Category Archives: Ayurveda Top Tips

Top tips from Ayurveda helping us maintain health and balance in our body and mind

Better Sleep with Ayurveda

Summary: Simple ayurvedic advice for all mind-body types on achieving better sleep

Ayurveda recognises that our natural sleep patterns are largely determined by our mind-body type. For example, a ‘pure’ Vata type will have a tendency towards light, interrupted sleep with the possibility of mild insomnia: ‘pure’ Pitta types usually sleep a moderate length of time (e.g. around 8 hours) but can wake up hot and thirsty: ‘pure’ Kapha types usually experience long and heavy sleep. However, whatever our body type, we can all benefit from the advice Ayurveda gives for getting a good night’s sleep.

      • Try to go to bed at the same time each day. Having a regular routine helps pacify the Vata element. An out of balance Vata can lead to insomnia.
      • Leave at least 2 to 3 hours between the end of a light dinner and going to sleep, so our food is properly digested before we rest. Going to sleep on a full stomach creates problems.
      • Ayurveda suggests the ideal bedtime is around 10pm, the theory behind this suggests that this is towards the end of nature’s daily Kapha period. This is conducive to rest, sleep and rejuvenation. If we leave it much later we get into nature’s Pitta period, which is not conducive to sleep. It means our natural tiredness goes and we start of experience more energy keeping us awake.
      • Spend the evening after dinner in a reasonably restful way. A short walk (eg 10 to 15 minutes) is useful. Activities such as reading, listening to music or pleasant conversation are ideal. If we watch violent or frightening films we have to ‘digest’ them too. Even the news before bedtime can be disturbing.
      • Leave at least an hour before bedtime free from any focused activity, such as planning, looking at emails, social media, etc. The type of mental activity needed to process or respond is not conducive to sleep. If this activity is screen based then the white colour of the screen is also detrimental to sleep, this is because the white colour tricks the brain into thinking it is daytime.
      • Choose an evening environment with soft, warm lighting. In technical terms the colour temperature should be ‘warm white’, e.g. 2700K or less, rather than a ‘daylight’ colour temperature, e.g.  4 – 5000K or more.
      • Although we shouldn’t have dinner within a few hours of going to bed, a drink of warm milk taken just before bedtime helps calm the mind and nourishes the body. We can add herbs to the milk to aid sleep – e.g.  a couple of strands of pure saffron, and Ayurvedic herbs such as Gotu Kola. If we add a teaspoon of ghee it also helps with mild constipation. A pinch of ginger helps digest the milk too.
      • We can also use aromatherapy oils in our bedroom provided they have the specific property of reducing Vata.
      • Getting a good night’s sleep is also dependent on our activities during the day and getting the right amount of physical exercise is important for sound sleep. What’s ‘right’ depends on our body type. For example, Kapha types need far more physical exercise than do Vata types.
    •  
      • Learn to meditate! Almost everyone who learns to meditate notices an improvement in their sleep patterns. Contrary to popular opinion meditation is not difficult and requires no concentration – we just sit comfortably and easily with eyes closed. Rest assured in the knowledge that if we can think, then we can meditate! It is that easy. What type of meditation should we choose? Vedic meditation techniques (based on the effortless use of sanskrit mantras) such as Sahaj Samadhi, Transcendental Meditation (TM) and their equivalents are ideal. Failing this, there are lots of very good guided meditations from the Vedic tradition (e.g. from the enlightened saint Sri Sri Ravi Shankar) on YouTube.

The following advice for good sleep comes from a sister subject of Yoga and Ayurveda, namely Vastu

      • Vastu says that it is best to sleep with our heads pointing towards either the South or the East – never the North. This is something which can be applied relatively simply by changing the orientation of our beds. This makes a noticeable difference to sleep patterns. If we are unsure of directions, then we can either get a compass, or see where the sun is at midday and use this position to determine true South.
      • Modern Vastu experts suggest keeping our sleeping area reasonably free from strong magnetic (or electromagnetic) fields – so probably best to avoid electronic equipment such as clocks, battery chargers, transformers,  phones, etc.  in close proximity to our heads when we are sleeping

Additional advice for good sleep comes from modern science

      • Make sure our bedrooms are sufficiently dark at night. Modern cities have a lot of ‘light pollution’ at night (e.g. from street lights, traffic headlights, advertising, security lights). This can seriously disturb our sleep patterns.  Fitting a blackout blind is a simple solution.
      • It is best to avoid using our bedroom for any activities other than sleep and sex.  This includes doing any planning or work related matters, watching films, using our computer, responding to emails or social media interactions, etc. This is so we only associate the bedroom with sleep and not any other activity.
      • Avoid coffee, tea and other stimulants for four to six hours before going to bed. Alcohol should be avoided too for a period of 3 hours before bed time.  Although it initially makes us feel drowsy, it then disturbs our sleep after a few hours later. (Ayurveda attributes this to the fact that alcohol increases Pitta dosha – thus acting as a stimulant which, when combined with the natural Pitta period late on in the night, makes us wake up fully alert!)

