Sometimes I think the Universe laughs at us when we think we’ve got everything all figured out. We choose in the best interest of wellness, we devote time and energy to establishing a practice, we fine-tune and edit our methods, and right about the time we’re feeling real proud—you know, like we’ve got this stuff down—enter the proverbial fly in the ointment.
My time management makeover was a good thing. I stand by that. It forced me to take a hard look at my priorities and how I want to spend my time. I had to get uncomfortably honest about why I didn’t have time to do what I want. New boundaries, real working support for them, old habits tossed—all good things. I’ve said it many times that it isn’t always enough to agree that we make time for the things that are important to us. We must protect the time we make for important things. The time management makeover did that and did it so well I bragged about it on my highlight reel.
(Insert the laughter of the Universe.)
I’ve been studying Ayurveda. You know this. I’ve written about it. The Renaissance Heart diagnosis quickly put me back in the books learning how to heal from within. Learning to realign with natural rhythms. Learning how to use food as medicine. Reacquainting with longstanding wisdom that has fallen out of fashion. Studying hard like an earnest little yogi I remembered that I once knew about the Ayurvedic clock. Somewhere along the way I forgot about it or maybe I just never took a significant enough interest to remember it. When the student is ready the lesson appears—or in this case, reappears.
Comparing my fancy new schedule to the Ayurveda timetable…heavy sigh…I pretty much set things up exactly backward. It works on paper. It technically works in practice. Does it jive with a time-tested guideline for optimum rest, work, energy, and renewal? Nope. The way I made up my mind to do it looked good to me because I found a way to fit all the important things into one day. Whoo hoo! But if a different time of day is actually proven to be the best time for a given task, my makeover is probably going to yield less than spectacular results. I end up with all the boxes checked but maybe not flourishing in any of those boxes.
The general idea of Ayurveda time is that in a 24-hour period there are specific hours of the day and night best suited for certain activities and these are universal to all human beings. It’s based on biology. We are all wired the same. We all have the same basic chemistry. We all live in the same physical environment (Earth). So this is not a theory generated by one culture, custom, nationality, or region. If you are homo sapien you are born to function optimally under certain conditions. Those conditions are dictated by Nature—the seasons, the moon phases, the tides, water and food sources, shelter from the elements, weather patterns, biological processes, etc. The Ayurveda timetable establishes when our various functions work the best.
Before you dismiss this as a bunch of hooey consider what we might already believe what happens to humans around a full moon.
What happens to humans when the seasons change? When Daylight Saving Time begins or ends? When weather events allegedly affects our moods?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the idea that there are Night people and Morning people, the concept of comfort foods, therapy animals, why we need getaway vacations, exercise we love, exercise we hate, the joy of birth, the mourning of death—all of these things are impacted by our relationship to Nature. We can’t escape the effects of Nature whether we believe in resistance or alignment—it’s a fact of life on this planet.
If I’m inclined to try to optimize my wellness (or simply feel my best) I might try aligning with the basic rhythms of Nature. It’s not rocket science. The brain and body work in cycles, just like Nature. We’ve been alive long enough on this planet to identify those cycles. And then we ignore them. Because we’re so smart. Smarter than Nature, right?
If I’m satisfied with mediocre or compromised wellness (feeling less than my best), I might keep on trying to outsmart Nature and proving that my brain is really the boss here. Take that, Nature! Putting my new schedule side-by-side with the Ayurvedic schedule made me realize that although my intentions were to improve my wellness (with my advanced brain) I’m essentially compromising it further by working in opposition to Nature.
My new schedule works in theory but I’m falling asleep at 5:30 pm. My digestion is all jacked up. Even though I blocked out sacred time to write, the writing doesn’t flow in the time I designated. I keep getting headaches. My running sucks worse than ever. I tell myself I just need to adjust. Try harder. Tweak and refine. Stick with it. I can’t quit my day job and do it any other way so I’ve just got to adapt and overcome. Right? Ayurveda says wrong. But it says it gently.
Stubbornly choosing to practice or execute the things that are important to me at the worst possible time of day for those things won’t cause the world to end. I can still get by. I probably won’t die from it. But I won’t feel or function my best. I won’t like or love things as well as I could. I might be grumpy more often than I am joyful. It all might work to some degree of success but in the end it won’t bolster or support my wellness any more than before I made the damn schedule. So I’ve used my massive brain to create a negative impact on my wellness which is exactly the opposite of what I set out to do.
Does the typical American work-week make it impossible to follow the Ayurveda clock? It’s hard but it’s not impossible. It requires some sacrifices but not the kind of sacrifices you might think.
It means I might have to give up running in the summer. Spring, fall and winter—I can run my fanny off because I can do it during the correct time of day. In the summer—nope, not with pitta dosha.
It means I might have make lunch the biggest, heaviest meal of the day. That’s much harder than it sounds. If you don’t want to get sluggish, bloated and sleepy you have to go slow and stay relaxed—no more gobbling down my food in 15 minutes and then using the rest of the hour to run errands. I have to use the entire hour to eat and drink.
It means not trying to cram creative activities into the time of the day when the brain’s creative powers are naturally powering down. Even if that’s the only time I have. This only makes me stressed and angry, which kills creativity.
It’s better not to do what I want if I can’t do it at the best (or second best) time than to insert it into a timeslot that is going to compromise some other aspect of my wellness. Using the running example again, running at night was supposed to be better for my heart (because of the dew point) but it interferes with sleep and digestion and the kapha cycle, which puts the nervous system into crisis, which is bad for the heart. When the seasons change I can pick it back up with zeal because 6 am will be perfect again for pitta dosha.
You get the idea. There’s a best (and second best) time of day to do everything. The closer we can align our daily activities with the naturally best times to do them, the greater our harmony with Nature. Immunity soars, productivity soars, creativity soars, satisfaction soars, sleep is restful, exercise is stronger, communication is clearer, mental health flourishes, emotional health stabilizes; wellness is optimized. There are graphics out there from superbly simple to extremely detailed but the basic concept looks like this:
Day time Vata phase–2 am to 6 am—Wake up, best time for vigorous exercise, muscles are strongest, organs are freshly detoxed, brain is calm, best time for meditation is 5 am to 6 am.
Day time Kapha phase–6 am to 10 am—moderate breakfast, best hours for productivity and mundane tasks, body and mind are charging up
Day time Pitta phase–10 am to 2 pm—challenging work, problem-solving, strategy, biggest meal of the day around noon, all systems go
Night time Vata phase–2 pm to 6 pm—creative time, sorting things out, organization, communication, second best time to meditate between 5 pm and 6 pm, light exercise but no later than 7 pm
Night time Kapha phase–6 pm to 10 pm—socializing, sex, relaxation, light dinner, family time, no work, body and mind are powering down
Night time Pitta phase–10 pm to 2 am—sleep, restore, body and brain processes the day, internal repair and maintenance, everything recharges for the next cycle
You might be ready to protest, But I do ____________ at ___________ time of day and I feel great! Okay, fabulous. What if you could feel even better? Solve some health issues that don’t seem like a big deal now but might later on? Boost immunity? Boost fitness? Feel happier? The idea isn’t that we’re living our lives the wrong way. The idea is that this is the style of living that operates in closest harmony with Nature. And Nature is not a Nazi; she’ll still let you do it your way if you insist. But consider the rewards of harmony.
My point is really that if the stupid schedule I made with my big-ass superior brain is holding me back from better wellness then it’s not a wellness practice at all. So I begrudgingly evolve.
Acknowledging the evolution of the practice is part of the practice.