Rise and shine
Greeting the day with a structured ritual can reduce stress, build confidence
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/09/2021 (497 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
While many of us enjoy the occasional surprise or change of pace, we generally like to know how our day is going to unfold. We thrive on structure and predictability.
But what we used to take for granted has been upended by the pandemic and it can be challenging to try to reclaim some semblance of control. One way to keep our spirits up and help restore that sense of control is through rituals, especially those in the morning.
A morning ritual can be simple, from a 10-minute meditation session, to a series of morning tasks, such as brushing your teeth or washing your face, to brewing your morning coffee. When we wake up, we may be physically awake but our minds are still warming up. Studies have shown morning rituals promote higher energy levels and less stress throughout the day.
They help awaken our minds, help us get a fresh start and can be those slow moments when we have quiet time to ourselves.
“The morning aspect is key. It’s the beginning of the day and, to some extent, I think how you begin the day sets the tone for the day,” says Jay Sinha, author of Masala Morning Rituals: Nourishing Your Mind, Body and Soul. An expat Winnipegger who now lives in Quebec, Sinha describes himself as a “passionate curator of morning rituals.”
In his book, Sinha writes a morning ritual is “a set of mindful practices you begin the day with to help you live a better, happier, healthier, more balanced and more productive life.”
Rituals are often associated with a religion or particular events but they can also be constructed in a broader sense. Much like a daily practice, rituals provide a renewed sense of stability and can be a powerful way to help manage stress and emotions. And during the pandemic, these daily practices have provided many with a sense of comfort by creating structure out of chaos.
“Rituals provide structure. They’re clear and straightforward and, in a sense, secure. You know what it is, you can do it every day and you can completely control it,” Sinha says. “There’s so much going on that we can’t control. This is a way to instil some grounded solidity into your life in a way that you can control. Through that control, you can curate it in a way that works for you.”
Rituals are like a morning routine, Sinha says, acknowledging the term “routine” tends to sound more corporate.
“The use of the term ‘ritual’ is deliberate,” Sinha says. “Routine has a more practical tone but ritual brings in an element of sacredness. With anything that’s sacred, we tend to treat it with more respect.”
One of the concepts Sinha discusses is “ayurveda,” which is a traditional system of medicine that originated in India thousands of years ago. Ayurveda aims to preserve health and wellness through lifestyle practices, such as meditation, yoga and dietary changes, and by keeping the mind, body and spirit in balance.
In Hindu and Ayurvedic traditions, Sinha says the early hours of the morning — from about 3 a.m. to sunrise — are a powerful time known as “brahmamuhurta.”
“The morning is a really magical time. ‘Brahmamuhurta’ is considered a peak time of day for creative work, and for peace and calm,” he says. “That’s what started me on this journey. I found that the things I did as soon as I woke up would help find a calm state.”
Morning rituals build confidence and courage, Sinha writes, two of fear’s worst enemies. They also build resilience to help us move forward. Rituals develop wellness in yourself in a way that goes beyond physical, mental or emotional, he says.
Masala Morning Rituals: Nourishing Your Mind, Body and Soul lays out 21 rituals (and numerous sub-rituals) that cover a wide spectrum — from physical activity to ways to engage and nurture your mind. People can choose from any of them when creating their own morning practice.
“The masala, in Indian terms, is a mixture of spices. The book is intended to be like that — a mixture of morning ritual spices,” he says. “There’s no one ritual that works for everybody in the optimal way. It’s about focusing on you and what you need, trying things out and finding what works.”
Sinha shares his own morning rituals — including meditation, gentle movement and practicing gratitude — as well as the rituals of people he’s interviewed with the message that anyone can create their own morning ritual story. He also includes tools to enhance your well-being through various morning routines. These are simple reminders that help keep us grounded and connected.
Gratitude, in particular, can have a powerful impact on our health and well-being, and it all begins in the brain. When we express gratitude, our brain releases serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions. These chemical messengers make us feel “good” and enhance our mood immediately.
“We often lead stressful lives and with so much going on, especially these days, we may wake up in a state of fear, stress or anxiety,” Sinha says. “But if you’re feeling and expressing gratitude, you can’t be feeling those (other) things at the same time.”
The mindful aspect that goes with rituals is very important — to do any ritual, you want to be present.
“When you’re present and in the ‘now,’ you’re not in the past, which can create stress, and you’re not in the future, which can create anxiety,” Sinha says. “A ritual is something that demands mindfulness.”
One key ritual that helps Sinha start his day on a productive note? He makes his bed.
“It’s a funny thing but it has a really positive psychological impact. It’s a simple, tangible thing that you can accomplish right when you get up,” he says. “It may seem like nothing but (making your bed) does have an imprint on your psyche. And then at the end of the day, it’s so much nicer to come to a neatly made bed than a rumple of sheets.”
In his book, he says making your bed “starts you out in a positive, fulfilled frame of mind and creates a tidy, clutter-free space in your most personal of living areas.”
If you’re not a “morning person,” the thought of waking up earlier to include morning rituals into your already-busy schedule may make you cringe. Fear not. You don’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn to benefit from introducing morning rituals in your life.
If you drink coffee in the morning, go for a walk outside or make a to-do list, you already have morning rituals. The idea is to optimize these practices for a more productive day and find what works for you.
Sinha says a morning ritual “begins whenever you get up, whatever time that may be.” The quiet hours of the early morning — the “brahmamuhurta” — is a “phenomenally simple way to supercharge your life,” as it’s considered to be a time when the body is at its most relaxed and in a state of physiological balance, Sinha writes.
“Most of us, when we start the morning, we’re stressed or we may have a million things to do,” he says. “The idea is to try and find a way to carve out some time for yourself (through) self-awareness and self-care.”
Whatever you decide to take from the pandemic (or leave behind), some rituals will never go out of style. In the end, practising deep breathing, writing in a journal, exercise and getting outside were all grounding rituals before and during COVID-19, and will continue well beyond this time.
In the end, what you choose to do doesn’t necessarily matter as much as why you do it and what you get out of doing it repeatedly. Starting your day with a few simple tasks is a way to begin a cycle of results that will power you through your day. A morning ritual is entirely about you. Sure, you’ll have to deal with other people at some point in your morning — your kids, family, co-workers. But if you plan ahead, you’ll get at least a few minutes of time just for you.
Sabrina Carnevale is a freelance writer and communications specialist, and former reporter and broadcaster who is a health enthusiast. She writes a twice-monthly column focusing on wellness and fitness.