Ayurveda recognizes that we are creatures of our universe not apart from it—our bodies are exquisite symphonies of regulation, metabolism and structure interacting with the external environment. That symphony takes its cues from the daily and seasonal light-dark cycle. When this pattern is disrupted our natural rhythms become disrupted as well. The best way to resist this disruption is to have daily and seasonal routines that we follow which also signal to our internal systems what to expect. Ayurvedic medicine calls these routines dinacharya for daily routine and ritucharya for seasonal routine.
Our eating and sleeping cycles should follow a regular schedule—every day, we should go to bed and awaken at roughly the same time and eat our meals on consistent schedule. Ayurveda suggests that we make the mid-day meal the largest, because agni or digestive fire is strongest at this time. Breakfast and dinner should be light and dinner should be eaten at least three hours before bed time.
Our daily ritual of self-care also helps to regulate our emotional and mental health. The morning routine is the most important because it sets the tone for the day. The early morning hours are that time when we can cultivate good health and sattwa. Thus, Ayurveda has very specific suggestions about what a morning routine should look like and includes a pattern of arising early, attending to personal hygiene, abhyanga, meditation, light exercise and then breakfast.
Seasonal routines acknowledge and honor the turning of the seasons and the different climate and foods for each season. Spring and summer are a time of longer days and so we can follow this pattern, sleeping a little less, arising early and enjoying the longer light in the evenings. Eating seasonal fruits and vegetables is also a way of following the rhythms of nature. Our diets should be little more green and lighter in the spring-time to allow any accumulations gathered over the winter to dissipate.
Regular fasting, or langhana, can be a part of seasonal routine too. It is especially helpful to fast at the turn of winter into spring to help regulate accumulating Kapha and summer into fall to help regulate accumulated Pitta. This is known as ritusandhi—the routine for the “joints” or “gaps” between seasons. While it is rarely recommended that anyone completely fast and take no food, resorting to simple foods like soup or kitcharee for a few days are good ways to give the digestive system a rest and to allow the body to regain its equilibrium.
While Ayurveda has recommended daily and seasonal routines for thousands of years, recently modern science has been confirming the importance of the metabolic clock or circadian rhythms. For more on modern research, check out this article.