What does it mean to be a "yogi?" I've sat with this question for many years. Is it someone who can do a handstand? Is a yogi anyone who practices asana? Or is the title reserved only for those who've renounced worldly life and have dedicated their entire existence to meditation? And is it un-yogi-like for me to even ask these questions?
Alas, I've decided that being a yogi means to strive for a higher level of consciousness in all aspects of life. It might, in part, take place on a yoga mat, but being a yogi is really a way of life that encompasses day-to-day living. It's a filter through which we approach everything that we do; recognizing and honoring that we are divine beings, as are all beings around us.
Being a yogi does not start the moment we unroll our mat, as I think many of us incorrectly believe. It starts the moment we wake up. With every waking moment, we have a choice to embody a more conscious lifestyle. This is how we become more yogi-like. There is no better time than the quiet of morning to embrace our inner yogi-ness, when the atmosphere lends itself to a more sattvic mind.
Redirecting First Thoughts
Even before we open our eyes in the morning, we can attune ourselves to conscious living by carefully choosing our first thought of the day. We can either think, “Oh no, I have so much work to do today,” or something more positive like, “Today will be a beautiful day.” Our very first thought sets the tone for our whole morning and even our whole day. We’ll either roll out of bed with dread or float out with open arms, ready for whatever the day brings. Conscious living is very much about the attitude we adopt.
“Today I will learn.”
“Today I will grow.”
“I love myself and I love everyone.”
“Thank you for another day of life.”
Connecting With the Earth
After setting the day’s tone with a positive thought, we have a couple of options. We can either grab our phones and check our texts and emails, as I know many of us do, or we can consciously remind ourselves of our connection to Mother Earth. While the former starts our day with stress and anxiety, the latter attunes us to conscious thought. Mother Earth is the universal Consciousness in physical form and very much worthy of our conscious attention. She provides us with everything we need to live and thrive.
I like to connect with Mother Earth by rooting my feet to the ground for a few seconds just as I'm getting out of bed each morning. The bedroom floor isn’t the same as being barefoot in nature, but the action of grounding the soles of the feet to the earth is a similar symbolic gesture. (Learn more about Getting Grounded: What it Means and How to Get It.)
Performing Dinacharya Self-Care
Caring for the body is a high form of consciousness. The body is a temple for the soul; a vessel through which we can transcend the physical to attain higher levels of consciousness. Treating the body with love and attention is a means of honoring the soul. And much like choosing a positive first thought of the day, morning self-care sets the tone for how we feel on a daily basis.
Yoga lays out the morning movement and breathing practices that make us feel awake and limber after a full night’s sleep, while Ayurveda lays out the practices that cleanse us on a more literal level. Much of this daily routine, or dinacharya, takes place first thing in the morning. Dinacharya practices clear out the waste that has accumulated from the previous day. These include the three main wastes, which are feces, urine and sweat; and secondary wastes, which accumulate in the sense organs.
Here is a sample dinacharya self-care schedule.
After getting up in the morning, tend to the natural urges to eliminate, next comes brushing the teeth and tongue scraping. A tongue scraper is a stainless steel "V"-shaped tool made especially for this purpose. Hold both ends and place the "V" at the back of the tongue. Scrape from back to front five to 10 times, which takes only a few seconds.
Tongue scraping removes accumulated toxins from yesterday’s digestive activity, which can be seen on the tongue as a thin white coating. You'll be surprised by the scum that gets scraped away! Tongue scraping removes these wastes, stimulates digestion and freshens breath. It can feel a little weird at first, but I promise that once you start tongue scraping regularly, it will feel just as imperative to your oral hygiene routine as brushing your teeth.
After tongue scraping comes oil pulling, known in Ayurveda as kavala or gandusha. This is the practice of swishing a teaspoon or so of sesame oil around the mouth for a couple of minutes. You'll know when it's time to spit it out; it will start to feel gross and foamy. This practice lubricates the gums and strengthens the jaw and teeth.
The most rejuvenating practice of dinacharya is abhyanga, or self-massage. There is no practice that better promotes self-love. Using warm sesame or coconut oil, give yourself a loving self-massage starting from the head and working down to the toes. Use gentle, rhythmic long strokes on the long bones, like the arms and legs. Use circular strokes on the joints and clockwise circles over the belly. Allow the oil to soak in for 10 to 20 minutes and then wash it off in the shower; or if you're short on time, you can shower right away.
This practice nourishes the skin, calms the nervous system, boosts immunity, lubricates the joints, flushes out waste products and improves circulation. It is incredibly nourishing and grounding, and I highly recommend everyone do this at least once a week.
Warm Cup of Water
After bathing, have a cup of warm or hot water. Water is the first thing that should enter the digestive tract in the morning as it helps to flush out toxins and stoke the digestive fire. (Try this recipe for a Lemon Ginger Morning Detox.)
Adding in Meditation
It goes without saying that yoga and meditation are part of a conscious living morning routine. And early morning is truly the best time to practice—this is when the atmosphere and nature are calm, quiet and peaceful; ideal for spiritual practices. The rishis called this time of day brahma muhurta, meaning "the time of God consciousness." It lends itself to a peaceful mind and it's incredibly uplifting to be awake each morning as the sun rises.
Early rising for spiritual practices is a habit that I find ultra healing on a physical, mental and spiritual level, and the one that I'd most recommend to anyone striving for a more conscious lifestyle.