Whatever our usual morning routine, we’ve all felt the pressure of the morning rush - but can morning rituals help?
From flying out the door in workout clothes and half a piece of toast in hand, to scouting out your make-up bag for the commute – there are always a million things to get done in the morning, and it’s hard not to feel stress levels rising as we try to squeeze everything in against the clock.
The good news is that, by setting our alarms just 15 minutes earlier than usual and carving out some dedicated each morning for morning rituals, we can channel our inner zen and become more resilient to the everyday challenges that life throws at us.
Of course, you’re not always inspired to spring out of bed before you really have to, and start up your morning rituals, but working on our self-care is something we can’t leave to chance. If you’ve thought about making meditation part of your relaxation practice, we have a guide to the best meditation apps.
It’s not all about elaborate yoga routines and expensive equipment. Incorporating simple daily rituals into your morning routine to help set positive intentions for the day ahead, can have a big effect on your wellbeing over time.
One study showed that people who performed morning rituals before job interviews, sports matches and similar, saw their anxiety levels decrease and their performance levels increase.
"Starting the day with a moment of observing and listening to your breath or making a mindful note of things you’re grateful for automatically shifts the mind and body to a positive mode before the day has even started – rather like creating a ball of inner sunshine – to protect, to sustain, to heal,” says Mira Manek, author of Prajña: Ayurvedic Rituals for Happiness.
“The rituals could be anything – just a few moments to yourself to get your mind into calm mode.”
So, if you’re ready, why not try some of Mira’s rituals to give you some zen in the mornings...
Quick morning rituals for success
Morning rituals for the body
There’s no limit to the number of things we can do mindfully, and that includes chewing. Taking time to chew not only means you taste the food and notice the flavours, but it also translates into better digestion.
Digestion begins in the mouth. Our saliva contains digestive juices, and teeth help to break down large chunks of food, making it easier for the stomach to process what we eat.
“Think of chewing as a sort of meditation,” says Mira, “a real appreciation of the flavours, seasonality and origins of food – how it came from farm to fork, and the processes it has gone through on this journey – it’s quite amazing when you really stop to think about it!”
Make a warming drink
According to Ayurveda, we all have an inner agni, or digestive fire, in our belly that needs to be fed and kept alive. And, in order to literally tend to this "fire", we need to pay attention to what we eat and drink.
A warming concoction first thing in the morning is an ideal way to kick-start our digestive juices.
Mira suggests sipping on a cup of hot water with ½tsp ground ginger, a pinch of sea salt or Himalayan salt and a few drops of coconut oil.
Spice up your breakfast
"Adding a little spice to your porridge enhances the flavour and gives your body some warmth," says Mira.
As our agni is quite low until around 10am, Ayurveda recommends having something light and easy to digest for breakfast to bring your body into balance.
Try this warming cinnamon porridge with stewed fruits and walnuts:
For the porridge:
5 tbsp oats
½ cup water
½ cup cow’s milk, nut milk or
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp (ground) flax seeds
For the stewed fruits and walnuts:
½ apple or ½ banana
A little coconut oil or butter (optional)
A little grated ginger or ginger powder (optional)
- Soaking the oats overnight is a good idea, as the longer you soak grains, the easier they are to digest.
- Cook the oats with the water, milk, cinnamon and flax seeds for as long as possible, adding more water if necessary.
- While the porridge is cooking, make your choice of stewed fruits. Chop the fruit into small chunks and cook in a small pan in the coconut oil or butter, if using. Otherwise, cook in a dash of water. Break the walnuts into the fruits and stir well to combine. (If you’re using apple, you might need a little extra water, if you want it to be soft.)
- If using, grate a 1cm piece of ginger into the fruits, or add the ginger powder, and cook together.
- Once the porridge is cooked, pour into your bowl and top with the cooked fruits. Add raisins, or a drizzle of honey, if you want to sweeten your porridge.
Morning rituals for the mind
Change your habits slowly
“Changing habits and forming new practices and rituals can be daunting, so rather than making very sudden changes that might not be sustainable, start with small edits to your habits,” suggests Mira.
Want to change a habit, but don’t know where to start? With the Ayurveda system, it’s done in quarters. If you have four coffees a day, for example, start by reducing to three, then two, then one.
This can also work in reverse – start with five minutes of daily yoga practice, gradually building up to 20.
Have a slow morning
“A slow morning is a simple and lovely way to infuse your life with a dose of you. ‘Slow’ doesn’t mean you have to slow your pace, but simply take the time you need to focus on doing the things you love,” says Mira.
If your first thought is that you hardly have enough time in the morning as it is, fear not. A slow morning simply means dedicating just 15 minutes on a single morning a week to starting your day in a leisurely way.
It could involve anything from savouring a cup of tea, to heading out for a mindful walk in nature.
Used in meditation and prayer, incense can help calm your senses and rid you of any lingering negative energy.
Attar – a strong, concentrated scent distilled from flowers, bark, leaves and wood, then blended in a base of sandalwood essential oil – is a popular scent choice.
Morning rituals for the soul
Listen to morning music
“As far back as I can remember, I woke up each day to the classical sounds of morning ragas and a sandalwood agarbatti (incense) floating through the house,” says Mira.
“It was a daily rhythm. During my years living abroad in my 20s, I would often remember these two things fondly the minute I opened my eyes”.
Music has long been part of the healing tradition of Ayurveda, and ragas – classical Indian music expressing particular moods – are key.
Our emotional state often fluctuates between the morning and the evening, and ragas adopt their notes and pitch to reflect this.
Morning ragas (you can find examples on YouTube) are softer and more melodious, to calm the nerves and lead the mind to meditative states. Early-morning music leaves deep impressions on the mind, which is why, in many cultures, this is considered the ideal time for prayer.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by racing thoughts or gripped by a feeling of anxiety, meditation is the ideal vehicle to calm the mind.
Make a playlist of calming, classical or uplifting sounds – or a combination of all three – that induce happiness and relaxation.
How to meditate
- Sit upright in bed or on a cushion on the floor and just listen. If you find your mind wandering, just tune into the melody and sounds.
- Take deep breaths as you listen, gradually slowing your breathing and settling into your body. Imagine the extra oxygen flowing into your brain, leaving you feeling calmer, yet more awake.
- Feel any fear move through your veins towards your hands and feet, and visualise it falling away from your extremities. Shake your hands and feet if you can, then lie down for a while and let the renewed calmness pervade you.
- Think only of the day ahead and the small things that will make you happy, whether it’s a gym class, playing with a pet or having a hot drink at your favourite café.
- If you need help guiding your practice, try these meditation apps.
Make a conscious effort to do this during the day, and pick manageable activities you know will fit into your schedule.
Although whatever situation you are dealing with in the present moment might not change, regular meditation will give you the tools to help you both reflect on and reframe a given situation.
"Anulom vilom" – alternate nostril breathing – is great for energising, detoxifying and balancing the energy in the body, as well as helping to promote blood circulation and relieve stress.
“This is a lovely little technique to calm the body, steady the mind and bring a little balance to your day,” says Mira.
How to breath for relaxation
- With a thumb and first finger, close your nostrils. Remove your thumb and breathe in deeply through the open nostril.
- Hold your breath for around five seconds, keeping the other nostril closed, then put your thumb back and exhale fully from the other nostril. Continue, alternating between nostrils.
- Feel your stomach contract and expand each time, and be aware of your energy as you do this. Continue for a few minutes and try to do it for a little longer each day.