Process in a process
Nature is a process where nothing is stable. There is an innate impulse in every living thing to be alive and thrive. In this process the universe on the whole is directing itself towards something and evolving into other dimensions and we are an integral part of this evolutionary drive.
We humans also are a process. We are a process in a process. The cells of our bodies constantly develop and destruct as a continuous work of build up, maintenance, repair, rejuvenation and destruction that makes our bodies a factory in 24/7 operation.
Our bodies are in a constant state of renovation. For example the liver takes around 5 months to regenerate while the skin cells are replaced every 28 days. All this work is surveyed by the three doshas of vata, pitta and kapha that maintain the integrity of the body. When they are in balance they operate through the universal intelligence, the cosmic controller, makes sure the newly created cells are as vital and healthy as the last ones or even better.
The balance of doshas can be compared to homeostasis.
It is a process that maintains the stability of the human body’s internal environment in response to changes in external conditions.
Once the balance is maintained, we have high levels of energy, good digestive and metabolic power and strong immunity.
Nature behaves differently during different periods of time. We can easily observe distinctive conditions reigning during day and night, morning and evening or midday and midnight. These conditions have an impact on us because we are part of nature, not a separate entity from it. The warmth of the midday sun, the coolness of the night and the dew in the morning, they involve our bodies and minds in their play. Because of these changing conditions living beings of nature should adopt specific activities at each period so that they stay in balance. This means that there is an optimal hour for every specific activity. For example, night time is the best for sleeping. If we miss the sleep the effects are felt soon. Failure of making adjustments along with the changing conditions results in a problem.
Let’s have a look at the different periods of our daily cycle and see how there is a great benefit in doing right things at the right time. A daily routine is needed for the three doshas to carry out their duties most efficiently. This brings the body mind and the cosmic consciousness into a powerful synergistic act for rejuvenation and vitality.
During a 12-hour cycle three different phases can be observed: morning, midday and afternoon. These go roughly between six and ten, ten and two, two and six. They change according to the movements of the sun so there are seasonal differences. These three periods can be related to kapha, pitta and vata respectively.
The cycle starts in the morning around 6am and this time is marked by kapha dosha. At this time all the qualities of kapha are present in nature. Nature naturally makes us feel heavy, slow, cold and stiff. Through these qualities we express strength and vitality after a night of rest.
During the second third, the body creates a suitable amount of heat and pitta becomes more dominant.
The final third of the cycle is governed by vata and the qualities of dryness, cold and lightness increase.
At sunset the cycle starts again. The early evening is a moment of kapha, the middle part of the night is pitta and the early hours of the morning are vata.
Because of these changing conditions in nature we also experience changes in our bodies. The various doshic qualities present make us naturally gravitate, towards those states. Because of this we have to adopt activities during each time of the day: there is time for activity, time for eating and time for brainwork, which is precisely defined by the rotation of kapha, pitta and vata. Let’s see what is an ideal activity for each period
In the morning kapha energy is on the rise. The qualities of kapha are heavy, slow, cold, unctuous, oily, stiff, stable and so on. It is quite easy to feel these qualities when waking up. Our bodies feel heavy and stiff, our brains are a bit slow, the mouth can be a bit pasty, throat might need clearing and nose blowing.
Because of the balancing principle of nature, to make the most of our mornings we should do and eat something that has opposite qualities to kapha: light, fast, warm, drying, and moving. Sounds like exercise to me!
Morning, in fact, is the best time to do exercise as it counteracts the growth of kapha. Exercise is not the only way to resolve the issue of kapha but is highly recommended in the morning. Kapha is related to our musculoskeletal system (imagine the qualities of muscles and bones). The health of the muscles and bones is maintained by movement. They have a strong urge to be put to use at this time. If they get what they want they reward the body and mind by setting up the right kind of metabolic mood for the rest of the day.
