All of nature—the sun, the moon, the tides, the seasons—follows a rhythm. Each of these things rise and fall, ebb and flow, and undulate and pulse with their own divine cadence. Even plants and animals adhere to regularity: at dawn tiny flowers open and birds wake and at dusk they retreat. If all of nature follows a rhythm, then why would we humans be any different? It’s important to understand that we’re not.
Ayurveda, the ancient science of life, teaches that as is the macrocosm (nature), so is the microcosm (you). Recognizing and following nature’s inherent rhythms has a profound impact on the mind, body, and spirit. It makes the difference between feeling heavy and foggy or light and inspired. Rhythms are that powerful.
Modern science now proves what this ancient knowledge of life has taught for thousands of years. Humans have a circadian rhythm: a 24-hour sleep and wake cycle that’s closely tied to the sun. If we live in harmony with this innate rhythm that the body so craves, we support all aspects of our physiology. We feel energized, well-rested, and experience better digestion. When we live in disharmony with this innate rhythm—staying awake at night and sleeping during the day, for example—we suffer. We cause ourselves low energy, sluggishness, lessened immunity, and foggy thoughts.
The secret to feeling light and energized begins with the very first thing we do each day: waking up. Each morning brings a choice that will affect how we feel throughout the entire day that follows. Either we rise early with the sun, as almost all of nature does, or we choose to sleep past dawn and perhaps well into the morning.
One only has to reflect upon their own human experience to understand the difference between the two. No matter how many hours we sleep, waking up at 7, 8, 9, or 10 a.m. is hard. We feel sluggish and weighted to the bed. It takes an hour or two to wake up even after rising, and we spend the whole day feeling like we’re trying to catch up.
On the other hand, when we rise before the sun (and before 6 a.m. when daylight savings is at play), we wake up feeling light and energized. It’s easy to throw off the covers and simply get up. We’re more likely to wake up in a good mood and feel like we have a grip on the day.
This ayurvedic concept isn’t made up or woo-woo: It is the way nature works. It has to do with the three doshas: the vital energies that make things happen in nature and in the body. While the doshas are a complex philosophy, they’re easy to understand when we think of them in terms of animals.
There is vata, which is light, mobile, and airy like a butterfly. There is pitta, which is fiery, fierce, and articulate like a lion. And there is kapha, which is heavy, slow, and sluggish like an elephant. Each prevails in nature twice daily, and when they increase in nature, they increase in the body (as is the macrocosm, so is the microcosm).
That early morning window of 2—6 a.m. is governed by the butterfly energy. When we wake up by 6 a.m., we take advantage of its lightness and mobility. It’s easier to get up, get moving, and have a bowel movement.
Come 6 a.m., the elephant energy starts its reign and lasts until around 10 a.m. It gives nature a slow, heavy feeling (think morning fogs and overcast skies). If we sleep in into this window, we increase the elephant energy which is already increased with sleep. It can feel as if an elephant is pinning us to the bed! Waking up and getting up are a struggle, and the slow heavy fog takes hours to shake off.
Waking up by 6 a.m. gives us an energized butterfly energy that no amount of sleep can promise if we sleep in until elephant time. It aligns us with nature’s rhythm and that rhythm our body so craves.
Living this practice is the only way to experience its benefits. While it may be a struggle at first, it only takes about a week to realign ourselves with a healthy sleep pattern. Soon enough, we fall into this gorgeous rhythm of nature. Our entire being flourishes, from our mental state to our digestion and our sense of inspiration.