. It must be experienced for itself.
Students from around the world make the pilgrimage to Mysore – some with decades of experience and others taking their very first yoga class at the "fountainhead" of Ashtanga yoga. The majority of the students stay for a few months and the yoga community that develops as a result is nearly as alluring as the quality of the yoga instruction itself. The students are very welcoming and if you stick around, lifetime friends can be made.
Which is how I met Daniela and how I found a new direction in my journey. Daniela is a beautiful architect from New York (born in Germany) a Cancer, with a huge heart, a witty sense of humor and adventure in her soul. We met over a coconut outside the KPJAYI shala and from that point on have explored India’s alleys, broken a few rules, wandered haphazardly into a silk store, saw sandalwood being handmade, ventured off road on my scooter and watched the sun set over the Mysore Palace. What we like to call, “Winning at India”.
And now we are heading onward for a new adventure towards a new direction. North! Instead of staying in Mysore and practicing another month of yoga at the Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute, we have made a solemn vow to push each other to practice our yoga every morning while we venture forth towards northern India on March 2nd. Where are we going? What is the goal?
Our next stop: Agra, to see the breathtaking Taj Mahal. And finally… Rishiskesh, Kashmir, Rajasthan and the Himalayas. If time permits (Daniela has to return to the U.S.A someday), we will venture into Nepal and Kathmandu! All the while, practicing everything we've learned here at KPJAYI, deepening our yoga practice with our newly developed self-discipline, and lacing it all with a grand sense of adventure.
I will miss Mysore and the “compound” as its fellow students affectionately call KPJAYI. But India offers so much around every corner. Every day provides me a new lesson to learn, a new smell or sight, a new feeling. This country is amazing. The awe-inspiring scale and diversity of India’s terrain is calling out to me… So on March 2nd, I will lovingly grab my mat, my backpack, my mom’s ashes and all my books, and I'll venture forth into the incredible world of India, with an open heart, a clear mind, and a smile upon my face. Life is a blessing. Everyday is a blessing.
If you're new to yoga or you haven't tried it yet... don't let her experience intimidate you! She didn't start out this way. We all don't... it's one step at a time. It's a journey! Practice and Patience :)
Perhaps you are doing yoga to develop a healthy body or a beautiful body. There is nothing wrong with this motive and the practices of yoga will help you attain this. All I say to you is: “Be aware of your mind. Do you feel more peaceful? Have you developed greater concentration?” If so, then through personal experience you will know that yoga practices have a beneficial influence on the mind as well as the body.
Perhaps you have some illness or body ailment, which you want to eliminate and have come to yoga as a last resort. Whether it is physical or mental, it does not matter, for yoga can help, as the very essence of yoga is tied up with these faculties.
Many people have unsatisfactory relations with wife or husband, friends or colleagues. The practice of yoga will help to put your relationship on a sure, positive basis. Remember, a relationship improves in depth of understanding according to the level of self-awareness. Yoga aims at enabling you to know yourself and to see your foibles and nature in others. In this way, understanding arises and through this your personal relationships will improve.
Perhaps you have heard that yoga can improve or rectify sexual relationships. Yes, this is true and is a perfectly good reason for starting yoga, especially since inadequate sexual relations are often the cause of much unhappiness and frustration. A body that is perfectly healthy and efficient and a mind that is tuned to a high point of sensitivity and calmness, as they are through yoga practices, increase one’s ability to enjoy sexual union or remove the obstacles that at present make it impossible.
Maybe you have religious beliefs, but without any spiritual experience. Or maybe you have no religious beliefs and you seek spiritual experience. Or perhaps you have no belief in the existence of spiritual experience, but have come to yoga merely to see what it is all about. It does not matter – you have come. That is the main thing.
What I am trying to say is that whatever your situation in life, whatever you believe or do not believe, whatever you want from life, yoga will help you because it changes your whole being and hence your relationship with and attitude to life itself.
The ultimate point of yoga and my yoga classes is to expand your consciousness, to open your eyes to the vast number of things around you, of which at present you are unaware. It was Shakespeare who said: “There are more things in heaven and earth… than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” We must keep our minds open to new possibilities. It is yoga that shows us a way.
Take a glimpse into my daily yoga practice here in Mysore and KPJAYI via Kino MacGregor.
Love is the essence of our life. I have written this blog with love, and I offer it to you, dear reader, with the hope that the suggestions offered here will become a vital part of your self-healing and continued well-being. ~ Ashley
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