Try to wake up around sunrise, say a prayer in bed, rinse face, mouth and eyes, evacuate bowels and bladder, use unsweetened tooth paste and scrape tongue, dry brush before bath, indulge in daily meditation and exercise, have meals at regular times with a gap of 4 hrs, turn off electronics an hour before bedtime and have a fixed bedtime.
The practice of hatha yoga aims to deepen our experience of connection to the reality of the universe. The path of hatha yoga uses the tools of our senses to perceive our life and the world around us as it changes, expanding our sense of familiarity with Nature. When we “practice” asana or meditation we have the opportunity to practice becoming more and more embodied, more and more sensually connected to our life. The longer and more attentively we practice, the more this embodiment carries over into other parts of our life.
But, whether or not we practice yoga, becoming more intimate with our life, means being more present for it and more open to the possibilities our life offers.
Part of becoming intimate with nature comes from choosing to implement health-supporting habits. And sometimes freedom reveals itself in our ability to choose not to do something even more than in our ability to choose to do something. Restricting a habit for a period of time can show us how we are confined by that habit. (This can be done with a practice called sankalpa.)
However, when we hold tightly to strict rules, we actually injure this process of becoming more sensitive to Nature. The trick lies in finding a balance between our use of inner and outer guidance—even as we are trying to grow the scope of our inner guidance until the 2 are not separate.
Becoming More Sensual
Connecting with Nature starts with connecting with sensation. There are as many kinds of sensations as there are words to describe them, but yoga and Ayurveda focus on 10 pairs of sensations (with an emphasis on the first 3 pairs), which are called gunas in Sanskrit. Each pair is a continuum between opposites.
- Hot to Cold
- Wet to Dry
- Heavy to Light
- Smooth to Rough
- Static (stable) to Mobile (spreading)
- Dull to Sharp (penetrating)
- Dense to Liquid
- Gross to Subtle (expansive)
- Hard to Soft
- Sticky to Clear
These sensations apply to everything we experience. A windy autumn morning feels dry, rough and mobile, but late summer afternoons feel hot, moist and heavy. Joy might feel light, mobile and clear. Anger could feel hot and rough or cold and contracting. Identifying our sensations in this way connects us to the moment of experience as it happens.
One nice way to develop our sensitivity is by adhering to a daily schedule of health and body practices called dinacharya. Once again, it is important to learn to hold the guidelines of dinacharya gently so that our natural intuition can learn to express.
In addition, the rhythm of a regular schedule has been shown to greatly reduce stress and to make us much more relaxed, efficient and effective in our daily life.
Regular waking time: This will vary a bit throughout the year. For example, in the winter waking before sunrise will help to prevent stagnation and accumulation in the body and dullness in the mind. In the summer, waking a bit after sunrise soothes the heat and intensity of the sun’s effect on our body.
Say a prayer in bed reminding yourself of your connection to all things. If you are working with a sankalpa (yogic vow) this is a good time to remember it.
Clean the face, mouth and eyes. Splash some cool water on the face and eyes and rinse your mouth out. Gently rub the eyes and then rotate the eyes in all directions.
Evacuating the bowels and bladder: Ideally this happens naturally as an early morning impulse. If it doesn’t, drinking a large glass of warm water can be helpful. Also, the most healthy position for evacuating the bowels and bladder is squatting with the knees higher than the hips.
Scrape the tongue and take note of the color and texture of the tongue coating. If it is thick and white, it indicates your diet is too heavy and your body isn’t digesting completely. If it is greasy and yellow, there is too much heat in your system. Dry and grey coating can indicate stress or overwhelm.
Clean the teeth: Classically, it was recommended to use bitter, pungent and astringent herbs to clean the mouth. Yogis were also known to use sticks of neem wood to rub the teeth clean. If this is impractical for you, find a toothpaste that is not very sweet. Don’t forget to floss.
Dry brush and/or oil massage (abhyanga) before bathing: In the winter and spring months (especially when it is wet or overcast), brushing the whole body with a soft, natural bristle brush improves circulation and aids elimination of toxins and tensions. In the summer, autumn and winter (especially when it is windy and dry), applying warm oil to the whole body helps to protect the body from illness, strengthens the skin, soothes anxiety, improves circulation and helps the body to maintain moisture. If both practices are done together, the dry-brushing is done before the oil application.
Bathing: The pressure of the stream of water in a shower can be disturbing to the body and mind. Sitting in a bathtub and bathing by pouring buckets of water over the body calms the mind and encourages the energy of the body to flow smoothly.
Meditation: Depending on the type of meditation practice you do, you might want to choose to practice before exercise, after exercise, before lunch, before dinner or before bed (or multiple times per day). Practicing Full Yogic Breath is a wonderful, simple way to start connecting with meditation practice.
Daily exercise: Exercise is essential to good health. When practiced regularly, it supports good digestion, eases tension, lifts depression and improves circulation. According to Ayurveda, you should work to half your capacity when you exercise, inducing a light sweat. If your diet is clean (fresh, whole foods) and you don’t sweat too much, this light sweat is wonderful nourishment for the skin and can be massaged back into the skin.
Regular mealtimes with the appropriate food for your constitution: Try to eat your meals at the same time every day, usually with at least 4 hours between meals and with dinner before sunset. For some people, two meals per day are sufficient. Others will find they need 3. Try to avoid snacking.
Rest: A short rest at the beginning of the afternoon or before lunch or dinner can nourish the body and mind very deeply. Practicing shavasana posture for 15 or 20 minutes or practicing Yoga Nidra are excellent options.
Turn off electronics after sun-set (or at least an hour before bed): Allow your mind to become more quiet and ready to rejuvenate through sleep. Exposure to artificial lights and computers damages our body’s relationship to natural cycles.
Regular bedtime: Try to go to bed at the same time every night. Preferably not later than 10pm.
Again, what is healthy for you will be based upon the time of year and the qualities that predominate in the body. Basically, dinacharya is a tool for tuning into the natural flow of the day so that moving through it takes less effort. It is like catching a wave and riding it throughout the day. If we eat or sleep at the times that these things are supported by nature, they will be easier and more health-promoting. When we eat or sleep at the wrong times, we are more likely to get sick.
Rather than a strict list of rules, dinacarya is a practice of tuning into what is already naturally occurring and harmonizing with it. For the yogi, dinacharya instills the day with a sense of ritual and communion with the divine.