Why Typical Morning Mindfulness Rituals Blog Posts Are Annoying
I always have found, and continue to find, blog posts about “morning rituals” super irksome—we always have some freshly showered girl with damp hair in her mid-to-late 20s wrapped in a fluffy white terry bathrobe, wet hair piled atop of her head in a towel turban, sipping an emerald green steamy matcha latte gazing at some unseen, relaxing, inspiring bucolic view just on the other side of the panes of her spectacular window seat. Groan. Who starts their day like that? Come on! My critical eye makes note of the seeming absence of her seven Craigslist-rando roommates who split the rent for this fantasy space. Also absent from view are the groggy children who need to get to school on time and don’t want to go. We also don’t see her spouse / partner in the next room. Is everyone excited to go to work? Are they happy, are they healthy? Why does her clock say 10am? Shouldn’t she have headed out the door hours ago? In other words, nothing about this snapshot seems like real life. The girl in the window seat is an unrealistic, unattainable image we find on Pinterest, so if you were worrying about it, you can stop worrying, because that’s not what I’m talking about here in this blog post.
What I’m Offering Here Instead
I’m talking about a list of simple, straightforward mindfulness habits you could try in the morning to set the tone for the rest of your day. I’ve never had a morning ritual in my entire life until only very recently over the past few months. For all of my entire life I ran on empty from lack of sleep, running on adrenaline from commitment to commitment, and a morning ritual was completely out of the question. When faced with the option of 10 more minutes of sorely-needed sleep or journaling with a cup of steaming tea, I always chose the former, and not so much because I thought it through carefully, but merely because getting my eyes to simply open was such an effort. Journaling or sitting upright in bed to count my breaths or write in a journal would have only led to drifting off to sleep for 10 more minutes anyway.
Where I Find Myself Right Now on the Morning Mindfulness Spectrum
More recently I’m grateful to have made some lifestyle changes—specifically, becoming self-employed—to allow myself a more mindful morning, something my soul has always yearned for. But let’s be real. As I type this post for you, I’m not showered yet, and I’m wearing my favorite sweatpants from college and an off-brand hoodie. I don’t want you thinking that I’m sitting on my meditation cushion over here catching glimpses of nirvana, because I’m actually commuting between yoga classes, shopping for catering events, and typing blog posts for you every now and then because I love it. I’m not sitting over here in my apartment observing in my mind’s eye the intricate pathways of the universe, I promise I’m not, but I am a firm believer in the phenomenon that takes place when many tiny actions are repeated over and over and over— eventually tiny turns into something significant. In other words, I don’t think you have to do something as drastic as quitting your job to have a daily mindfulness practice. This is something you can build gradually. Piece by piece. Personally I needed an overhaul of my entire lifestyle and approach to my life’s energy reserves, so this is where I find myself right now.
The Real-Life Results, Plus What I Wish I Had Known Earlier
Since quitting my previous job, I can attest to the power of a more orderly start to the day (not every day, but more often than before). For me, my digestive tract is my go-to barometer for my physical and mental well-being. I can always tell when I’m too stressed when nausea and bloating set in. It doesn’t take an Ayurvedic expert to tell me that these symptoms indicate I have too much on my plate (nausea-inability to digest) and too much worry (my body literally expands to attempt to accommodate all the extra baggage I’m asking it to carry). In other words, my stomach has felt settled over the past six months. Moreover, I’ve experienced gastrointestinal distress since my preteen years, so this wasn’t something caused by having day jobs as an adult. My mother took me to see every specialist for every test, and we never came up with anything. No actual disease in the physical body perhaps, but I wonder what we would have found in my energy body. Worth mentioning is that I didn’t have a morning mindfulness practice then either, but I did have a ton of stress! I wonder what my entire life might have looked like if I had taken even just one deep breath in the morning while drinking my tea (the main issue being that I couldn’t take a deep breath, because I was drinking my tea in one hand, other hand white-knuckling the steering wheel in Bay Area morning traffic). OK, OK! I know I’m not the only one who ever had a commute, or a stressful existence, or obligations, it’s everybody. So I’m also thinking that learning about these simple practices earlier in life, like college, or even during my school days, would have served me better, had I had an earlier introduction to mindfulness and how that ties in to overall wellness.
Why Should We Care About a Mindful Morning?
For me there is huge symbolism in taking ownership over the first part of your day. It can feel very empowering to say, no, I’m not going to gallop around the house this morning, sweating and clenching my jaw just moments after standing up from out of bed. It’s a statement that gives us ownership over what happens to us, and then we are less likely to allow ourselves to be tossed about to and fro during the rest of the day. We feel more empowered to say yes and no to how we use our own time and how we allow others to use our time. Moreover, a mindfulness practice poises us to be of better service to others. That idea of filling your own cup before you can serve others, well, it’s a widespread idea, because it works.
