The Ayurvedic Clock
Want to restore your balance and improve your health? Find out how matching your mealtimes, sleep cycle, and activities to the cycle of doshas will help.
Most of us break the day into work time, our time, and sleep time, with work time generally allotted the most number of hours. Ayurveda sees the day differently, breaking it into six four-hour zones—one day zone and one night zone for each of the three doshas. To live a balanced life—and enjoy the good health it brings—we need to keep our daily rhythms set to the age-old ayurvedic clock.
According to this symbolic timepiece, the day starts at sunrise, with the cool, heavy, earthy kapha dosha holding sway from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. The middle of the day—from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.—belongs to pitta, the hot, sharp, and fiery “king of digestion” dosha. And light, dry, airy vata rules the afternoon, from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m., after which the cycle begins again.
Rise and Shine
To stay in sync, you should wake up before sunrise, when vata is transcendent. Once the sun is up, we begin to fall under kapha’s earth- and water-like spell. Hitting snooze when the alarm goes off at 6 a.m. may feel delicious, but if you don’t get up ’til 7, the dense, dull, heaviness of kapha will have started to color your physical and mental experience. So, waking at dawn, just before the birds, is ideal (traditionally 5:30 a.m.; maybe 6 in your time zone). That way you will start off the day in rhythm with nature’s light and will benefit from vata’s mobile, clear, ether-like qualities, which, serendipitously, support your meditation practice.
Eat a Midday Dinner
Ayurveda also encourages us to eat our primary meal in the middle of the day, when the fire of pitta dominates.
Ayurveda also encourages us to eat our primary meal in the middle of the day, when the fire of pitta dominates. Pitta supports our ability to digest all things—food, thoughts, and feelings. The metabolic aspect of digestion, our agni, does its best work midday. Eat later in the day, and your body will have more difficulty processing your meal. The same holds true for eating a big meal in the evening. Ayurveda recommends a light supper instead so your body can finish digesting your food long before bedtime, and you’ll be able to transition from being awake to a more restful state (what ayurveda calls “light sleep”), necessary for sandman success.
Wind Down Slowly
At about 6 in the evening, we move again from vata to kapha dosha. The same kapha energy—dull, slow, stable, heavy—that makes it difficult to wake up with ease after sunrise now supports our move into sleep. (Kapha types generally like to go to bed early.) If you tune in, you will start to feel the body and mind’s fatigue and recognize your desire for a good night’s sleep.
Resist that Second Wind
At about 10 p.m., the midnight oil lamp of pitta takes over from drowsy kapha. The body uses this four-hour period (from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.) to digest experiences, emotions, and any remaining food from earlier in the day, and to repair and renew itself. Because pitta is fiery and hot, if you fight through the drowsiness of kapha time and stay up too late, you’ll catch a second wind that can keep you up to all hours—and you can kiss any hope of a good night’s sleep good-bye.
When you finally do doze off, staying asleep can be challenging because, as pitta time gives way to vata time, the doshic qualities become lighter, subtler, and more filled with movement. In fact, according to the ayurvedic clock, we start the process of “rising” around 2 a.m. If we continue with restlessness until dawn, we miss the benefits of sleep that support body, mind, and ojas, our deep vitality.
Aligning our hectic modern-day lives to the ayurvedic clock can prove challenging, but it can lead to a big payoff.
Aligning our hectic modern-day lives to the ayurvedic clock can prove challenging to say the least, but making the effort can lead to a big payoff. Many of today’s health problems—insomnia, heartburn, anxiety, and depression—are directly linked to the lack of balance in our lives. Matching our mealtimes, wake/sleep cycle, and general activities to the cycle of doshas will help restore that balance—and our good health.
Try an Ayurvedic Bedtime Routine
Aim to get to bed by 10 p.m., if possible. To make that happen:
- Turn off the TV at least an hour before bed.
- Resist online anything—shopping, Twitter, Facebook, news gathering, or working.
- Use that extra hour for self-reflection, journaling, restorative yoga, or meditation.
- Treat yourself to a foot massage. Rub lavender-scented warm sesame oil on your feet and pull on a pair of old socks.
- Put on your favorite deep relaxation CD or yoga nidra CD (earlier in the day) to help you practice resting and to take the edge off the nervous system. Doing yoga nidra too close to bedtime could refresh your energy instead of moving you into deep sleep.
- Make yourself some warm milk laced with special sleep-inducing herbs. Pour 4 to 6 ounces of milk (organic, from happy cows!) into a saucepan, along with a pinch or two of cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and saffron, and a teaspoon of ghee, and simmer for about three minutes. Remove from the heat and let set for a minute or so. Add raw honey to taste—either more than or less than a teaspoon. Take this warm elixir with you to bed, sip until finished, and settle in for a divine snuggle.