Clearer skin, calmer mind—my mornings will never be the same.
If someone were to tell me a year ago that I would be waking up at 5:00 AM to meditate in 2020, I would have laughed in their face. I am a night owl by nature; I’m most productive and creative at night and have detested waking up early in the morning ever since I was a kid.
A year ago, mornings meant snoozing my alarm clock for about an hour straight only to be roused awake by a twenty-ounce cup of coffee paired with an early morning iPhone scroll. With coffee and phone in hand, I’d trudge to the restroom to shower and complete my skin-care and makeup routines. Then I’d get dressed and rush out the door to make it in time for my 9;00 AM class. I made no time for myself to do things other than looking presentable for the day. And I’m not alone; growing up in New York City, I’ve been surrounded for my entire life by anxious people cramming before their exams, eating their breakfasts to-go, or even doing their makeup on the subway.
As quarantine descended on the city, the accompanying hustle and bustle stopped. At first it was quite eerie; how could the city that never sleeps be so silent? I felt as if I was in an old Western watching tumbleweeds roll in front of me, only I was in Brooklyn watching the occasional set of bicycle wheels make their way down the road. With this extra time and stillness, however, I was finally able to listen to the thoughts running through my head and the pains in my gut—I was running on anxiety, IBS, and constant fatigue. After researching several holistic approaches to healing, I landed in the world of Ayurveda.
Yes, Ayurveda is a seemingly new *trend* in our Western world, but the oral traditions were recorded in sacred Indian texts, the Vedas, back in 3000 BCE, making the practice more than 5,000 years old. Within this ancient tradition is something more robust than I have ever seen: the Ayurvedic morning routine. This ritual calls for many slow practices, some including dry brushing, oil pulling, and waking up before sunrise. Being someone who would rather roll out of bed at 11:00 AM, I considered that last part long and hard before deciding to dive straight into this new lifestyle.
Of course, rather than starting a solely research-based (by that I mean Google) routine, I decided to consult with professionals about the proper ways to practice Ayurveda. Martha Soffer, Ayurvedic doctor and founder of Surya Spa in Los Angeles, and Karen Ruimy, founder and CEO of Kalmar, provided me with helpful tips on how to maximize my slow morning.
The Ayurvedic morning routine has helped me to finally clear my skin, decrease bloating and inflammation in my body, and most important, to learn to make time to love and care for myself. Here is how I incorporate these slow practices into my busy life in a time-efficient way.
Wake Up with the Sun; No, Earlier Than That
The key to a proper Ayurvedic morning is to wake up before the sunrise. I typically wake up at 5:00 AM while the house is still quiet and make sure to leave my phone as far away from me as possible. Ruimy explains that early morning is an ideal time to wake up because “at this time, the Earth has a calm energy” that is far different from the energy that surrounds us at a time like 10:00 AM. This is a time of solitary introspection, and street noise, bright lights, and blue light plus an inbox full of emails can’t distract me from being with myself.
Scrape the Night Away
Before doing anything else, I scrape my tongue with a copper scraper. This is extremely important to do first thing because the tongue is pretty raunchy in the morning—just think of all the bacteria fermenting in your mouth during the night. Soffer explains that tongue scraping also helps to clear the entire digestive system because it prevents toxins that may have traveled up the digestive tract and onto the tongue from re-entering the body. I start by placing the scraper as far in my mouth as I can and then scrape all the way down to the tip of my tongue ten times.
Oil Pulling—It’s For Your Health
After a good scraping, I oil pull. Oil pulling is the tradition of swishing oil in the mouth to rid the mouth of bacteria and promote gum health. In her iconic video interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Gwyneth Paltrow explains that she does things like opening her curtains while swishing coconut oil in her mouth. After learning that oil pulling takes about 15–20 minutes to do effectively, I realized that I either might need more curtains in my home or more things to do during this time. Other than opening the shades, I like to prepare my French press, make my bed, and feed my two hungry cats. Once I finish, I spit the oil out and massage my gums for about a minute or two. As per Soffer’s recommendation, I then gargle with warm salt water and brush my teeth.
The Copper Cup: To Drink or Not to Drink?
Copper is a renowned metal in Ayurveda. In traditional Ayurvedic practices, it is best to drink room-temperature water out of a copper cup first thing in the morning as it flushes toxins out of the liver and reduces inflammation in the body. Soffer reminded me, however, that this is an ancient tradition when nobody had copper pipes in their homes. Soffer states, “Since a lot of the water pipes are made out of copper, you already have copper inside the water. Small amounts of copper are great, but too much copper can lead to Wilson’s disease, which causes the blood to become very thick.” If there is no copper in my filtered water, I enjoy a warm glass of water out of my copper cup. But if I am drinking tap water, then I simply use a glass.
