By Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya
Ayurveda whispers to us to become conscious of our consciousness and of our being in our body. It tells us to frame our world when we first awaken, before opening our eyes and moving mentally into the outside world, before getting out of bed. It asks us to connect consciously with our body. Start the day thinking of the source of your activity, your food.
During this time, we should consider the digestion status of the food eaten the previous day and night. Is the gut feeling clean? Is there pain? Is there hunger? Over time, this communication pathway strengthens with use, and one becomes more conscious of the gut. It is through this daily engagement that yogis learnt to develop control over their autonomic functions. On a subliminal level, knowing your hunger level and digestive strength may help you choose foods that are actually good for your system.
Ayurveda proffers, ‘you are what you digest’ not ‘you are what you eat’. Once you have started practising this second dinacharya ritual each morning, you will start to notice your feelings of satiety, anxiety, true hunger, queasiness, bloating, gas movement or calm.
If you overate, you probably digested a lot of excess and feel the excess; your body will have a dampened fire. If you drank yourself into a stupor before falling asleep, you probably digested a lot of stupor and astringency, and your body will have a dampened fire. This morning practice will start to increase your consciousness around your habits that may not be serving your body and soul.
After talking with your belly, move into a quick mental exercise to unite your mind and body. First sense the energy of the day with your non-visual senses. Spend a few moments connecting with the larger cosmos. Breathe through the top of your head directly into your heart space (the center of your chest, not the physical heart). You can visualize a golden, luminous stream of compassion and love coming to you from all of your spiritual teachers, past, present and future, and from all realized beings. Feel a sense of grace expanding throughout your body. Rub your palms together quickly to generate warmth and then gently massage your face. Repeat this sequence for your head, arms and hands with long, smooth strokes.
When you have gently massaged your entire body, including your feet, sit on the edge of your bed facing north or east. Say a little prayer asking for help to act appropriately and grow, or simply expressing sincere gratitude for having found your dharma in this lifetime. If it feels real, you can generate a desire for the liberation of all beings and send that out.
Before getting out of bed, reach down and touch the floor, the earth before walking all over her all day in an ode of respect. On a practical level, this bending compresses the abdomen and helps to move the old contents of the intestines down and out, a movement called apana vayu, to ready for excretion and cleansing of the body’s main canal, called srotoshodhana (srota = channel; shodhana = cleanse).
Upon rising, Ayurveda suggests aachamana, that you drink a palmful of water from your right hand. The water should be either lukewarm or at room temperature, but not ice cold. Ideally, it should be boiled and stored overnight in a copper container. Copper is one of the necessary trace elements for the body, something people have forgotten from fear of heavy metals. The minuscule parts per million (ppm) of copper help to strengthen the muscles and cleanse the intestines.
This early morning water is said to stimulate the stomach and the body’s jatharagni (the body’s main store of fire for transformation, heating the body and penetration into crevices of the micro-body), diluting the acids that have been lying latent overnight in the stomach and pushing them onward and out, making room for and stimulating fresh hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes that will be needed when a fresh load of food arrives. These slightly diluted acids also clean some of the sludge as they move forward through the intestines. This palmful of water is to be drunk before going to the bathroom and proceeding with the day.
As warm water provokes the flow of the intestines downward in a gentle peristalsis, it sometimes evokes a strong gastrocolic reflex, wherein stimulating the stomach reflexively stimulates the lower colon such that the bowels want to be emptied. When done between 3 and 7 a.m., it can augment and correct the flows of healthy bowel movement. Try it and see if it works for you.
The South Asian Times Columnist Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya is a Fulbright Specialist 2018‐2022 in Public Health and Clinical Asst Professor of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York. Her bestselling book Everyday Ayurveda is published by Penguin Random House. www.drbhaswati.com