Morning exercise has a beneficial influence on our metabolism as it sets up the process of burning fat for energy during the day. Also, our digestive power increases and whatever we choose to eat at later is broken down better and absorbed properly.
The way we wake up determines the quality of the rest of the day. A typical kapha increasing morning would be to have a lie in and have a heavy breakfast. That would easily set up the mood for the rest of the day: heavy, sluggish and tired. Our digestive power will weaken because of the slowing action of excess kapha. There is a strong likelihood of us creating digestive toxins because the food eaten stays too long in our system. With slow gut and partial absorption, we start craving things – carbohydrates and sugar especially.
A bad start for the gut is a bad start for the mind. A sluggish body with an uncooperative digestive system isn’t likely to set up a positive mindset for the day. With excess kapha in mind we are likely to feel unmotivated and unenthusiastic by the tasks of the day.
All this in mind, it is really important we make sure to wake up in the right way so that the rest of the day runs smoothly with high levels of strength and stamina.
Morning meal and exercise have a huge impact on the quality of the rest of the day. Considering the qualities of kapha, our breakfast should be opposite in qualities: it should be warm and light to digest.
Breakfast should not be the main meal of the day. It might be important but it should not be the meal when we eat the most. In fact, it is one of the meals that can even be skipped if kapha is too high. Eating a heavy, cold and hard to digest breakfast goes against the grain of nature and will seriously compromise our digestive power.
For example, cold dairy in the morning can easily create digestive sluggishness. A popular item on the breakfast table, yoghurt, is very similar to kapha in qualities. If we have yoghurt cold, first thing in the morning, straight from the fridge, there is a strong chance we will create more mucous, which is paid by heaviness, bloating, gas and other digestive complaints.
What we should do instead is have something hot like a small cup of hot water with lemon. It would help to reduce kapha straight away and flush down the mucous residues that have collected in the mouth and throat during the night. Our morning meal should be something light to digest and preferably with some spice. Cooked food is always easier to digest. When food is warm it is better accepted by the enzymes, the magic behind digestion, which thrive in heat.
In short, everything we do and eat in the morning period should by nature be opposite to the qualities of kapha dosha. This allows the body to maintain balance in this specific time period. Furthermore it prepares the body for the following phase of pitta.
The qualities of pitta are hot, light, sour, liquid, pungent and sharp. Given that we have undertaken the right warming and stimulating activities and eaten a warm and light meal during kapha time, our bodily systems have started creating momentum for the pitta period to run smoothly.
Whilst kapha maintains our structure, pitta governs our digestion and metabolism. Pitta peaks at midday and so our digestive power should be at its strongest. This is the reason why we should have our main meal between 11am to 1pm. The digestive tract is full of enzymes, which become very active when heat increases. They yearn to digest food and this need has to be pacified.
Enzymes of digestion
Enzymes work on what we feed the body with. They break down the food eaten in small particles, which then are absorbed into the blood stream. As we already said, enzymes thrive in heat but they slow their action down in cold environment. To keep our digestive power strong it is best to eat warm food and drink warm drinks.
The qualities of pitta can easily be felt when considering different digestive juices that take part in breaking down our food once. The most powerful of them is the hydrochloric acid in our stomach. It is a very strong acid and can burn through our own tissues unless the mucous lining of the stomach is healthy.
The feeling of heartburn is one of the most common digestive issues and gives symptoms of the qualities of pitta: a burning sensation, sour, sharp and pungent taste and an increased secretion of saliva.
Another juice in the digestive process is bile, a product from the liver. It deals with the bulk of food, or chyle, after it leaves the stomach, especially fats. The properties of bile are also very much like pitta. A sour burning sensation after vomiting is known to many of us. The feeling is created by this burning digestive juice.
