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Nature’s Daily Cycles
Do you finish your day feeling like you were hit by a moped, a car, or even a bus? Do you wake up tired without the energy to get up and go? Do you crave sweets, caffeine, chips, bread or a nap in the afternoon?
While there may be many reasons for these concerns, one very simple solution may be that you are living out of sync with the natural cycles
According to researcher Frank Scheer from Harvard Medical School, every cell of the body has an internal clock that regulates the body’s metabolism. (1) According to Ayurveda, these internal clocks are linked to the rhythms of nature.
It is really quite simple. Connect your cellular clocks (we have about 100 trillion of them) with the natural ebb and flow of nature’s cycles, and you live a life of balance and vitality. When we ignore these cycles of nature, we disturb our inner clocks, and thus life becomes a struggle.
From the Ayurvedic perspective, there are two 12 hour cycles – let’s call them phases – that make up the 24 hours of each day.
The first phase starts at sunrise and finishes at sunset, where energy is driven by balanced cortisol levels.
The second phase starts at sunset and finishes at sunrise, which is driven by balanced melatonin levels. In the winter, the nighttime phases are lengthened and the daytime phases are shortened, with just the opposite occurring in the summer.
For the purposes of this discussion, let’s say sunrise is 6AM and sunset is 6PM. Within these phases, there are smaller cycles, described below.
Daytime Kapha Cycle
The first cycle begins at 6AM and ends at 10AM when cortisol levels peak. This is the kapha time of the day, during which the muscular and structural strength of the kapha principle naturally increases. This is the time of day for physical labor when the muscles are the strongest and the heat of the day has not yet set in.
To align yourself with the daytime kapha cycle you must:
- Be up at or before sunrise and try to take in 10 minutes and bright morning sun. Sleeping in only builds more tiredness and stiffness.
- Engage in some practice of exercise in the morning hours. It could be physical labor, yoga, or some sort of cardiovascular workout.
- Breakfast may be eaten, but be careful not to overeat at this meal.
Daytime Pitta Cycle
The second cycle of the day is between 10AM and 2PM. This is called the pitta cycle. It takes place when the sun is reaching the middle of the sky, and the fiery pitta principle is at its strongest. The digestive fire is most hot at this time and it is the best time to eat the largest and heaviest meal of the day.
Studies have shown that when the largest meal of the day is eaten earlier in the day, there is significantly more weight loss compared to when the largest meal of the day is eaten later in the day or evening. (2)
To align yourself with the daytime pitta cycle you must:
- Make lunch the biggest meal of the day.
- Eat this meal in a relaxed fashion.
- Try your best to make the majority of the meal consist of seasonal foods.
- Rest for 10-15 minutes after the meal – even a short nap lying on your left side after this meal is okay.
Daytime Vata Cycle
The last daytime cycle is between 2PM and 6PM. This is the time of day when the vata principle predominates. During this cycle, the nervous system is most active. This is when the brain is demanding fuel from the previously digested large meal.
If the fuel is not there because you skipped lunch or only had a salad, the brain will scavenge for any available glucose or energy it can find and blood sugar levels will fall. This can result in an afternoon lull, craving, or moodiness. If you find yourself reaching for a sweet, coffee, chips or a nap at this time, it may be that the brain is straining to get the fuel it needs to cruise through the afternoon.
In the later part of this cycle, between 5PM and 6PM, there is a period of stillness in nature. If you watch a lake at this time of day, it begins to calm down and often becomes very flat. This is an opportune time to meditate. It is when nature’s cycles become still that we have the opportunity to entrain our rhythms with those of nature, still the mind and de-stress.
Cortisol levels begin to decline here to prepare for darkness and sleep.
To align yourself with the daytime vata cycle you must:
- Evaluate how you feel in the afternoon.
- If you experience cravings, make lunch a more satisfying and balanced meal.
- If you crash in the afternoon – be sure to eat lunch in a relaxed and calm fashion. Fast food eaten quickly will not digest and thus not deliver the fuel the brain is demanding at this time.
- Meditate during the last part of this cycle between 5PM-6PM. If this is not realistic for your schedule, carve out at least sixty seconds and try the One Minute Meditation.
Nighttime Kapha Cycle
The second 12 hour phase starts with a kapha cycle, which lasts from 6PM to 10PM when melatonin levels start to rise. This is the time of day when the body’s energy hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, are decreasing. This is the natural time to start slowing down metabolism to prepare for sleep.
Digestive strength is much weaker after sunset, which is why most traditional cultures always had a light supper. Even the word supper is an attempt to denote a smaller, supplemental or soup-like meal. A heavy meal at this time will be inefficiently digested and cause weight gain. (2)
To align yourself with the nighttime kapha cycle you must:
- Avoid eating late heavy meals. Eat light and early.
- Exercise is okay between 6PM-7PM, but not later as it may over-stimulate you and disturb your sleep cycles.
- Start settling down for the evening as early as possible. The habit of staying up late is difficult to change, but essential for longevity and increased cognitive function as you age. (3)
- If you have difficulty settling down, try an ojas nightly tonic before bed.
Nighttime Pitta Cycle
The next cycle is the pitta time of night, from 10PM to 2AM. This is the time when pitta, which can be very stimulating, can rev the mind into thinking you are a night person. Here is the rub: this is the time when the liver, which is the body’s major pitta or fire organ, is actively detoxifying and preparing the body for the next day.
Late meals and late nights disturb this cycle and compromise the body’s ability to detox efficiently. Of course, this is no big deal when it happens on occasion. But when it happens day after day for years, the liver can become congested and the body can build toxicity levels in the fat cells of the brain and all throughout the body.
To align yourself with the nighttime pitta cycle you must:
- Eat early so that you are finished digesting by the time this cycle begins.
- Exercise early so the body’s cortisol and adrenaline levels are not stimulated at this time, which can affect sleep and nighttime liver detox.
- Consider meditating or reading a relaxing book before bed. Good old fashioned bedtime stories work well!
- Get to sleep before 10PM.
Nighttime Vata Cycle
The last cycle of the 24 hour day is the vata cycle between 2AM and 6AM when melatonin levels peak. This is the quietest time of the day. In the early hours before dawn, the mind slowly becomes more aware. If the body has gotten to sleep early and is not chronically fatigued, it is quite natural to wake up at this time before the sunrise.
This is a great time for meditation, which will help to entrain the body with the silence of nature. This is the best time to reset your internal clocks. Since they are in every single cell, and we have 100 trillion cells in the body, this may be the most important time of day of all.
Note: The quieter the mind is during the day, the more the body naturally tends towards living in sync with these cycles.
To align yourself with the nighttime vata cycle you must:
- Over time, after getting to bed early and eating supper early, you will naturally begin to wake up earlier. This will happen without an alarm and, although we may still have to end the habit of sleeping in later, the body will no longer need that extra rest.
- This is a great time for yoga, breathing and meditation as a regular part of the daily routine.