Put a Star on the Ayurvedic Clock!
Last night I hosted a workshop titled “The Ayurvedic Clock.” A group of people from my small town in rural Western Australia gathered together at a local yoga shala and enjoyed a bowl of dahl while we discussed our daily routines. As the attendees arrived, I asked them to take three sticky stars (one silver, one red, and one blue) and post them on a large clock that I had drawn. They placed a star on the clock to show.
- The time they wake up (gold)
- The time they eat their main meal (red)
- The time they go to bed (blue)
This small activity at the beginning of the workshop was a great ice breaker. People huddled around the clock and discussed possible answers to what I believed to be straightforward questions. It was interesting for me to note how different Ayurvedic energies manifest in the way people approached a simple and straightforward task such as putting stars on a clock. Those with more space and air (Vata) energy in their constitution immediately requested confirmation. For example, they asked questions like, “do you mean what time I go to bed or what time I go to sleep?”. Those with more fire energy (Pitta) focused intensely on the task, keen to complete it promptly and accurately. Those with more earth and water energy(Kapha) didn’t attend – this was an evening event and it was harder for them to stray from their usual routines.
What is the Ayurvedic Clock
The hours on the Ayurvedic clock are the same as a traditional clock but the Ayurvedic clock is viewed through the lens of Ayurveda. Ayurveda provides an explanation of the energies relating to times of day. Energy during early morning hours disperses in all directions (picture birds at dawn flitting at all angles across the skies.) Energy from dawn to mid morning has a downward pull – towards the earth (picture those same birds now warmed up and tending to their bodily needs, tugging worms from the earth.) In the middle of the day the energy rises upwards, the same as heat which is strongest at that time because the sun is directly overhead. The pendulum swings back as the Ayurvedic clock, returns to dispersing energy in the afternoon, downward energy in the early evening and upward energy through the middle of the night.
To align our daily habits with these energies would require us to wake up in those radiating early morning hours, eat in the upward mid day hours and unwind in the downward hours of evening. Diurnal creatures in the animal kingdom are setting a constant example and reminder of these patterns – the birds rise with the first light of dawn, the kookaburra here in Australia squawks loudly and persistently at this time of day, exercising vocals chords and warming up as they wait for sufficient light to start hunting. As diurnal creatures, we humans would benefit from listening to our animal friends and rising with the sunrise.
Our bile production peaks in the middle of the day, with the sun higher overhead. This is the time to satiate our digestive fire, eating the bulk of our calories and nutrients.
Rather than working late or digesting a heavy meal in the evening hours, we can follow the example set by the bird kingdom again – showering, playing and eating lightly, relaxing and unwinding, preparing the body for rest.
What Can the Stars Tell Us?
With the stickers in place on the clock, we could see the trends in the workshop group:
- Waking time between 5 and 7am
- Main meal between 6 and 8pm
- Bedtime between 9 and 11pm
Encouraged by the waking time and bedtime, which aligned not too far away from the Ayurvedic ideal, we could focus on the lack of red stars between 7am and 6pm.
What are we doing here that prevents us from enjoying eating and digesting our main meal of the day, when the heat is highest – both externally (hello sun, up ahead) and internally in our belly fire? When we tune into the feelings within our body, we can sense this increased heat in our stomachs – digestive juice production is experiencing its daily peak – this peak happens once in a 24 hour period, inviting us to consume our largest and most nutrient dense meal now. So what we are doing here instead of eating our main meal? “Getting shit done”, we call it. Whatever it looks like: work, children, exercise, driving, consuming. We are focused on DOING. And we DO a lot. Every minute of the day something is asking to be crammed in, included, given attention to, sorted out.
Are we fuelling ourselves to get that shit done efficiently?
I see so much potential in three shifts.
- Allow the body to repair at night, instead of digesting a heavy meal.
- Fuel yourself during the day to get your work done more efficiently.
- Enjoy down time after work.
