There are certain recommendations in Ayurveda that feel miraculous because they are so powerful and health-enhancing. Dinacharya is one of those recommendations.
Dinacharya refers to the daily routine recommended in Ayurveda to optimize health. The significance of the routine isn’t just what you do but also when you do it.
I equate dinacharya to smart investment in the stock market—if you know exactly what to do and when to do it, it’s easy to make money. Dinacharya gives you this same advantage for investing in your health.
What Is Dinacharya in Ayurveda?
Dinacharya is a Sanskrit word meaning daily (dina) activity (acharya). The basis of dinacharya is two cycles, the sun cycle and the moon cycle, that occur daily and how they are related to the doshas.
The three doshas—Vata, Pitta and Kapha—are the energies that regulate our minds and bodies and keeping them in balance is a foundation of Ayurveda. These dynamic energies are influenced not only by what you eat, the quality of your sleep, your activity level and self-care regimens, but also by their timing.
Understanding the best times for your daily routine and following the recommendations of dinacharya help balance the doshas and improves your health and well-being.
What is your dosha? Find out now by taking the dosha quiz
The Benefits of Dinacharya
When I first became an Ayurvedic practitioner, I underestimated the power of dinacharya because I was still focused on supplements over habits. My Western-trained medical mind was set on a path to find the perfect pill for every ill, rather than looking at the more important habits that align us with nature’s healing rhythms.
What I now appreciate about dinacharya is that because it aligns us with nature’s rhythms, we have the full intelligence of the natural world powering our physical and mental health. We can tap into our bodies’ energies and rhythms rather than work against them.
Disruptions in these natural rhythms are linked to a host of health challenges, ranging from insomnia and stress-related disorders to serious diseases. Benefits you can expect from dinacharya include improvements in digestion, elimination, sleep, mood, energy and mental clarity, which lead to enhancements in overall health, inner peace and happiness. Adhering to a healthy routine also instills self-discipline, which helps us in every aspect of our lives.
The Sun Cycle and the Moon Cycle
The basis of dinacharya is the daily dosha cycles that repeat throughout the day and night, referred to as the sun cycle and the mood cycle. Each 24-hour period can be divided into sections based on the predominant dosha that rises during specific hours. These hours may vary in certain geographical locations where the days are significantly shorter or longer but are generally as follows:
- Vata hours: 2am–6am
- Kapha hours: 6am–10am
- Pitta hours: 10am–2pm
- Vata hours: 2pm–6pm
- Kapha hours: 6pm–10pm
- Pitta hours: 10pm–2am
Given these dosha time—and an understanding the energies of the three doshas—let’s take a look at the daily Ayurvedic routine and the wisdom behind it.
How to Get Started
Before we proceed to the dinacharya recommendations, I want to make it clear that you do not have to jump in feet first and start everything at once. Instead, I suggest you approach it like I did.
When I first learned about dinacharya and saw the list of recommendations, my immediate reaction was, “You must be kidding me! How would anyone with a family and job be able to follow this routine?” I was both annoyed and overwhelmed by the recommendations and felt they were unachievable.
What I found as I slowly began to implement one recommendation at a time is that I had more time and energy, which encouraged me to incorporate more of them. The improved energy and increased mental clarity made me more efficient at everything I did during the day, which further supported my commitment to my Ayurvedic daily routine—it became a positive feedback loop.
It didn’t happen overnight, but it did eventually happen, and the benefits are definitely worth the investment. Now, after decades of commitment, I do around 90% of these Ayurvedic daily recommendations most days with very little effort.
- Wake up before 6am. Awakening during the Vata hours keeps your energy light and clear throughout the day because those are the qualities of Vata. If you wake up during the Kapha hours after 6am, you will feel physically and mentally heavier and more sluggish.
- Scrape your tongue. Clean your tongue with a stainless steel or copper tongue scraper. This is an important Ayurvedic ritual for oral health, plus stimulation of the pressure points along the tongue help to wake up the body, especially the digestive system. Repeating this after oil pulling is also recommended because anything left behind after your initial tongue scraping is easily removed.