Doshas govern both the body and mind. When pitta increases, our minds also become overheated. The expression ‘hot and bothered’ is something strong pitta people often experience (or the people around them!). Therefore pitta time of the day is more suited to calming activities. We should be feeling at peace when we prepare for our main meal. In fact, relaxation is essential for food to be digested properly. Stress caused by emotions like anger, worry and fear has a negative impact on digestive power. Activities that create harmony and balance are highly recommended before meals. A peaceful ritual before taking a meal improves the quality of our digestion, makes us eat less and eat more slowly.
To pacify pitta we need to pacify the need of the body to digest. Once a hefty meal has been eaten in a peaceful environment the digestion can start. Once digestion runs smoothly and our body is being nourished we are ready for the next period of time, which is governed by vata.
The qualities of vata increase in the third part of the 12-hour cycle. It is an energy that creates dryness, cold sensations, movement, irregularity and feeling of lightness. Vata is related to our nervous system, which becomes very active at this time. Because of the increased activity of the nerves, our bodies start naturally expending energy more than during other times of the cycle.
Because of the high energy expenditure, to balance vata we should resort to more sedentary activities and not increase activities, like exercise, which would exhaust us with increased vata.
In the afternoon the brain is in need of pacifying. If nourished properly at lunch it will have enough energy and turn on strong cognitive activity of memory, awareness and focus to carry out its favourite activity: creation. Whether it is work or art, this is the time to express the productive part of our minds. Meetings, reading, admin work, writing and other intellectual tasks are best carried out when vata peaks.
However, tiredness is common in the afternoon. It is what nature tends to do to us if we do not pay attention to nourish ourselves properly by having a good lunch. If we do this we get all the energy our central nervous system needs to carry on until our next meal in the evening, or a snack after we’ve digested our lunch.
During vata time we should avoid doing strong physical activity. Exercise should have the effect of increasing energy but during this time we risk losing it through exhaustion. Because of high vata, even if we don’t do anything, our bodies lose energy more than at other times. It is just the way our body clocks work. If we want to respect the natural balancing principle of opposites we should try not to let too much energy go but to use it wisely for other activities than exercise. An afternoon training session is likely to aggravate vata excessively and create problems that have the qualities of vata, like lack of grounding and lightness. In fact, people often complain of difficulty in sleeping after a late afternoon session of running or vigorous gym practice.
The right kind of vata activity is gentle, slow and grounding. These will pacify the need of our nervous system to act and channel the energy towards creative activity. Once high brain activity time is over we are ready to go and prepare ourselves for another kapha time, a period when our bodies prepare for a night of sound sleep.
Both pitta and vata enjoy calming and grounding activities – pitta because they cool the body down and vata because they sooth down the nervous system. Kapha in turn enjoys activities that are stimulating and heat the body up. Pitta and vata are usually the periods of the night when we sleep. Kapha prepares us for rest.
Once the daily 12-hour cycle has ended, the night cycle resumes itself with kapha taking over. The qualities of heaviness, slowness, stiffness and cold set in. These are clearly signs for the body to settle down and start planning for a night of rest. But before that we need to nourish ourselves to the extent that we will have a replenishing sleep.
The evening meal is important, like breakfast, but it should be warm and light. The quantity eaten should be about half the size of lunch and easy to digest. The slowness of the digestive system at this time makes heavy meals easily toxic. Lying down to sleep with a full stomach is one of the worst things we can do to our bodies. The digestive process is severely disrupted and the quality of sleep will suffer.
There is something we can do, however, to stimulate the body to digest better. Now again we can do some light exercise to stimulate the blood flow and drainage of toxins before having our evening meal. Exercise awakens the digestive enzymes to work better so that the process of breaking down food is more efficient.
Once the evening kapha time has ended and pitta period starts, the evening meal should have left the stomach. Then pitta can start metabolising everything we’ve taken in during the day. If our stomachs are still partially full of food, the body has to concentrate on two things at once: digesting and metabolising thus compromising the efficiency of both.
