In our “Habits of Yogis” series, we’re looking at the daily routines and rituals that connect us with the natural cycles of nature. The Ayurvedic term for daily habits is dinacharya, and these are guidelines for living a long and vibrant life.
One of the foundational habits of dinacharya is to eat an earlier, lighter dinner. If you want to sleep deeply tonight, have abundant energy tomorrow, and keep your body feeling light and lithe, finish your eating early in the evening. This allows time to digest your food completely before bedtime so your system - your physical and energetic bodies - can do the work of resting and restoring overnight.
Living on Mother Nature’s Schedule
Humans are diurnal creatures. That means we are physiologically built to be active in the daytime and sleep at night. A basic understanding of the Ayurvedic “body clock” will help us understand why eating early and light in the evening is aligned with nature and supports our vibrancy through the days and the years.
Ayurveda expert John Douillard summarizes the body clock into two, 12-hour cycles, each with three segments within them:
Based on this knowledge of the body clock we understand that digestion is strongest in the daytime. The capacity to digest, absorb, and assimilate nutrients is called agni - the digestive fire. When we take in our food when agni is strong, the body is more able to turn food into energy and body tissue.
Ayurveda’s body clock explains why eating a large, nutrient dense meal at midday makes sense for the function of your body. It also makes it possible for the evening meal to be light and supplemental - enough to get you through until breakfast without being too hungry. This is not just ancient, esoteric theory! In my midwestern upbringing, the routine of a large “dinner” at noon and a light “supper” in the evening made sense for farmers who needed their energy during the working, daylight hours.
Earlier, Lighter Dinner Basics
Working Against the Clock
Our bodies are remarkable machines that can continue to function even when we live against the body’s clock. We fuel up on food and caffeine, catch the second wind, and keep producing long into the night. We can do this occasionally - and sometimes we have to - but over time, this rhythm is not sustainable. We draw too much out of our energy bank account and end up deeply depleted, sick, and tired.
Over time, working against the clock - waging a war on time - will result in added weight, a dull complexion, a lack of joy and other symptoms that we usually call the inevitable effects of aging like stiff and painful joints and muscles, memory decline, and degeneration of vision and hearing. Working with the clock by changing our relationship with food, sleep, and activity levels will mitigate many of the effects of time and keep a long list of “lifestyle diseases” at bay.
So, What’s for Dinner?
The best way to align with your body clock and eat an earlier, lighter dinner is to start small and keep it simple. Slowly adjust your mealtime until you are done by 6pm. Don’t snack between meals so you will be hungry when it’s time to eat. Make a weekly meal plan so you always know what’s for dinner. Keep your evening meals simple so they don’t take much time to prepare and they are easy to digest.
Need some menu ideas for an earlier, lighter dinner?
What will be your simple step toward living in sync with nature and eating an early, light dinner?
Kirstin is Santosha’s writer-in-residence. She is an artist, a student of yoga, Ayurveda, and massage therapy, and she is a Yoga Health Coach. Kirstin practices and teaches the habits of yogis - dinacharya. This is the Ayurvedic practice of daily habits that are essential for leading a vibrant, healthy, creative life. Find out about her upcoming courses and collaborations at kirstinpinit.com.