Ayurveda, Yoga philosophy

Morning walks: Ayurveda and the circadian rhythm

When I was in India, I visited an ayurvedic doctor who advised me to do early morning walks every day. During the yoga teacher training we did a few of those (the picture above was taken there) and I can intuitively feel that they are beneficial – but my curious mind was hungry for a rational explanation. So I did some research on the ayurvedic perspective on the circadian rhythm.

Ayurveda literally means ‘knowledge of life’. It is a holistic system that teaches how to develop a healthy day-to-day lifestyle, offering practical advice for each individual. Part of this lifestyle is a regular daily routine, and especially the morning routine is highly valued.

Each moment of the day is characterized by its specific qualities, defined by one of the three doshas. These doshas are vata, the quality of air and space or movement, pitta, the quality of fire and action, and kapha, the quality of earth and water or calmness. According to ayurveda, everything contains all three doshas in a specific proportion, including the cycle of day and night. In the morning, vata is the dominant dosha. Therefore, ayurvedic doctors will often recommend to do gentle physical activity in the morning, such as some asana yoga practice. But you may also choose to do another form of exercise, such as running or swimming, anything that suits you – which may again depend on the combination of the doshas in your own body (but that’s material for another blog).

A second ayurvedic recommendation for the daily routine is to follow the natural flow of daylight to guide your sleep-wake pattern: you wake up when the sun rises, and you go to bed when it gets dark. Scientific evidence confirms that exposure to natural daylight enhances a healthy circadian rhythm. This can be explained by the interaction between sunlight and brain mechanisms that regulate our hormones. When the sun rises in the morning, blue light is dominant. Blue light activates the suprachiasmatic nucleus, a part of the brain just behind the eyes, which then suppresses the release of melatonin – the today well-known sleep hormone. Conversely, natural light in the evening contains little blue light and more red light, allowing the levels of melatonin to rise and to make you feel sleepy. Thus, blue light will help you to wake up. And therefore, exposure to daylight in the morning will help you to feel energized and ready to start your day.

Combining those two qualities – the dominance of vata for movement, and the dominance of blue light for waking up – morning walks are an excellent way to start your day. You will gently warm up and wake up. And by the way, if you like multitasking (as a true modern yogi), why not also enjoy the fresh air for your breathing exercises?

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