(As published on Elephant Journal as a "Featured Wellness" and "Featured Yoga" Article and in the "Popular Lately" section)
One of the greatest gifts I have received from the great art and science of Ayurveda is connecting with the abundant blessings of nature early each morning. Ayurveda is all about restoring our harmony with nature. In Ayurveda, we understand “nature” as both the macrocosm (the wider world we inhabit), and the microcosm (our internal world of thoughts, emotions and physical sensations). Ayurveda teaches us that we are eternally connected to one another and to our universe at large. Therefore, in understanding our innermost nature, we can gain a deeper understanding of the nature of the world around us.
The ancient rishis (or sages) from India spent entire lifetimes living in remote woods to learn directly from Mother Nature some of her most jealously guarded secrets. From the depth of their meditations, they discovered that there are three gunas, or qualities, that pervade the entire universe.
Tamas guna can be best characterized by the triple Ds (that we DON’T want!): darkness, depression and denial. Tamas is like a thick covering that veils the world around us with a dark, heavy cloak of negativity. Tamas is essentially inertia. It governs the realm of the unconscious mind and is responsible for addictions and many criminal activities.
Rajas guna is connected with action, passion and motion. We need this guna to counteract the force of tamas. Rajas, however, out of balance, can cause anger, violence, anxiety and ultimately exhaustion, which naturally leads into tamas.
Sattva guna is the quality we are all, consciously or unconsciously, seeking. Sattva guna is associated with clarity, purity, peace, balance, harmony, health, happiness and universal love. Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta (a profound system of spiritual philosophy) explain that the nature of the soul encased within each being is sattva. The true nature of even the darkest criminal is sattva.
One of the best ways I’ve learned to counteract depression, connect with nature and increase sattva guna in my own life is by waking up early. Rising during what is called as brahmamuhurta (between 4-6am) helps destroy the twin demons of rajas and tamas. This is because brahmamuhurta has been known by Yogis since time immemorial to be a spiritually elevated and charged time when sattva guna is dominant in the universe.
Ayurveda and its sister science Yoga teach us how deeply are lives are interconnected with the sun’s cycles. We are all solar powered creatures, and thus, we learn from Ayurveda the importance of sleeping early (ideally by 10pm) so that we can rise early to greet the sun. The sun (called “Surya” in Sanskrit: the ancient Indian language of Yoga and Ayurveda) is a symbol of the strength, light and power of one’s own soul. Every morning since ancient times, Yogis have performed various rituals honoring the external sun, as it reflects the eternal, which is really internal – the soul within is what we seek to connect with in this life.
In the Indian spiritual tradition, we believe that the purpose of our human birth is to realize who we really are – which is this eternal soul, as reflected by the light of the sun. Waking up before the sun, to prepare to greet the external manifestation of our eternal, internal soul, is a wonderful way to connect with the light within ourselves. Connecting with our own light enables us to start to see and connect with the light within others – and thus the beginning of heaven on earth! We begin to see that no one is our enemy any longer – only a reflection of our true selves. A paradigm shift begins to occur, over time.
For those who may be feeling inspired to start waking up early, but are intimidated by the idea of rising between 4-6am (I was!), I would recommend transitioning in stages. Sudden, dramatic change is generally unsustainable – so start slowly. Try going to sleep 15-30 minutes earlier tonight, so you can wake up 15-30 minutes earlier, and keep steadily working your way back.
I receive so many blessings and continue to feel a deeper part of myself awakening from rising early each day that I can’t ever even imagine going back to my night owl life. I thus would love to invite you to join me in this exciting journey of awakening from waking up early.
Wishing you all abiding health, harmony and happiness.
Learn more about Ayurveda in my book, The Ayurveda Way: 108 Practices from the World’s Oldest Healing System for Better Sleep, Less Stress, Optimal Digestion, and More.