During the middle part of the night the liver is active and the temperature of the body rises slightly to make sure the enzymes work to perfection. Especially the hours before midnight are crucial. The body should be in a horizontal position for the liver to work optimally. Therefore, it is highly advisable to go to sleep at around 10 or 10.30at the latest to get the benefits of liver metabolism. The liver activity again nourishes the body for the following period of vata.
Once the second third of pitta ends, vata again takes over. Late night and early morning hours are the time when many of us notice the influence of vata because the light quality of vata reflect also on our sleep. The movement of vata might create restlessness and vivid dreams. Vata peaks at around 3-4am and indeed it is when many of us feel the effects either by waking up or having random or confusing dreams.
However, if our daily cycle has been balanced and we’ve respected the nature’s order, our sleep and dreams should be balanced and rejuvenating. Vata, when in balance creates prana, the vital force or the fuel of life. This is what our sleep should provide us with and we should wake up replenished and have no difficulty in getting up. We should feel full of enthusiasm and energy and look forward to the new day that starts again with a period of kapha.
It is advisable to get up before the change from vata to kapha takes over. When vata is still high, just before sunrise, lightness and energy govern the mind. Once up, it is easy to resume the morning routine of kapha-decreasing activity and start the day in the best possible way.
Individuals in the cycle
When we observe the qualities of the different periods of night and day we see that nature is in constant change and that there is a precise logic of doing certain things at certain times. Living life according to nature is to take into account the differences between times of the day and how our own individual body-mind constitutions respond to them. This way we can easily prevent imbalances and diseases from occurring. We might be able to correct lifelong or chronic health issues just by balancing our daily activities in a more natural way. The main thing to understand is the rotation of the doshas in time and how our individual body-mind complexes behave in this framework.
Each of us is a unique pshychosomatic functional unit whose behaviour is determined by what balance of doshas they have (prakriti) and what kind of conditioning the mind and body have undergone to change that balance (vikruti). We are both the product of the nature and the environment we live in. The nature in us is perfect. The environment can be friend or foe. By adhering to the right daily routines we befriend the environment. But if we fail to do that it will cause an imbalance, which can develop into a full blown chronic or even incurable disease, which cannot be reversed.
The nature creates us all individuals with different susceptibilities and tendencies. Our prakriti, or doshic configuration, determines how our bodies and minds behave. It also determines what times of the daily cycle we need to be more careful with. If, for example, I have a prominent kapha dosha my time to be more focused on getting things right is in the morning and in the evening. A vata person would pay special attention to afternoons and early morning hours. Pitta person in its turn would be careful not to aggravate its qualities during midday and midnight.
Ideal way of living
What I have described here an ideal way of living in the framework of changing conditions. The truth is that not everyone has a nine to five job. Some people work irregular hours and even have a night job. Family life, frequent travelling and social life put great pressure on keeping up with the routines as described. And this is where the beauty of this system lies: flexibility.
We can occasionally step out of the routine or even have a routine that does not reflect the ideal situation. Because of the principle of opposites we will be always able to create balance. Whenever we find ourselves creating imbalance of some quality, we resort to the opposite in the same proportion.
The daily routine is a framework around which we function. Understanding the dynamics helps us to understand why our bodies and minds behave in a certain way. It also gives us clues on how to make correct adjustments to get back in balance. Because of the principle of opposites we are able to step out of the framework and allow life to take its course in a flexible and safe way. Along with this principle there is always a way to come back to balance and to restore a healthy routine. Consider the daily routine as your middle path. It is always there. You can deviate from the path but that means you’ll need to take action in the opposite direction at some point. For example if you go and enjoy a hefty meal in the evening with friends and enjoy some wine and go to sleep with a full stomach, the next day you should compensate for that. Think about the qualities you created with your activity, how does the body feel and then apply the opposite.
Our lives evolve around a structure of different qualities determined by the prominent dosha of the hour. We should plan our days so that we take these influences into account so that we make the most out of our lives, use the qualities to our benefit instead of detriment and grow our chances to be wiser. This way we participate in the evolutionary movement of the universe and enhance our life experience.