To maintain balance and health we need to live in harmony nature’s daily cycles. There are times of the day that are more suitable than others for our regular daily activities such as waking, eating, exercising, relaxing, and of course, sleeping. The three doshas of Ayurveda have a close relationship with the daily cycles; each of the doshas is most active at a particular time of day and night, and the energy associated with that dosha will affect us. If we become aware of the natural cycles according to Ayurveda, we can experience better health and become more in-tune with our bodies.
How The Three Doshas Influence the Daily Cycles
The three doshas are comprised of the the five elements. Each element is stronger at a particular time of the day, and the dosha which is most active at that time will bring its qualities and effects. The same cycle is repeated during the night.
|Time of Day||Hours||Dominant Dosha|
|Morning||6am – 10am||Kapha|
|Mid-day||10am – pm||Pitta|
|Afternoon||2pm – 6pm||Vata|
|Evening||6pm – 10pm||Kapha|
|Mid-night||10pm – 2am||Pitta|
|Early Morning||2am – 6am||Vata|
From 6-10am kapha is most dominant. The energy is fresh and the presence of the water element brings its heavy cool and moist qualities to this time of day. The sun is rising, and we should be awake to welcome the new day.
It is ideal to wake before 6 am. Waking up late allows the kapha energy to accumulate and can cause you to feel heavy or sluggish, decreasing motivation for the rest of the day. People with kapha nature need to be more mindful about getting up before 6 am because they are naturally more prone to becoming sluggish. An individual with a strong pitta nature can get away with sleeping in later than people who are predominant in kapha or vata doshas. Pitta being naturally active expends more energy throughout the day, and the extra rest can help them to replenish.
Kapha makes the mind stable and steady. The ability to retain information is best in the morning hours, and this makes it an excellent time to study. Due to the natural calmness of the kapha time, this is also an easy time for meditation.
It is wise to avoid eating heavy meals first thing in the morning – when kapha is high digestion is slow. Breakfast should consist of light and warm foods. In the morning, the energy becomes heavy and cool and needs to be balanced by the opposite qualities. Kapha imbalances such as indigestion or depression can result from eating cold and dense foods during the kapha time of day, especially if it is a cool, wet season. Fruits are considered cooling, and should be avoided by vata and kapha first thing in the morning. Warmer fruits such as pineapple, papaya, oranges, and other citrus can be tolerated by pitta types in the morning.
Exercising at this time is excellent, as kapha brings strength and stamina to the body. A person with a dominant kapha nature would be best with a more physical workout to motivate them for the day. A vata type should choose more gentle movements such as yoga asanas, tai chi, qi gong, walking, or gentle swimming. Exercising in the morning when it is still cool is best for pitta as it will prevent them from overheating later in the day.
During the late morning kapha decreases and pitta becomes most dominant. Between 10am-2pm, the day starts to heat up as the sun becomes stronger and reaches its peak. The fire element is prevalent, and the atmosphere becomes warmer, drier, and lighter.
When pitta is high, metabolism peaks. Hunger and thirst increase and the processes of digestion and assimilation are functioning at their best. The largest meal should be eaten during this time when agni (digestive fire) is high. Pitta types especially should make sure to have a full and satisfying meal at this time to meet their high metabolic needs.
Since internal and external heat is highest at this time, it is not the ideal time to exercise. Those with pitta dominance should avoid all heavy exercise. Kapha types are more able to get away with mid-day exercise if it is needed, but morning is still the preferable time for such activities.
From 2-6pm vata becomes dominant. The air element takes over bringing its cool, dry, and windy qualities. During this time one feels light, flexible, agile and more active because vatas qualities are of lightness and mobility. But as the sun’s energy begins to fade, and the cold, dry energy dominates, one can start to feel tired.
Minimize intense activities at this time. Vata types especially should try to keep a light schedule and perhaps even take a short nap sometime between 2-4pm as they will be more prone to becoming tired.
In the late afternoon and early evening, the mind is unsteady due to the influence of vata. If you find that your mind is unfocused in the afternoon, it is a good idea to meditate or try to focus the mind during this time. This will help lessen the influence of vata on the mind.
The same cycle repeats for the latter half of the day. From 6-10pm, kapha once again dominates. The sun is setting, and it gets cooler, the air becomes more damp and thick. Kapha comes back into the body to promote rest. Energy decreases and inertia builds.
It is time to wind down from the days activities. Even though kapha is becoming dominant at this point, the effects of pitta and vata can carry over in the form of an overactive mind. Use this kapha energy to calm over activity and promote relaxation. The evening is the best time for self-care.
