Radiant Practice #3: Get Great Sleep!

This practice comes from a lesson learned just a few weeks ago. I had been out at a fascinating workshop for school on Theta healing (which I hope to learn more about and give you an update later) and got home pretty late. By the time I got back, it was at least 10:30 (which, on a school or work night is pretty darn late to us!) and my husband was waiting for the clothes to be finished in the dryer. Since we hadn’t seen each other all day, we wanted to catch up and chat. Once it was finally time to go to bed, I remembered that we needed to change the sheets.

Full disclosure: I kinda have a thing about changing the sheets. Although we only switch them once a week, if a week and a day passes and those same ol’ dirty things are still on the bed, I go into freakout mode.

Of course, midnight isn’t the best time to put my foot down about this kind of thing, but I cannot be logical when it comes to our sleeping quarters. On top of it all, we don’t ever stay up that late anymore (save the strange occasional night where I go all out, stay up until the wee hours of the morning and then promise myself to never do it again). We don’t function when we are sleep deprived. And so the seemingly small task of changing the sheets turned into a silly and overdrawn argument. My partner and I hardly ever fight, so even a stupid little spat like this one threw me for a loop. I had a hard time falling asleep and woke up cranky, exhausted and feeling bad about the way the midnight sheet change went down.

So folks, the moral of the story is: GET GREAT SLEEP! Forget good sleep, get amazing, incredible, mind-blowing and life-changing slumber. Out of all the things you can do for your body, it is truly is one of the most important.

Ayurveda has three pillars of health. The second pillar (food comes first, of course) is nidra, or sleep. Sleep plays a crucial role in processing and assimilating not only physical substances (such as food, drink, medicines, etc.) but emotional and mental stuff as well (thoughts, feelings, memories, trauma, and so on.) When we sleep, our bodies are able to devote all of their attention to regeneration and repair, allowing us to wake up feeling better and stronger than when our heads hit the pillow the night before.
The problem is, you need A LOT of sleep. In Ayurveda we say that “there is no antidote for not enough sleep”. You can’t take a pill or do some exercise to make up for only getting five hours and honestly, if you aren’t giving your body the time to rebuild itself, all the spirulina in the world can’t save you.

So how much sleep is enough sleep? It depends but Ayurvedically, vata people need the most sleep, pittas need a moderate amount and kapha folks need the least. Of course, this doesn’t take into consideration what kind of imbalance a person might be going through, the season, the cycle of their life, etc. It is safe to say that eight hours of sleep a night is a great target for everyone. An Ayurvedic sleep schedule would be a bedtime of no later than 10pm and waking up at least at 6am. If you can’t get to sleep by ten, please please please get to bed before midnight! Multiple studies have been done proving that the actual quality of sleep after midnight is significantly lower than sleep before then. One of the most beneficial practices you can get into the hang out is picking a bedtime and sticking with it.¬†Ayurveda is all about consistency, so establishing a routine for when and how you will be resting will pacify vata (which almost everyone had too much of these days) and allow your body to recharge its batteries.

[adorable lino-cut print from Katie Muth]

Ayurveda 101: The Three Doshas

Ayurveda revolves around your “dosha“. Literally meaning “something that is out of whack,” your dosha is the unique constitutional body type that you were born with. Having said that, your dosha influences much more than just your outer appearance. It influences your physical, physiological, psycological and spiritual health.

To understand doshas, we must first understand the five elements. One of the basic tenets of Ayurveda is the belief that “everything which exists in the external universe has its counterpart in a living being’s own personal internal universe.” [1] Each action in our lives corresponds to an action within ourselves. A popular example is to compare the cooking of your food on the fire of the stovetop to the cooking of your food on your internal digestive “fire” in your stomach. This idea of interconnectedness can be explained by understanding the Five Great Elements. These elements are:

  • Earth: the solid state of matter
  • Water: the liquid state of matter
  • Fire: the power that can convert a solid state of matter to a liquid or a gas (or vice versa)
  • Air: the gaseous state of matter
  • Ether: the space in which everything is created and everything returns

These five elements combine to create the three doshas. It is important to understand that these doshas are forces in your being, not specific substances themselves. For example, Kapha is not mucus; it is the force that creates mucus. Each of these forces controls not only certain substances, but organs, body systems, seasons and life stages as well. No wonder doshas are so important!

In future posts we will get into the characteristics + qualities of the doshas in more detail but for now, let’s talk dosha basics:

VATA: Made from air + ether, vata is in charge of your kinetic energy, body movement and nervous system. Since vata is like the wind, the main quality of vata is dryness.

KAPHA: Composed of water + earth, kapha lubricates the body and is in charge of potential energy and body stability. Just like the solid soil we live on, the main quality of kapha is heaviness.

PITTA: Created from air + water, pitta balances the kinetic energy of vata with the potential energy of kapha. It controls digestion and both the enzymatic + endocrine systems. Akin to fire, the main quality of pitta is heat.

Your Ayurvedic constitution was determined at your conception, based on a variety of factors involving your parents and their physical, mental and emotional states. Your constitution at birth is called your prakriti. It is your true nature, what you have been (and always will be) and remains a vital part of who you are throughout your life. It is when we stray from our prakriti (through imbalances in our diet, health choices, etc.) that we become unwell. Therefore, the main objective of Ayurvedic medicine is to restore you to your true nature.

Pretty cool, huh?

Well, that’s all for this edition folks. Next time we will talk more in depth about the doshas and how they influence our health.


[1] Svoboda, Robert. Prakriti: Your Ayurvedic Constitution.

[image found here]