- Oil pull. Once you begin oil pulling, it will be difficult to believe you lasted so long without it. It is absolutely the most efficient way to remove plaque, bacteria and debris from the mouth. It also helps to gently pull toxins out from throughout your body. Sesame oil is the best oil for oil pulling, but for those who have an intolerance to sesame oil, coconut oil can also be used. Traditionally in Ayurveda, herbs are infused into the sesame oil to further promote oral health. My dentists have always been impressed with my gum health, which I attribute to my consistent practice of oil pulling.
- Brush your teeth. Try using a natural herbal toothpaste or traditional Ayurvedic tooth powder.
- Drink 8 ounces of warm water with the juice from half a lemon on an empty stomach. This helps to move toxins out of your gut, stimulate digestion and trigger your morning bowel movement. Lemon is also excellent for stimulating the liver’s detoxification pathways. For those who have excess Pitta and cannot tolerate lemon water, use a teaspoon of aloe vera juice dissolved in 8 ounces of warm water instead.
- Have a bowel movement. Having a bowel movement every morning is a sign of overall health. If this does not readily happen, it is a sign that there is work to be done to support digestion and detoxification. In Ayurveda, the normal frequency of bowel movements is 1–3 times a day, depending on your dosha.
- Perform neti or nasya. Keeping the passages in the nose and sinuses clear is important for proper breathing and sinus health. Even more importantly, these channels are vital for keeping the mind clear and pulling prana, or life energy, into the entire body. Doing neti, nasya or a combination of the two on a regular basis is a key step for maintaining mental health, long-term cognitive function and vitality through the increased intake of prana.
- Do an oil massage, or abhyanga, before your shower. Abhyanga is an important anti-aging and dosha rebalancing ritual. Depending on your dosha, you may need to do this daily or just 1–2 times a week. My favorite aspect of abhyanga is the feeling of self-love it naturally generates as you nourish your body with oil. I take this time during abhyanga for a mindful gratitude practice, focusing on everything that my body does for me.
- Apply 2–3 drops of warm oil to your ears. Oil helps to balance Vata, the dosha that is the most out of balance in our hurried modern life, which depends so heavily on Vata-aggravating technology. Everything you can do to balance Vata helps you to stay grounded and centered, even during chaos. Applying a few drops of warmed sesame oil into your ears and gently massaging the outer ears and earlobes helps maintain your hearing as you age. It also helps to reduce overall accumulation of Vata throughout the day.
- Apply ghee over your upper eyelids. A small amount of ghee applied to the upper eyelids is soothing to the eyes and helps counteract hours of eye strain due to computer use. It also helps to prevent the development of future eye disease by reducing the accumulation of Pitta in the eyes. If you apply ghee, do not wear eye make-up. Since I have had poor eyesight most of my life, I was keenly drawn to the Ayurvedic recommendations for healing the eyes, and my vision has improved with age rather than regressed.
- Perform light yoga asanas for at least 5–10 minutes. Yoga asanas are a series of stretches that help to open the channels throughout your body and mind and create greater mind-body coordination. They help to maintain strength and flexibility as well as move toxins that can accumulate in specific organs and the joints. My favorite set of yoga asanas is the Sun Salutation poses because they are both grounding and invigorating and help move energy throughout your entire body.
- Perform pranayama breathing exercises for at least 5 minutes. The breath and mind are intimately connected, and one of the easiest ways to shift the mind is to simply change the way you are breathing. There are different types of breathing exercises for balancing each of the doshas, but my favorite one for overall mental balance is alternate nostril breathing, or nadi shodhana, which helps to simultaneously coordinate both hemispheres of the brain with the movement of the breath.
- Meditate for at least 20 minutes. I cannot imagine starting my day without meditation. I could skip anything else in my daily routine to make time for my morning meditation if necessary, including my shower! That is because clearing your mind and connecting to your inner self is the most important daily health investment you can make. It changes the trajectory of your day and keeps you moving towards the life you want to deliberately create rather than allowing chaos to derail you into one you do not want.
- Eat a moderate-sized breakfast. Your agni, or digestive power, is in an in-between stage in the morning as your body begins to wake up, so breakfast should be satisfying but not too heavy.
- Exercise during the Kapha hours of 6am-10am. The Kapha hours are the best time to exercise because your body has more strength and endurance during this time. You are also helping to reduce the overall accumulation of excess Kapha when you exercise during these hours. Excess Kapha is the main cause of weight gain and sluggishness, so the timing of your exercise routine determines how efficiently you counteract this.
