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Transitions and cycles according to Ayurveda

Ever found that you feel much more tired after sleeping in, or you feel restless and unfocussed late afternoon? Perhaps at certain times of your period you feel more alive and compassionate compared to others when everyone feels incredibly irritating? Do you feel more motivated at work and social life during the summer or feel very down in the winter months? Perhaps you suffer from hayfever in the spring or become more anxious in the autumn? Have you recently experienced a shift in your mind or body as you have reached a new age in your life?

Ayurveda is a truly holistic science in the way that it sees everything in cycles and relationships with one another. In this blog piece I wish to explore these cycles and how they can help us relate and connect to the world around us, how they can deepen our intuition and nourish our bodies and minds. We owe our whole existence to these cycles, however because of our 9-5 lifestyles and cultural disconnect with nature, these natural shifts can feel more problematic and unexpected than nourishing, often leading to transitional health issues. If we can find ways to acknowledge and flow with these cycles then our body and mind has an easier time and it may result in a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.

There are numerous cycles of which we are a part of but I would like to talk about a few that take prime positions on our lives. However it is first important to note that the cycles affect us in different ways dependant on our prakruti (natural birth state) and/or vikruti (the state we are currently in). This is because with changing cycles different elements come in to the environment and our body in greater or lesser proportions therefore affecting the internal mix. If you are not familiar with the three dosha you can find a quick summary of them here. If you are not 100% sure what is going on for you in terms of the doshic system, it may become apparent when we look at these cycles so I encourage you to be aware of anything that you relate to.

The 12hour clock and the dosha:

The doshas and the elements they are made up of exist inside of us and all around us and throughout the day quantities of the elements shift and change. We can see this in their natural form; for example when the sun is at its highest the pitta dosha, predominant in fire, is also at its highest in the environment because the piece of earth we are on is receiving more heat. This will then heat up the body, encouraging the pitta dosha within us to flourish and grow. We can look at the 12 hour clock to understand when different doshas are more predominant in the atmosphere, however do be aware that throughout the year this might change slightly due to the seasonal cycles.

10 - 2 am and pm : Pitta dominant time

As stated above pitta enters the environment while the sun is at its highest. At 10am - 2pm the body can utilise this pitta energy to work and eat, as pitta resides in and governs the function of the logical brain and the digestive fire (agni). Between these times it is best to do the majority of our challenging work and to eat our biggest meal whilst the body is supported by pitta. This may be particularly supportive for kapha individuals who have a naturally low digestive fire and vata individuals who get distracted from this kind of work easily at other times of the day. However if you are naturally predominant in pitta dosha or you’re suffering from a pitta imbalance (inflammation, anger, irritability, impatience, pain, swelling, acid, burning, itchy eyes, IBS, acne) then you might want to stay out of the sunlight during these hours and go for some gentle and cooling activities/foods.

At 10pm - 2am pitta is dominant internally and this is vital in order to help fully digest the day and cleanse the system. However this only happens whilst sleeping; if we are awake during this time we may experience a 'second wind' and find it difficult to shut off, our digestion might also become active and encourage us to eat something. It is therefore best to go to sleep near or before 10pm so we can use this pitta energy to benefit us instead of disrupting our sleep and natural rhythm.

2 - 6 am and pm: Vata dominant time

During the daytime the air and ether elements which make up the vata dosha come in to play at around 2-6pm. Vata governs movement, creativity and communication so we can utilise this time of day to engage with these kinds of activities. The vata in the environment will support us with our creative work and will like us to dance, move and communicate with others. This might be particularly great for kapha dosha who can use this time to find movement motivation and for pitta who could use a nourishing break from their set routines and difficult work.

However, vata dominant or vata imbalance individuals might find this time more challenging and this extra vata may cause anxiety, agitation or uncertainty as the movement in the system becomes to much or too little or dominates a certain area. For these individuals it might be useful to do some calm, grounding and releasing activities such as restorative yoga forms, gentle walks in nature or a practical task with creativity involved such as baking or artwork. Releasing vata via speaking, singing or chanting can also be helpful as a lot of vata can build up in the throat chakra/udana vayu area.

In the nighttime whilst asleep between 2-6am vata helps us process our emotional and creative thoughts and at this time we may have most of our dreams (if you are dominant in vata this can even get too much sometimes!). If we awaken during these hours it may become very challenging to get back to sleep due to this vata energy and if we have a vata imbalance we might suffer from some anxiety/worry during this time. We can support our body by getting to bed during kapha time, which I will describe below, as this will help us sleep through the whole night. If we continue to wake, consider implementing some calming/grounding routines before bed such as a warm milk drink, a bath, switching off all devices and some meditation with deep sounds or chants. If you are still struggling there may be other dietary, herbal and lifestyle changes that could support you with the help of your local Ayurvedic practitioner.

6-10 am and pm: Kapha dominant time

From 6-10 in the morning if you have not yet got out of bed you may start to feel sluggish, unmotivated and more tired. This is particularly the case for those with predominant kapha dosha or imbalance, as this earth and water quality merge together in excess becoming sticky and static. If you feel like this, it might be great for you to get up a little earlier while there is still a some motivational vata energy in the environment, ready to move and start the day. It is also great for kapha individuals to exercise/move during these hours where possible in order to avoid the kapha build up which can cause lethargy and a lack of motivation through the rest of the day. When the kapha quality dominates the atmosphere, the cold and slow nature reduces our digestive capacity so if you have any trouble with slow digestion it might be supportive to wait until the pitta hours to eat.

Vata and pitta doshas can find this kapha time supportive if they utilise these qualities well. For vata and pitta the kapha quality might encourage some much needed rest and calmness and so this could be a good time of day to meditate, journal, take a massage, eat some food in a relaxed state of mind or go on a gentle walk. If we go straight into work during this time we can tire ourselves out easily by the end of the day and feel unstable, stressed and anxious having avoided the benefits of this nourishing quality.

From 6 till 10pm the kapha quality helps prepare the body for sleep and for all or us it is therefore best to wind down and sleep as near to this timeframe as possible in order to feel properly rested and drop off more easily. If we work or do activity late into the evening it is hard for the body to utilise this kapha quality and sleep may become more challenging. It is also best, particularly for kapha and vata dosha, to avoid having a huge meal at this time as the kapha quality is again causing a slow and cold nature, not supportive of the digestive fire. It is also better to eat in the early evening instead of later on when kapha is at its most dominant.

The seasons and the dosha

Along with the times of day it's essential to consider and become in tune with the seasonal variations in order to stay well and best utilise/work with our natural environment.

As we swing through the seasons we tend to stay with the same schedules and routines no matter what the outside world is doing. This can cause imbalance and distress in the mind and body, specially during the seasonal transitions. For example there is little wonder that so many of us experience things like 'seasonal affective disorder' in the winter months when we have little time in our day to get out in the sunlight and still are expected to work long hours into the darkness whilst the natural world is at rest.

Ayurveda can help us navigate and understand these transitions through acknowledgement of the predominant elements at play during each new phase. It can also help us understand our personal doshic relationship with different seasons and how that plays out in our lives. For example, as a predominant vata dosha I feel really connected to the autumn as it shares my doshic quality but it can also cause imbalance for me easily especially in the strong winds. On the other hand I generally feel happy, relaxed and balanced in the summer due to the warm quality, nourishing my naturally cold dosha. I will speak about these doshic connections according to the European seasons but this will of course vary around the world: