How do you start your day? How does that affect the quality of your life and interactions? In my early adolescence, my mornings began with a horribly glaring alarm, on which my roommate would hit snooze several times. Groggy, I would scramble to eat, shower and get ready for a busy day at school. Mornings felt like anxiety and rush, as if I was already behind. Gradually in my adult years, I developed a morning routine in which I woke up before the alarm to move my body, enjoy sunshine and fresh air, eat a healthy breakfast made with love and set out for a fulfilling day, already having treated myself to doing a few things I loved. This positive feeling inspired presence and productivity at work. How you start your day routinely can impact your wellbeing and happiness in the long run.
If we are creatures of habit, and habits are building blocks of character, how can we be purposeful with what we choose to do repeatedly to live a life we enjoy, sharing our best selves with the world? How do your actions first thing in the morning reinforce your values, such as physical vitality, mental clarity and spiritual connection? In yoga, the Sanskrit word sadhana refers to daily spiritual practices to maintain mental and spiritual “hygiene,” much like brushing your teeth is to dental health. I believe having a daily ritual of aligning your inner and outer being empowers you to live consciously, rather than on autopilot, and aligned to what’s meaningful to you. Also, when unexpected life challenges occur, such as a worldwide pandemic, your strengthened willpower and sense of health through daily ritual enhance your ability to feel grounded and resilient. Moreover, your devotion to integrity through regular discipline permeates daily interactions and shares a centered presence with those around you.
Here are things to consider when designing your morning ritual:
1. Personally meaningful– Choose meaningful actions that inspire you or reinforce something you value, so as not to simply become another laborious task on your To-Do list or a routine performed mindlessly. That’s why I chose the word ritual, implying that it is sacred to you.
2. Positively impactful- Through consistent practice, evaluate how the experience of your daily ritual affects you immediately after, throughout your day, during your week and long-term, and determine if it needs to be tailored. But first, commit to practicing it regularly for at least seven days, so that you are not just fluctuating between different practices and can notice a true pattern in your experience, like if it’s enhancing a character trait about you that you want to strengthen. Do you feel spiritually uplifted?
3. Make it doable.– Choose a realistic time of day, duration and location with which you can practice regularly and with full presence. I find that first thing in the morning is optimal, when my mind is more of an open slate and my body could use a balancing rejuvenation. Making it a consistent priority may entail waking up a few minutes earlier than before and sleeping earlier the night before.
So what are examples of activities to include in your morning ritual?
These will depend on your interests, goals, values, health needs and spiritual practices. Let me take you through my morning ritual to demonstrate its reasoning and logistics to spur ideas in constructing yours. Being a student and teacher of yoga for many years, my morning ritual largely comprises of yoga and includes Ayurveda, the ancient Indian healing science that complements yoga. The following is my current morning ritual, as it has evolved through the years, with time allotments, identified purpose and origin of each action to demonstrate how they were acquired:
12 minutes – Ayurvedic practices, including tongue scraping, face washing with eyes open and oil pulling for oral health, followed by connecting nonverbally with loved ones at home and making the bed
3 minutes – Yogic techniques to promote digestion--Uddiyana Bandha (abdominal energy lock) and nauli (stomach churning)—followed by drinking a tall glass of warmed water with fresh lemon juice and dash of Himalayan salt
5 minutes – Soul movement, that’s moving my body intuitively to a randomly selected song, and a simple Tai chi sequence that welcomes energy flow with gratitude while admiring nature outside the bedroom window
3 minutes – Journal how I feel and how I’d like to feel today
1 minute – Bhastrika pranayama, or bellows breath, to energize the lungs and clear the mind.
20 minutes – Sit in silent meditation.
2 minutes -- Nadi shodhana pranayama, or alternate nostril breath, to balance left and right hemispheres of the brain and relax the nervous system
5 minutes – Focus Wheel writing to cultivate positive creative energy
1 minute – “Ego eradicator” kriya, which includes breath of fire in navasana, or boat pose
25 minutes – Set sequence of core-strengthening movements and yoga asanas, or postures, to activate navel (for willpower strength) and heart (for compassion and authentic connection) energy centers and promote digestion and clear perspective: bridge pose, upward-facing bow, forearm plank with leg lifts, bow pose, downward dog, jump through to seated spinal twists, seated forward fold, headstand and standing forward folds
Having shared the details of my personal morning ritual and qualities to consider when evaluating or developing yours, I hope you feel ready to start your days with intention and inspired action. Whether you set aside five minutes or over an hour, the bottom line is how does your chosen consistent habit affect your wellbeing? How do the conditions, such as time and logistics, allow you to wholeheartedly practice it?
If all beings shared their presence in the world purposefully aligned to their deep sense of self and overall health, I genuinely believe peace and joy would be a potent norm. Let’s continue to nourish ourselves daily, especially spiritually, to optimize the goodness we have to offer our lives and our world. Rooted in conscious ritual, let’s rise together vibrantly.
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