I’ve been lucky enough to study the schedules of some pretty aspirational women in my career, and I’ve poured over the AM rituals of even more thanks to one of my favorite Camille Styles columns. And out of all of them, it’s the women who embraced Ayurvedic morning routines that have always grabbed me most.
Maybe it’s the way they discuss their more unique morning habits, including drinking warm lemon water or tongue scraping. Though it’s long been widely practiced in India, Ayurveda has become more popular in the U.S. But these women never seem to come from a place of trend-chasing—it’s just something they’ve committed to. Finally, I decided it was time to learn why.
“Ayurveda is this idea that when you live in harmony with nature, you will have optimal health and a vibrant life—but what does that really mean?” shares Dr. Avanti Kumar-Singh, a former physician who now works as an Ayurveda wellness expert, integrating the ancient wisdom with the best of Western medicine. “My goal is really just to help people understand the power of Ayurveda.”
Ahead, Dr. Kumar-Singh discusses the importance of routines in Ayurvedic tradition, along with a few morning rituals to start the day off healthy, centered, and in harmony with nature.
Feature image by Claire Huntsberger.
It’s become more and more mainstream, but what exactly is Ayurveda?
“Ayurveda is the 5,000-year-old healing system of India,” Dr. Kumar-Singh explains. “It’s really considered the mother of all healing systems—most other healing systems actually have their roots in Ayurveda, including traditional Chinese medicine and Western medicine.”
In Ayurveda, there are five elements—space, air, fire, earth, and water—that make up everything in the universe, including humans. Our natural state is to be in harmony with the five elements.
“When we start to go out of harmony, that’s when very subtle symptoms will start to show up—something like a small headache or stomach ache we might blow off,” Dr. Kumar-Singh explains. “It’s not that we should stress about every symptom, but it’s about developing an awareness. The symptoms are showing up to tell us something.”
When we begin to feel off-balance, how do we get back in harmony with nature?
“When you’re out of sync with the daily rhythm of the sun, that’s when the problems start,” Dr. Kumar-Singh shares. “We know from a medical standpoint that circadian rhythm regulates everything in the body physiologically. The perception of light throughout the day through our retina and into our brain controls the release of hormones—specifically cortisol and melatonin.”
Even without today’s medical data to back it up, Ayurvedic practitioners knew thousands of years ago how important it is to stay in harmony with the cycles of nature—and most fundamentally, the daily cycle of nature.
“That’s where this idea of routines becomes so important,” Dr. Kumar-Singh adds. “They aren’t trendy things or woo-woo. Routines are the foundation of Ayurvedic healing. That’s the first recommendation a practitioner will make.”
What are some of your most recommended Ayurvedic morning routines?
Dr. Kumar-Singh believes that it’s actually the small, simple changes that have the most profound effects on our health.
“Of course, simple doesn’t mean easy,” she adds. “But when you commit to these things, you’re consistent, and you add them cumulatively, that’s when the profound effects start to happen.”
Go to Bed at the Same Time Every Night
“It seems so obvious but it’s true: your day starts the night before,” Dr. Kumar-Singh explains. “A good night’s sleep influences everything the next day, from your food choices to your mood.”
- By an Ayurvedic clock, 10 p.m. is the time our bodies begin detoxifying.
- Turn off blue lights at least 30 minutes before bed. When your brain senses there’s still light, it won’t turn off the cortisol and turn on the melatonin.
Stick to the Same Wake-Up Call
- Though 4 a.m. is a popular Ayurveda-recommended wake-up time per a quick Google search, Dr. Kumar-Singh doesn’t call out a specific hour. Instead, she suggests a regular wake-up call to help regulate your days.
Get Regular in the Morning
- The most important thing to do in the morning is to detoxify. “Everything that’s coming out is because your body doesn’t need it,” Dr. Kumar-Singh shares. “Holding your stool for a long time is very toxic from an Ayurvedic perspective.”
- A good way to get things moving early is to drink a large glass of warm filtered water with fresh lemon juice when you wake up.
Detoxify Every Orifice
Beyond our bowels, toxins accumulate in our eyes, ears, nose, and mouth during the night, and should be removed in the morning.
- Rinse out your eyes. Do a neti pot. Brush your teeth and scrape your tongue. Dr. Kumar-Singh is a big fan of Terra & Co.‘s oral hygiene products.
- Tongue analysis, a typical Ayurvedic practice, tells you a lot about the state of your digestion, which, according to Dr. Kumar-Singh, is a key to health.
Regulate Your Meal Times
- Try to eat at the same time every day. This calms the nervous system and helps with digestion.
- Lunch should preferably be your largest meal of the day.
Ayurveda and Western Medicine
Ayurveda may be becoming buzzier in the U.S., but Dr. Kumar-Singh certainly doesn’t want you to ditch your primary care doctor. “If I break my arm, I’m going to the emergency room, not an Ayurvedic practitioner,” she laughs.
But she does believe it would be valuable to embrace the concept of Ayurveda, a proactive healing system, along with reactive modern medicine.
“We need Western medicine, but the point is that it’s not the whole story,” Dr. Kumar-Singh. “There are other healing modalities that are very important, and when you integrate them, that’s where the magic is.”