Additional Information

1. Article giving an Introduction to Ayurveda

2. FAQs on Ayurveda FAQs1, FAQs 2

 

Ayurveda – Top Tips for Meal Times

Summary:  Simple Ayurvedic tips for mealtimes that promote excellent digestion and therefore contribute significantly to our overall health and wellbeing.

In Ayurveda, proper digestion is regarded as being of paramount importance. In fact, Ayurveda acknowledges that the disease process often starts with the toxic by-products of poor digestion. So, anything that helps maintain a healthy ‘digestive fire’ (Agni) promotes health; anything which ‘puts out’ or disturbs the fire does not.

Ayurveda says that our natural ability to digest food depends to a large extent on our body type. For example, ‘pure’ Vata types have irregular hunger and digestion; ‘pure’ Pitta types have very strong digestion (they can also experience intense hunger and thirst): ‘pure’ Kapha types have a slow digestion and rarely exhibit strong hunger. However, whatever our body type Ayurveda gives sound advice on how we can improve our digestion.

Ayurveda gives us simple tips for mealtimes – if we follow them we can help maintain a healthy digestion and so avoid the root cause of many diseases.

Before Our Meal

      •  It’s good to eat meals at the same time every day. This means the natural rhythms of the body synchronise with our mealtimes so we start to feel hungry prior to a meal and our body gets ready to digest it.
      •  We should eat our biggest meal around midday, when the sun is at its highest point in the sky. At this time our internal ‘digestive fire’ is greatest and so digestion is strong. You may have read ‘eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.’ Ayurveda says this is rubbish. So our biggest meal should be around midday – although this may not be easy to achieve in many modern work environments.
      •  Our evening meal is best consumed a few hours before bedtime – say, around 7pm at the latest. This leaves sufficient time to digest the food before going to sleep. Partially digested food, according Ayurveda, creates toxins. The build-up of toxins is responsible for long term health problems.
    •  
      •  We should always eat sitting down in a comfortable and settled atmosphere. We should not eat when we are walking around or driving (rationale: walking while eating disturbs the Vata dosha).
      •  Ayurveda advises against snacking or grazing between meals. The addition of more food an hour or so after a main meal starts up the whole digestive process again. We should only eat when we have a reasonable hunger or appetite and give the system a complete rest between meals. Typically this would be from 2 to 4 hours after a light meal and from 4 to 6 hours after a heavy one.
      •  Most Ayurvedic experts say it is better to avoid drinking anything for half an hour before and for half an hour after a meal (rationale: the drink dilutes the digestive juices).
      • We can increase our digestive fire and appetite by consuming a small slice of fresh ginger (ideally with a sprinkling of salt on top) about 10 to 15 minutes before we eat.

During Our meal

      •  We should have our full attention on what we are eating, not on the TV programme, not on the computer screen and not on our phone (rationale: if distracted, our senses are unable to fully enjoy the food – so we may over-eat, eat too quickly, eat without chewing properly and  maybe eat without fully appreciating the  food).
      •  It is good to eat with family, or friends, or people we like. It is better to avoid arguments during mealtimes as unsettled emotions do not promote good digestion.
      • Some experts  say we should avoid all drinks with a meal, while others suggest it is acceptable to drink small sips of warm water with a meal (emphasis on ‘small’).
      •  Ayurveda also says:  never have ice cold drinks with a meal (rationale: the cold puts out the digestive fire). Never have carbonated drinks with a meal (rationale: the bubbles create ‘wind’ which disturbs the Vata dosha). So, combining both of the above points means never, ever, have ice-cold carbonated drinks with a meal!

After Our Meal

      •  After eating we should sit for a few minutes, and then have a short walk (e.g. 5 to 10 minutes) to help digestion – even if this means walking around the office, or up and down stairs at home a few times.
      •  We can also maintain our digestive fire and help it to burn toxins in the body by drinking small amounts of warm water throughout the day (except near mealtimes). However, pure Pitta types might want to follow this advice with caution, particularly in very hot weather. It is usually best not to drink anything that is cold (it decreases the internal digestive fire – Agni.)

General Advice for Meals

      • Well-cooked, plant based food is usually easier to digest than meat. White meat is also easier to digest than red meat. If you need to eat red meat consider adding cayenne or chilli peppers to help with the digestion. Raw vegetables are very difficult to digest and disturb the vata (wind) element!
      •  Ayurveda favours the consumption of freshly prepared, well-cooked food. It does not rate frozen food, tinned food, pre-packaged or microwavable meals, or any form of highly processed food. Ayurveda is not saying we should never eat these, but we should just be aware they do not contain as much ‘life force’ as freshly prepared meals.
      •  It is beneficial to incorporate all of the ‘six tastes’ classified by Ayurveda into our meals – if not present in every meal, then at least we should be exposed to all the six tastes in the meals taken in a single day. This often helps prevent overeating which can arise as our body tries to satisfy its needs for these tastes (if they are not present, we unconsciously eat more just trying to find them).
    •  
      •  If we are going to drink milk, then either drink it on its own and not with a meal, or drink it only with other foods Ayurveda classifies as ‘sweet’. Heating milk makes it more digestible.