Why warm water as opposed to, let’s say, an ice-cold mason jar with lemon and mint floating around in it? Ruimy explains, “When you wake up, the body begins to reset itself after a long night of bringing the toxins out and keeping the good things in. When you start with warm water, you ignite the mechanisms of digestion and activate circulation. Warm water is important because it is suitable to the temperature of your body.” She then explains that starting the day off with cold water shocks the body, which can halt its cleansing ritual as it expends energy to warm cold water up to our internal body temperature.
Supplying My Body with the Help It Needs
Water isn’t the only thing that kick-starts my morning routine. Supplements are vital in Ayurveda as they help regulate bodily functions and prepare the body with the proper minerals and nutrients for a productive day of work. My supplement cocktail consists of adaptogens, multi-vitamins, and probiotics that promote balance within my system.
Dry Brushing for the Skin…and Bodily Functions
As a skin-care aficionado, I always become a bit giddy when I whip out my dry brush. Dry brushing in the morning exfoliates the skin and reduces the appearance of cellulite, revealing a glowing epidermis that had, before brushing, been hiding underneath dead skin cells. However, dry brushing has more benefits than just a dewy bounce to the skin—this technique improves circulation within the body and starts the process of draining stagnant lymphatic fluids.
Abhyanga is the Ayurvedic ritual of a pre-shower body oil massage. It may seem counterintuitive to rub oils on your body before showering, but there is a plausible reason as to why you should slather on moisturizing products before cleansing. Rubbing oil into the skin before a shower helps to remove excess sebum and grime (the same way oil cleansing does for the skin on the face).
Additionally, the steam of the shower helps to open your pores, allowing oil to penetrate deeper into the skin for a more intense moisturizing experience. Healthwise, there are some serious benefits to this practice. Soffer explains, “Pre-shower abhyanga is great for rejuvenating the body and ridding it of toxins. When toxins enter the skin, it goes through seven different tissues before reaching the body. The first tissue is known in Ayurveda as rasa, which is the lymph.” Through lymphatic massage, abhyanga is crucial for preventing toxins from entering the body deeper.
I like to start my oiling process at my toes and fingertips, paying extra attention to my joints. I use circular motions to rub my skin towards my heart for the ultimate lymphatic drainage at the beginning of the day. I’ll admit that this is a slow process; I devote about ten minutes to my full-body morning massage. I like to use this time to connect with my body and massage any muscles that may be sore from yesterday’s run or workout routine.
Meditation, Sound Baths, Breathing Exercises, and Journaling for the Soul
This entire ritual is meditative, but here is where my soul cleansing comes into play. As I allow the oils to seep into my skin, I like to sit in a quiet room and meditate. It’s like a two-in-one use of my time as I rid my mind of fleeting thoughts and moisturize my skin. I use the n.o.w. tone therapy system since it plays soothing tones for about three minutes—the perfect amount of time to deliver my mind into a state of tranquility. After that, I continue my meditation with pranayama nadi shodhana, or an alternate nostril-breathing technique. I meditate for about half an hour most days, and then follow with a daily stream-of-consciousness journaling session.
Wash, Supply, and Lymph Some More
Ah, the final step to my morning routine: the shower. I like to use water that is about the same temperature as my body, as exceedingly hot water can strip the skin of its necessary oils and do some damage to the scalp. Soffer recommends only washing delicate areas of the body with soap, as the pre-shower oil and hot water essentially gets you plenty clean, making further cleansing unnecessary. After that, I delve into my skin-care routine full of humectants, antioxidants, acids, and occlusives. Then I run a Kansa Wand, a traditional metal alloy tool used in Ayurveda, across my face for a few minutes to promote lymphatic drainage. I finish the entire routine off with another cup of warm water and SPF to prepare for the day that lies ahead.
[Editor’s Note: As ever, we are not doctors or medical know-it-alls. And everybody is different, so make sure to check with a doctor before trying anything new.]
Photo: Shot on site at 6 Columbus, a Sixty Hotel; On Jonelle: Pajamas, Morgan Lane; Rings, Catbird; Hair, Angela Soto; Makeup, Andriani; Carafe, Tom Dixon; Mirror, Tom Dixon; Clock, Turned Clock (available at the MoMA Store).
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