Sunset is a junction of day and night – a time that is very powerful for spiritual practice. The effects of spiritual activities are amplified when performed at junction points. This is a good time to meditate, chant, or do a calming yoga practice.
Eat dinner early (between 6-7pm). Eating too late in the evening leads to undigested foods in the system which accumulates as toxins. If the meal is eaten too late or if the meal is too heavy, kapha’s influence will cause sluggishness. A pitta nature may be able to eat slightly later due to their stronger digestive ability.
It is best to avoid bathing or wetting the head in the evening. The water energy is already high at this time. By adding extra water, we can cause an accumulation that will not dry up easily overnight and may cause water retention or swelling in the body. Puffy eyes upon waking are a common sign of water retention.
Relaxation is essential before bed to ensure a proper rest. Aim to get to sleep before 10 pm. Since kapha has accumulated all evening, the body will naturally be sleepy. If you listen to the natural rhythms, your body will sync into a deep, regenerative sleep.
10pm-2am is again pitta time. The fire element is strong, and the stars shine brightly. Although pitta will give a spurt of energy and creativity, one must avoid staying up into the late hours. If one stays awake until after 10 pm, the active nature of pitta can prevent sleep. It is the hours of sleep that we get before midnight that are the most rejuvenating. These hours are much more important than the hours of sleep after midnight – if you consistently miss the deep rejuvenating sleep before 12 am, you can experience imbalances in your body.
Although pitta is high at this time, it is not a time for eating. At night pitta is used for the repair and transformation of cells, not for digestion. Undigested foods leads to the accumulation of toxins which will eventually have to find their way out. In pitta dominant individuals, the toxins will release in the form of skin rashes, whereas in kapha types, the build-up of ama (toxins) will result in excess mucous production. Sleeping on a full stomach can also cause disturbing dreams which will prevent you from getting proper rest.
At night, the body naturally cools through the skin. If the system is busy digesting at night, this heat will stay in the body. The excess heat will prevent a comfortable sleep, especially in those who already have a hot nature.
2 am-6am is when vata predominates again. Before sunrise, the air becomes slightly drier and cooler, while the mobile quality of vata starts to wake up the world. Birds begin to sing, and people should rise as well.
Due to the natural movement at this time, the processes of elimination are most active. The body naturally wants to cleanse and excrete. Empty your bowels in the morning, wash your body, and perform morning kriyas (cleansing techniques) at this time. Kriyas such as jala neti, nasya, and tongue scraping will be helpful in ridding your body of any ama that accumulates overnight.
This is a time for waking, not going to sleep. Those who work or party into the early morning hours will bring out vatas unsteady aspects, resulting in less focus and stability of the mind.
During the early morning, the period of Brahma-Muhurtham occurs. This period starts about two hours before sunrise. During Brahma-Muhurtham the previous day’s toxins, residues, and mental activity have settled. The earth is still, and nothing pervades your mental or physical space. The mind wakes fresh, and no impurities are present, but after sunrise, activity comes, resulting in all kinds of disruptive vibrations.
This is a very auspicious time of day and is best suited for praying, meditating, chanting, or taking a reflective walk. Because of the quiet and calm of the atmosphere, one will be able to concentrate very well during these hours. There is a special grace present at this time of day; Brahma-Muhurtham means ‘Time of God”. Sunrise is also a powerful time; it is another junction point, where the energy of spiritual practice is amplified. Whether sunrise falls before or after 6 am, take a few moments at this time to remember the divine.
Individual Adjustments for the Daily Cycles
Working with the daily cycles and energies will help bring you to a more balanced physical, mental, and spiritual state. If you live in a region that is far north or south of the equator, there will be significant difference throughout the year in regards to the time of sunrise and sunset. When you start to become more in-tune with your body and with the energy of the days and seasons, you will know how to adjust your schedule accordingly. Take into account daylight savings time if this applies in your region; when daylight savings is in effect, the clock is one hour off the natural cycle.
Always remember individual variations apply in Ayurveda and don’t try to force yourself into a schedule that does not suit your needs. If it feels right, but you have trouble making changes, be gentle with yourself and make a slow progression to your new schedule. If you make changes gradually, they will feel more natural and are more likely to stick. If you try a drastic change rapidly, this will create too much stress on your system, and the changes will seem too difficult.
- Dr. Sapna B.A.M.S, Lecture: The Tridosha Concept
- Sunil V. Joshi, Ayurveda and Panchakarma: The Science of Healing and Rejuvenation.
- Maya Tiwari, Ayurveda: A Life of Balance.
- Vasant Lad, Ayurveda: A Practical Guide: The Science of Self-Healing.
Photo: Michelle Greene