Lessons learned about daily rhythm from living in the Andes

Published by Annie Barrett: 
July 24, 2019

Saludos from Pisac, Peru!

If you have been following me, you have probably noticed that I write and teach about daily rhythm and healthy habits through Ayurveda. Over the past several years, I have been on a personal mission to up-level my own and my family’s daily rhythm. As many of you know, my family spends time each year in a rural area in the Peruvian Andes.  Here people’s lives continue to be interwoven with their majestic landscape and the agrarian calendar. In many ways, it has been here in the Andes where I have learned the most about rhythm and have been most successful at aligning my body and life to the rhythms of nature, which is at the heart of the practices and teachings of Ayurveda. Of course, Ayurveda comes from India, but anyone who has traveled to a region of the world where traditional cultures are still intact will find that traditional cultures naturally sync up with nature. That is how we evolved. Humans evolved with and within the cycles and rhythms of nature.

In this blog post, I want to share the key lessons I’ve learned about daily rhythm from the people of the Andes:

  • Rise with the sun.  Here in the Andes, people rise with the sun. Peru is close to the equator, so 6 AM, is the time when the sun comes up throughout the year. Most families in my area still farm or have strong connections to their ancestral plots of land, and thus morning for many means outdoor chores. From my house at 6 AM, I can already see people walking out to their fields and tending to their animals. Around 6 AM, the church bells ring and whoever is still asleep wakes up! When I am here in Peru, I naturally rise with the sun and get going on my day. Not only does getting up early make me feel energized for the day, it also ensures that I’ll get a good night sleep. Our bodies have built in 24 hour clocks. When you align to the solar rhythm, you improve your sleep cycle, your digestion, immune system, blood pressure, appetite, mental energy and more.
  • Walk everywhere. This is one of the things I enjoy most about being in Peru. No car for me! Most Peruvians can’t afford cars, and in rural communities, many places can only be accessed by foot anyway. In the U.S., we are finally getting back to our evolutionary roots as upright walkers, but many of us in the U.S. need fitness tracking devices to help us remember to get in enough steps in the day. Not so in the Andes. You won’t find many gyms here either. But, people in rural areas have naturally active lifestyles. People do outdoor chores throughout the day. Kids walk to school. Adults walk to work. People walk to do their shopping and socializing. If you have to go to the city or go somewhere far away, you take a bus or taxi. Walking is part of life, thus exercise is built into daily living.
  • Eat the largest meal in the middle of the day. All over Latin America, lunch is the main meal of the day. There is so much wisdom to this! Ayurveda has always recommended that lunch be the main meal of the day and Western science confirms this as well.  The middle of the day is the time when the body has the most digestive fire (pitta), in the form of bile. Eating a larger lunch and a smaller dinner gives your body energy when you most need it and aids digestion, sleep and prevents health issues.
  • Join together with others for meals. Andean people continue to be strongly oriented to family and community. In the West, many of us have forgotten this! Meals are a natural time for connection with family, friends and colleagues. In the Andes, most people young and old, go home to enjoy a satisfying lunch. If they are unable to return home for lunch, they gather to eat with their co-workers. No one calls eating a yogurt and energy bar in front of the computer lunch! Eating with others builds community.  Sitting down to eat build relaxation into the day. Relaxation makes for better digestion.
  • Eat a primarily local, plant-based, whole-foods diet. Andeans aren’t vegetarian and many of you reading this aren’t either. But, Andean people eat primarily a plant based, whole foods diet. That is, they eat mostly plants and small amounts of animal protein. More and more research confirms that a plant based diet is key for optimal health and prevention of many of the key diseases that plague the modern world.  It is a pleasure and a delight to the senses to shop in the open air markets for fresh whole foods. Each week, I delight in procuring native grains and legumes such as corn, quinoa, and kiwicha (amaranth), tarwi (lupine bean), fava beans and lima beans.  There are literally thousands of varieties of local potatoes, sweet potatoes and other root crops such as oca, mashua, and olluco. There is an abundance of fruits from the highlands to the Amazon basin including native elderberry, golden berry, passion fruits, mangos, bananas, mandarins, pomegranites, avocadoes, limes, star fruits, and cherimoya.  In the vegetable world, there are many native varieties of aji (chiles), peppers, and squash, as well as many of the veggies we know and love like lettuce, chard, celery, carrots, cucumbers, and onions. And if you enjoy small amounts of meat or dairy, you can try delicious Andean cheese or sample the Andean delicacy of cuy: guinea pig!  For the most part, meat is served in small quantities or for special occasions.
  • Wind down with the sun. People return home around sunset and gather for a smaller meal and wind down. In the town, there are street lights, but in many rural areas, there is little or no electricity. Aside from fiesta days, the town of Pisac pretty much shuts down around 8 PM and folks go to sleep early. If you rise with the sun and you spend time outside, your body natural produces the correct amount and ratio of daytime hormones like cortisol and night time hormones like melatonin that ensure a good sleep cycle. If you go to sleep within a few hours of sunset, you radically improve your sleep quantity and quality.

Practicing these healthy habits is easy in the Andes because the people around me have this as their lifestyle. In the U.S., it can be harder because many of these natural habits go against the dominant cultural norm. Nonetheless, I’ve found that keeping to these rhythms ensures vibrant health.

Interested in learning more?
If you are interested in support to align your body and lifestyle with the rhythms of nature, and if you are interested in better understanding how you can create a daily routine to support your health, please contact me. As a Yoga Health Coach, I am a holistic wellness provider, trained and practiced in the daily habits and health principles of yoga and Ayurveda. I help people up-level their habits for vibrant living.