Quit Being at War with Time
We expect our bodies to accrue energy and weather decades of debt resulting from failure to give our bodies the time to “repair and restore” at night without any notable effect. Each night we demand that our bodies focus on digesting a large rich meal instead of working on housekeeping tasks such as removing toxins and repairing damaged cells. The following morning we feel tired on waking, our sleep has not been deep and restful as our body has not been focused on restoring optimal functioning. We have been withdrawing from our body’s health account overnight, instead of adding credit by allowing important repair work to take place.
People are often paid extra money for doing shift work, there is recognition that employees are being asked to go against their natural inclination by working unsocial hours, a kind of danger money – acknowledgement of the significant adverse effects of working during sleeping hours.
Our human wellness budget is limited, we cannot expend energy relentlessly with no impact. Our budget is blown much more quickly by repeatedly eating late at night. However, because it is such a slow accumulation of debt, we have been doing it for years, we don’t notice it…..until it has moved along the spectrum from subtle to gross…..in the form of a huge wake up call, one we can’t just roll over and press “snooze” on. The weight piles on slowly, the skin dulls slowly, the eyes lose vitality slowly and the energy levels grind to a virtual standstill. Often we will remain in denial when that big debt collection request (aka disease) comes calling. We do not connect those little warning signs to the now chronic situation – attributing them instead to “genetic predisposition” or “typical and unavoidable effects of aging”.
By making earlier and lighter dinners our new normal, we can store up some savings and afford at times to splurge and eat later or heavier at night. Instead of fuelling up in the evening to give us energy to stay up late…. getting even more shit done instead of unwinding with that downward flow of energy, we would do well to carve a 15 minute self care session in the middle of the day and truly enjoy a good fat and protein rich meal.
Anything less than this routine is being at war with Time.
I know this battle well and I don’t win it every day of the week. For many years I ate a heavy meal at night, continuing patterns learned in my family of origin and supported by the cultures I lived, studied and worked in. A regular early morning asana practice was what initially motivated me to change this habit. I noticed my yoga practice varied greatly depending on what and how much I ate the previous night. So I began to change. I also started to go to bed earlier so I could wake up and do my yoga practice before the world awoke.
But it was years more before I made changes to my midday meal, continuing to survive on sandwiches and snacking through the afternoon to handle the energy slump that naturally occurred through not providing my body with sufficient nutrient rich fuel.
I’m definitely still fighting to clear the line of debt I’ve been running up against Mother Nature by depriving her of her housekeeping hours. She is already offering me glimpses into the credit side of the spectrum. I notice my skin, weight and vitality improving, my sleep is restful, during night hours my body is delighted to be doing what it needs to do to keep me functioning at a higher standard throughout the day. My cells are less clogged with toxins, the mortgages I took out against my wellbeing during my late teens and 20s are being paid off and I’m starting to build resilience for my later years. My lunches have become a celebration of my humanity – I unite with the animal and plant kingdoms and rest from activity, gather some tasty and nourishing morsels and truly feed my entire body. This is where the alignment between body mind and spirit exists, waiting to be received.
After 6pm, enjoying Kapha’s sticky time with loved ones is where the insights into a radiant future reside for me. Switching from doing to receiving from 6pm is powerful. For me it is also dependant on having had enough lunch; in this case I can receive a light meal, receive the connection time my children are longing for, receive the release of weight from my shoulders, and be replenished before bed, a sleep borne of love not exhaustion.
If this blog resonates with you, if you are feeling the pinch from having withdrawn too much credit from your human vitality account, start with a small step. You could try having lunch as your main meal at weekends, or focusing more on lunch during the week – making sure you aren’t doing anything else at the same time or including more protein and healthy fats at this time of day. Make a plan to enjoy your evenings with the family – I’m teaching my daughter to change light bulbs and plugs at the moment! Or simply set a timer for different times of the day, stop what you are doing and feel into how the energy is moving – radiating outwards, down or up. Then compare what your internal energy is doing – are you aligned or going against the flow. Turning direction may seem hard at first but once you are headed in the right way, being in flow is the path of least resistance.