- Eat your largest meal of the day at lunch. Lunchtime is when Pitta energy is highest and digestion is strongest. This is the time to eat your largest meal and heaviest foods, such as meat, cheese, desserts, etc. The calories you consume at lunch are processed more efficiently compared to later in the day. Skipping lunch can result in a Pitta and Vata imbalance, which can present as mood fluctuations as well as ravenous hunger leading to overeating and snacking on junk foods later in the day.
- Avoid exercising during the Pitta hours. Your body and mind are naturally hotter at this time of the day, so exercising and going outside during the Pitta hours will overheat you, resulting in exhaustion and agitation over time.
- Meditate for 20 minutes during the Vata hours of 2pm-6pm. The evening Vata hours are a time when your body and mind naturally feel a lull in energy. Meditating during this time helps you to rejuvenate and release the accumulated stress of the day, allowing you to recharge so that your energy stays steady into the evening.
- Eat a healthy sweet snack during Vata hours. A small snack, like fresh fruit, soaked dates or warm milk, during the afternoon Vata hours from 2-6pm helps to naturally ground Vata and keep it from becoming exhausted. If you are trying to avoid sugar, you can suck on a green cardamom pod, which has a naturally sweet taste without any sugar that soothes sweet cravings.
- Eat a light dinner before 6pm when Kapha hours begin. Your digestion gets weaker once you enter Kapha hours and the sun begins to set because your body is preparing for sleep, not digestion. Kapha is heavy, and it makes your mind and body heavy, including your digestion. That is why dinner should always be your smallest and lightest meal of the day. Fasting from sunset to sunrise is the recommendation for everyone in Ayurveda because it gives your body time to rest, rejuvenate and detoxify overnight. For those who practice intermittent fasting for longer than 12 hours or for anyone with a Kapha imbalance, dinner is the ideal meal to cut out of your daily schedule.
- Exercise during the early Kapha hours of 6pm-8pm. If you didn’t get in your morning exercise, you can incorporate your daily exercise during the early Kapha hours between 6pm–8pm.
- Take triphala an hour before bedtime. Triphala is one of the most important herbs for long-term digestive health. Taking it at bedtime supports your body’s detoxification process, which removes excess waste and fat while you are sleeping.
- Brush your teeth, floss and gently massage your gums with sesame oil. Apply a little sesame oil on your finger and gently massage your gums for a few minutes. This is also an excellent time to use a water flosser like a Waterpik to remove debris from the teeth and massage the gums. Massaging the gums increases blood flow, which supports healthy teeth and gums.
- Go to sleep before the Pitta hours begin at 10pm. The rise in Pitta energy at 10pm creates a second-wind phenomenon in the mind if you’re still awake. This makes it much more difficult to fall asleep after that time. This sudden rise in Pitta energy is intended for detoxification, rejuvenation and healing while you sleep. If you are awake during this time, you will lose that energy as it is gets converted into excess mental activity, which weakens the body and needlessly over activates the mind.
Seeds of Wisdom
The biggest challenge I have in maintaining my daily routine is protecting it from the demands made by others. There will always be a reason to not do something in your routine. Perhaps a work commitment requires you to start early and you skip your morning meditation, or a family member needs you to stay up late to help them, so you go to bed and wake up much later.
The occasional disruption is normal, but when disruptions become your daily routine, you’re no longer getting the benefits of dinacharya. What I have invariably noticed is that the more lenient I am about my boundaries in maintaining my Ayurvedic daily routine, the worse I feel and the less value I offer to anything I do.
As I advocate for my values and needs through the implementation of dinacharya in my daily schedule, I am also teaching the people around me to advocate for their needs. By living Ayurveda, I help to teach this ancient healing system through example. Practicing dinacharya also strengthens by ability to share this wisdom with others because I have real-life experience implementing this ancient knowledge into modern times rather than simply echoing teachings that I learned decades ago.
Honoring the knowledge of dinacharya has helped me to honor myself and given me a prescriptive, step-by-step approach to self-care. It reminds me that life is a gift that should be treasured and cared for daily. I hope it does the same for you.