What is the optimal daily routine for health, and why is it important?

In a word, the optimal daily routine is:

Early to bed, early to rise, get some exercise in the morning, and have a decent lunch!

Why is this so? Consider the following daily cycle of the doshas:  

Ten a.m. to 2 p.m. is the pitta period of the day. As the sun is rising to its highest point in the sky, pitta dosha increases in everyone. During this period, the qualities of pitta dosha predominate in nature and the environment. Two p.m. to 6 p.m. is the vata period of the day, and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. is the kapha period of the evening. The cycle then resumes; 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. is the pitta period of the night, 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. is the vata period of the early morning, and 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. is the kapha period of the morning. Thus we have four hour blocks of time, times 3 doshas makes 12 hours, repeated twice makes 24 hours. At any given moment day or night we are in one of these periods.

With this framework in mind, and reflecting back on what we know about the doshas, we can now construct our ideal daily routine. If you would like this rhythm, this natural daily cycle of the doshas, to be working in your favor, rather than against you, what should your daily routine look like? How do we structure our daily routine to harness support of nature in our daily activities? Stated another way, what should you do when, each day, to assure that as you go through your day, and life, you are paddling your canoe with the current, as opposed to upstream?

We’ll start at the beginning of the day. Six a.m. to 10 a.m. is the kapha period of the morning. Kapha is the heavy, physical dosha. What do you want to make sure you do every day before this period starts? Wake up! Out of bed by 6 a.m. every day. That experience of waking up dull and groggy at 8 a.m. or even 9 a.m. is from sleeping into the kapha period of the day. Vata, in contrast, is light and energetic. Assuming we got to bed on time the night before, waking up during the vata period of the morning is ideal: the lightness and energy of vata dosha will stick with you throughout the day.

The best time to exercise is between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m., during the kapha period of the morning. The second-best time to exercise is between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., during the kapha period of the evening. The prescription, then, is nothing new; wake up early and get some exercise! The heavy physical qualities of kapha render this the most natural time for physical activity. In ayurveda we emphasize that exercise should help remove stress from, not create stress for, the physiology. There is no need to train for a decathlon, unless you want to. A brisk walk counts as exercise and is appropriate and healthy for the great majority of people. If you are interested in doing something more intense, for example running 6 miles, you are much less likely to injure yourself if you do so during the kapha period, as opposed to other times of the day.

Out of bed early, then between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. in the morning, during the kapha period, we exercise. Ten a.m. to 2 p.m. is the pitta period of the day, with the sun rising to its highest point in the sky. This will be the ideal time for doing what? As we’ve said multiple times, eating your biggest meal! Then, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. is the vata period of the afternoon. This is the proper time for mental activity.

Now the cycle resumes. Six p.m. to 10 p.m. is the kapha period of the evening.. What do we want to be sure to do before this period ends? Do what by 10 p.m.? Get to bed! You don’t have to be asleep by 10 p.m., but in bed, lights out, television off, by 10 p.m.! We want our sleep to be heavy. Turn the lights out and lie down by 10 p.m., and the heavy quality of kapha will spill over into your sleep. If, however, we make the mistake of staying up too late, 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. is the pitta time of night. Pitta is intense, we get a second wind, and then it’s even harder to fall asleep. We’ve all had that experience. In addition, there’s an even better reason to get to bed by 10 p.m. We said that pitta governs digestion and metabolism. During the pitta time of day, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., we eat and digest our biggest meal. During the pitta time of night, between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., we metabolize and process the day’s wastes. This is when the clean-up crew comes in. It is very important to be in bed by 10 p.m., then, so the body can properly cleanse itself. If we are habitually awake and busy during this nighttime pitta period, the natural cleansing processes are inhibited, and ama starts to accumulate, thus setting the stage for potential disease or illness. This is why it is so critically important for your long-term health to get to bed on a regular basis by 10 p.m.

The Table below outlines the essentials of the ayurvedic daily routine:

Daily Routine
Time Predominant Dosha Activity
2 a.m. – 6 a.m. Vata Wake up
6 a.m. – 10 a.m. Kapha Exercise
10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Pitta Eat
2 p.m. – 6 p.m. Vata Mental activity
6 p.m. – 10 p.m. Kapha Exercise and go to bed
10 p.m. – 2 a.m. Pitta Sleep

To summarize this daily routine, then, in the simplest possible terms:

Early to bed, early to rise, get some exercise in the morning, and have a decent lunch!