Morning Mindfulness Strategies
Here are my tried and true ways to set the tone for an empowered, balanced, and productive day full of contentment for yourself and service to others. If I get to do the entire list, it’s a dream! Most days it’s more of a “pick and choose” from this list.
1. Make your bed
Really, start here. I promise this is the most important one. OK, enough on that.
2. Enjoy your favorite beverage
For me it’s Earl Grey or English Breakfast. For my husband it’s super strong, dark, black coffee. For others it’s hot water with lemon. In the summer when I don’t drink warm morning beverages, it’s Pink Dragonfruit Smoothie, pictured at the top of this post. When I feel a cold coming on, it’s my Turmeric Almond Mylk Latte, recipe pictured below. It’s not so much the beverage itself, it’s how you enjoy it. If you drink it carelessly, it’s kind of as if it never happened. Sit, don’t stand. Look out the window (like that annoying girl) or close your eyes and enjoy the aromas.
I stir the above ingredients with a small wire whisk.
3. Journal time
I begin to journal while I’m still finishing my tea. I love having pen in one hand, and then pausing to reach for my tea with the other. I find that I often wake up with some residues in my mind, either from my dreams or conversations from the day before. I write these down on the page to “get them out of the way.” Below are three journal prompts to begin a regular journaling practice to get you started. Then I’m ready to meditate, if time permits.
- Today I am grateful for… (You MUST write down at least three things, especially on the days you are feeling most grouchy and most ungrateful.) Ungrateful kids / spouse / partner? I’m envisioning some kind of laminated chart you keep on your fridge. And you know those sets of word-magnets they sell? Have your kids make clusters on the chart of things they’re grateful for before heading off to school. Remember it goes both ways. Include a column on your fridge chart for the things your family members do that you’re grateful for.
- I am… (Insert a single NOUN. It’s an essence you would like to cultivate in your life. I am Peace. I am Wisdom. I am Equanimity.) Our words are so powerful. They’re even more powerful when given life and form via your handwriting. Repeat these affirmations. Watch what happens!
- Make a list of things you do everyday that you love. Make a list of things you do everyday that you don’t love. Repeat this listing once a week for a long time…and notice how the length of the “love” column gets longer, while the “don’t love” column gets shorter. You’ll see! Yeah, I guffawed at first, too.
4. Meditation / asana
Traditionally, asana prepares the body for meditation, so it would come first, but my morning practice is a bit of a blurry mixture between the two. It depends on my energy level, and how my body and mind are feeling. Not sure how to get started with a basic meditation and asana practice? Come work with me in a public studio class or private setting. I also enjoy chanting. The vibration in the chest is very soothing and invigorating at the same time. I’m also a fan of japa meditation (with your mala or rosary beads). After working with a client for some time, I enjoy getting into some of these nuanced practices together.
The first Sanskrit chant I ever learned years ago in yoga class at Yoga Tree:
lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu
5. Leave it open ended
What do you want to do? Many turn to inspirational reading as a form of mindfulness. This is generally not your typical novel you read for your book club. It can be a sacred text or poetry. Something that raises your soul’s vibration in connection with the divine. A quiet bubble bath you schedule once every month? Mindful coloring—that’s another good one!
The bottom line is this—looking at your phone cannot be the first thing we do every day. Checking email cannot be the first thing we do each day. Scrolling Insta cannot be the first action our hands and eyes perform (this one is the worst). I can make these recommendations, because I did all of these for years, and I was very sad. So sad, that I didn’t even care about having a morning mindfulness ritual, but tiny shifts lead to big changes over time. There’s something about drinking a cup of tea and gazing out the window (like that girl in her fluffy bathrobe), or closing your eyes and breathing for a moment, or writing your dreams in a journal, that can make you feel less sad…repeated over and over again over time, it leads to contentment, a sense of balance, and even hope and direction. I’m not promising that journaling one time will make you feel better. Like all good things in life, it doesn’t work like that, because it takes time and repetition, so that your good habits can take root. Just like we learn from the Yoga Sutras, practice becomes firmly established when attended to with enthusiasm, over and over again, over a long period of time. See, they talked about how to build healthy habits way back when!
So what do you think? Would it be doable to choose one approach to morning mindfulness given your current obligations early in the day, or does it feel impossible right now? If the morning is too hectic, would one of these habits be something you could try after your kids go to sleep at night? Or maybe schedule some me-time in the evening instead of Netflix time? Do you have a favorite piece of literature- spiritual or non-spiritual, that is uplifting that you can share with everyone in the comments below? What else would you add to this list? I’m sending you some vibes in the hopes for some relaxing mornings in the New Year!