Circadian Rhythm vs. Biological Clock
As with all things Ayurveda, Dinacharya is an ancient ritual we use in our daily lives to promote balance, maintain health, and align our body’s rhythm with the natural ebb and flow of nature. Having a regular routine helps to enhance stability in our biological clock; aids in digestion, absorption, and assimilation; and generates discipline, peace, and longevity.
Our circadian rhythm is a set of physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle that is governed primarily by light and, to a lesser extent, temperature. Circadian rhythm can be seen in all living organisms: plants, animals, and even bacteria. The study of circadian rhythm is referred to as chronobiology.
Our biological clock is different from circadian rhythm in that it is innate and influenced by genetics. Our master organ, the hypothalamus, sends signals to the rest of the body which affect our metabolism, digestion, stress levels, and energy by way of the neuroendocrine system, ie: hormones. It also influences our circadian rhythm. The master clock keeps all organs, tissues, and cells working seamlessly together, as well as in conjunction with the seasonal environment. Ideally, we rise with the sun and sleep when it’s dark. Our bodies naturally cool down as the sun sets, turning down our metabolism and preparing us for sleep.
Let’s Talk Real Life
Living in a fast-paced, high-stress society with constant exposure to media, screens, and shift work can artificially alter our biological clocks. Staying up late with bright lights and consuming stimulants such as caffeine can force our bodies out of their circadian rhythm. These are referred to as chronodisruptors. Our bodies cannot discriminate one form of stimuli—or stress—from another. Because chronodisruptors are forms of stimuli, they send signals to the sympathetic nervous system to pump out cortisol. In acute times of illness or battle, this is necessary and ideal. But, prolonged exposure to artificial stimuli can have an impact on overall health and immunity.
While Ayurveda has long supported the importance of a daily routine, it seems even more imperative in today’s world to make our schedule a top priority. By sticking to a regular routine throughout the day, things such as jet lag have less impact on our physiology. Our system keeps rolling along, following our lead, when it may have been otherwise been thrown off by changes in the time zones. It seems strange that habits as simple as waking at the same time, tongue scraping, and regular digestion can have such an impact on our physiology, but suffice it to say, it does. We have the opportunity to have greater control over our health and well being when we take appropriate action.
How You Can Make It Work In The Real World
Adopting a routine can seem daunting a first, especially to those of us who prefer spontaneity and change (Vatas, I’m talking to you). It may seem like a lot of work, and we all feel short on time—I get it. If you’re new to Dinacharya, don’t despair. When introducing new activities into your regimen, the first rule of thumb is to start slow. Begin with one or two things that are interesting and doable for you and your lifestyle. Do not pick things from the buffet table that you know you will not do, or are too labor-intensive. When the first couple items become natural, add another. If, at any time, one of the routines is not resonating well with you, trade it out for something else. You can try to come back to it later…or maybe not. Not everything works for or is absolutely necessary for every person, and that’s ok.