Having a daily routine is a great way to start the day; it helps us get grounded moving into our day in a more regulated way both so we can navigate the world with a greater sense of calm and enjoyment and be able to be more productive. During challenging times and times of uncertainty, a daily routine becomes essential to help us feel a sense of predictability and normalcy while also helping us feeling calmer.
Over the years, I have created a morning routine - not by doing all of these things at once, but through hearing the benefits of different things and trying them out one by one, identifying what worked for me and letting go of what didn’t. The morning routine I am about to share is the culmination of those efforts and basically everything that stuck.
In 2006 I read a study on the benefits of cultivating gratitude through keeping a gratitude journal, that is, writing down three things for which you are grateful every day. I read that it would help improve my overall mood and increase happiness, with the study citing it could happen in as little as 12 weeks! Being prior to my time as a yoga student and teacher, this sounded like complete BS to me. I decided to try it and find out if it would work for me.
Despite my lack of faith in this approach, sure enough, keeping a gratitude journal had a significantly positive impact on my life and how I looked at and navigated the world. At the time of this post, it is 14 years later and I haven’t missed a day! Since then, I have read a number of studies as well as Alex Korb’s neuroscientific research on gratitude journals, all of which show how (and more recently why) this works so well for improving mood. My observation is that part of why it works is that when we start, we write down the more obvious things for which we are grateful (for me, my loved ones including pets, my health, my education, and my yoga practice). But after a few days of writing the same things we start to observe more closely and notice the beauty around us. So why my gratitude journal still includes those more easy to notice pieces of my life, I also find myself grateful for small flowers I notice or today, the tiny buds on a tree near my house. If you haven’t done this or even if you have, this is a quick and relatively simple way to start your day.
Dump Your Mind Through Writing
In December 2019 I set an intention to work my way through “The Artist’s Way”. What stuck from that work was writing “Morning Pages” as a way to clear out the mind. Julia Cameron recommends we do this first thing in the morning and that we write three pages. I have found being relaxed about the number of pages makes it easier to get started. Starting with the intention of writing whatever comes up (also known as stream-of-consciousness) and just writing anything at all also releases any pressure that might prevent one from doing it. Some days I start with “I don't feel like f@*$ing writing today” and find I continue to write, while other days I’m okay with that being good enough.
Through my morning writing, I find I start the day calmer and with greater clarity as there is less stuff clouding my mind. At times it also slows the flow of thoughts in my morning meditation. Further, as Julia Cameron promises, it has helped increase my creativity both in more artistic pursuits but also in terms of day to day problem solving. One note, it is recommended you do not go back and read these pages or allow anyone else to; this isn’t the time to write your memoir, start your blog, or create your next book. Just allow yourself to write unfiltered and be sure to keep it in a safe spot.
Read Spiritual or Growth Inspiring Text
This is an idea I picked up from Greg McKeown’s book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” and have seen it mentioned other places. It is often recommended as a way to help us remember we are part of something bigger than ourselves, helping us connect with spirit or some form of inspiration each day. As a yoga practitioner and teacher, I take this time to read different yogic texts but you could read whatever resonates with you. On a good day I find this helps to remember connection to Spirit, honoring the beauty of the world; on tough days it gives me perspective allowing me to step back, reflect, and move through the challenges.
Candle Lighting with Prayers/Intentions
As I prepare for meditation, I light four candles on my meditation alter. Perhaps this little ritual is a remnant from my Catholic upbringing or just a way to mark the beginning of my seated practice. Either way, I find it as a lovely small piece of my day.
If you choose this practice, you are welcome to find what works for you. My approach came up organically and looks like this: As I light the first candle I say a short prayer for protection for myself; the second candle I light while saying the loving kindness prayer for myself (May I be happy, May I be healthy, May I be at peace, May I live with ease). As I light the third candle, I say the same protection prayer for everyone in the universe with the fourth being the loving kindness prayer for all Beings.
Common to relatively newer meditation practitioners, when I first started meditating I was upset and stressed about my busy thoughts and anxiety when I sat to meditate. In my request for something that would help calm my anxiety and thoughts even just a little when meditating, one of my earlier meditation teachers offered a breathing practice called nadi shodana or alternate nostril breathing. While I have learned to allow my thoughts, feelings, and body sensations to just be part of my meditation and something I notice, I still find benefit from practicing nadi shodana. Another option is to pause, noticing your breath and just being present with it. Further, there are many, many different breathing practices to try which in yoga we call pranayama, each with a different intention.
During a time of high anxiety in my life, a yoga therapist recommended I gather some rocks on a hike and meditate with them in a circle around me. I have found this practice incredibly grounding and helpful in my meditation practice.
The thing with meditation is it can be simple, but isn’t always easy. What often gets in the way is the expectations we place on ourselves about what meditation should look like whether it is a calm mind, having a certain metaphysical experience, feeling calm afterward, and/or how we think meditation should impact our life. If instead, we just decide to sit, perhaps simply noticing our breath, maybe listening to a guided meditation, or perhaps reciting a mantra, the practice happens. And it is just that - a practice. So perhaps just take a seat and breathe, noticing what unfolds.
One note on meditation and trauma, particularly complex trauma. Sometimes mindfulness and other meditations that invite you to notice your body sensations and experience can be too overwhelming or triggering. Details about this are out of the scope of this post; it is recommended that you honor your experience and if something is upsetting in a way that doesn’t feel like it is supporting growth, perhaps try something else or perhaps connect with a psychotherapist well-versed in trauma and meditation to help you.
Move Your Body
If we look at the anatomy of our bodies with our moveable joints and muscles, it is clear we are meant to move and that most of the time, we feel better when we move versus when we are sedentary. However, many people get caught up on what this movement needs to look like. In doing so, we place unrealistic expectations on ourselves or choose things that we think we “should” do but don’t enjoy.
What if instead, we shifted our focus to movement… to moving our bodies in ways that we enjoy. For some this could be walking or hiking or maybe dancing around the house as we do our chores. For others this could be biking to work or practicing yoga asana. For others it could be heading to the gym. So I invite you find a way you enjoy to move and try it, maybe just adding a little bit each day if you aren’t already in the habit of moving your body.
NOTE: Be sure to ask your doctor, particularly if you have health conditions, about adding movement to your life to make sure you are medically cleared for the movement you are choosing.
There is no right way to start out the day. What is clear, is that having some kind of morning routine can help us feel calmer, more grounded, and perhaps be more productive throughout our day. What is also clear is that if we try to start too many new things at once, it is too hard to give up the lifestyle we were used to having. So perhaps try going to bed fifteen minutes earlier tonight and getting up fifteen minutes earlier tomorrow, starting with one new thing for you way to start the day.
This blog is for information only. Reading this blog or interacting with it is not medical advice and does not constitute a therapeutic relationship. This blog is not a substitute for mental health care. Please be sure to seek out mental health care as needed.