Yoga is remarkably beneficial for the body, but its sister science Ayurveda takes physical health to the next level. The two go hand-in-hand, and one was never meant to be without the other. Yogis traditionally used the wisdom of Ayurveda to enhance their practices; and though ancient, Ayurveda remains as relevant as ever.
These three elements of the Ayurvedic dinacharya, or daily routine, should be put to use by all modern yogis.
Yogis were traditionally early risers for a reason. The two hours before sunrise (named brahmamurta in Sanskrit) are calm, peaceful, and quiet—perfect for yoga and meditation. Modern life is not always conducive to a 4 a.m. yoga session, but Ayurveda urges all healthy people to get up by 6 a.m.
Following the old ‘early to bed, early to rise’ motto keeps the body in tune with the natural rhythms of nature. Ayurveda aims to synchronize the biological clock with the doshic clock. The doshas require a much longer explanation than this article allows but, in short, each of the three doshas (energy principles) operate at two peak times in a day. The vata dosha governs the hours between 2 and 6 a.m. Because of vata’s light, mobile, subtle, and clear qualities, bowel movements and alertness come more easily when one wakes up during its peak hours. The kapha dosha governs the hours between 6 and 10 a.m. Because of kapha’s heavy, slow, and damp qualities, the body feels sluggish and less motivated to get out of bed during these hours.
Like all humans, yogis benefit from a regular sleep schedule. Arising early not only promotes health but also encourages early morning yoga and meditation for a deeper practice.
In Ayurveda, abhyanga (self-massage) is recommended for nearly everyone. This daily oil massage promotes grounding, removes toxins, increases longevity, relieves fatigue, boosts immunity, and stimulates the nervous system. It also increases joint flexibility, muscle tone, and circulation; making it perfect for yogis.
To practice abhyanga, use a high-quality, organic oil—coconut in the warm months, and sesame in the cool. Warm the oil in a pot of warm water so that it better penetrates the skin. Start by rubbing a little oil on the crown of the head to release negative energy and heat. Then massage the scalp and ears, and gently massage the face. Work your way from the top of the body down. Use circular strokes on the joints and long strokes on the limbs, massaging in the direction of the body hair. Massage the belly in large, clockwise circles, and pay special attention to the soles of the feet. Be liberal with your oil usage. After massaging, allow the oil to penetrate while you practice yoga; then wash off.
Self-abhyanga takes about five minutes; but if you have more time, take your time! The body really benefits from it. If, on the other hand, you’re pressed for time, at least massage your feet.
It’s best to practice abhyanga before breakfast, so the stomach is empty, and before yoga, unless you’re too slippery from the oil. Abhyanga should not be practiced by pregnant women, during menstruation, or on a full stomach.
As yogis know, with each breath we inhale prana, making the nose a gateway to consciousness. Ayurveda prescribes the daily use of nasya to keep the nasal passageways unobstructed and lubricated. All body parts above the clavicle benefit from nasya, too. The nasal application of oil helps relieve stiff neck and shoulders, headache, allergies, and sinus congestion. It also improves voice quality and mental clarity, making it a boon for those who constantly need to be verbal and present (like yoga teachers). Nasya balances out the yogic practices of pranayama and neti, both of which have the tendency to dry out the respiratory channels.
There are a couple of ways to safely practice nasya on your own. One of these, called prati marshya, is the daily application of ghee or oil into the nostril using the finger. Simply dip your little finger into some pure ghee, organic unrefined sesame oil, or brahmi oil, and gently apply it to the insides of your nostrils.
The other method is using an eye dropper. Lie down on a bed with your head hanging off the edge. Close one nostril and put three drops in the other, inhaling deeply. Wait a moment, and then repeat on the other side. Stay in this position for a couple of minutes to give the oil time to penetrate. You can use sesame or brahmi oil for this purpose, or a specially formulated nasya oil.
Nasya should be practiced at least one hour before, or one hour after, shower or exercise, and always on an empty stomach. Nasya is not appropriate for pregnant or postpartum women, or those with severe cough or congestion.
This is only a start to Ayurveda’s daily self-care, but these three practices will support the healthy body and mind that you need to pursue yoga.