The Sacred Morning
When you wake up after a night’s sleep, what do you think about? For many of us, the mind switches “on”, and we’re flooded with thoughts about how much we need to do, what we regret from the day before, what activities we’re dreading and reasons we might not exercise today, because, we tell ourselves, we didn’t get enough sleep and we’re tired. Or, we might go on auto-pilot; thinking the same thoughts we always do while moving through our tasks and responsibilities as we have countless mornings before.
One of the precious gifts yoga gave to me is the invitation to begin each day on my own terms. Rather than succumbing to habitual dread, stress or guilt, I can offer myself practices that infuse meaning and beauty into my first few waking moments. These rituals have helped interrupt my mind and body’s habits of fear and worry to create more positive emotions to build the hours ahead. When we step into our lives each day, we get to choose how we show up. In fact, the only thing we can control is our intentions and what we think about. Mornings can be a time for purposely deciding how you want to feel and exploring tools that can get you there.
Some days I create time for longer practices, walking incense around my room, lighting candles, listening to beautiful music and writing my intentions down in a journal. On other mornings I’ll do shorter versions and sometimes I fall away from my rituals altogether. However, I have a few non-negotiables I rarely miss. Without them, I notice I get caught in a momentum of fatigue and habitual, unhelpful mood states of guilt, shame and fear.
Over the years, I’ve added on practices as they’ve been offered to me, and I’ve tailored an experience that supports me in cultivating my chosen feelings of vitality, gratitude, compassion and love. From those emotions, I am better able to navigate my relationship with my 15-year-old, my marriage and retain integrity with myself.
In this week’s blog I share the activities I’ve ritualized and don’t do without, however, I also think a good morning begins with what happens before we close our eyes for the night.
I’ve explored meditation, gratitude and journaling before bed, but these days when my head hits the pillow I begin a “loving kindness” meditation. With it I’ve noticed a more uninterrupted sleep and an improved mood in the morning. If you look up this style of meditation, you’ll find various wording but there is no wrong way to do it. The idea is to bring a couple of people to mind and wish them well by sending them certain blessings.
My favorite blessings are:
May you be safe
May you be healthy
May you be happy
May you live a life of ease
Repeat the blessings a few times per person, whatever feels right. A more formal version of this meditation invites you to offer blessings to someone who has served as a teacher in your life, to someone you feel neutral about, someone with whom you’re in conflict, someone you love and perhaps a group or organization doing powerful work in the world. I tend to begin with offering blessings to my family and then to others who appear in my mind, most powerfully to those I may have once experienced conflict with. I think this is a very effective tool for melting resentments and cultivating compassion, so we may fall to sleep with a clean heart.
My Morning Non-Negotiables:
Breathing Before Thinking:
Without a strong intention to reclaim our minds, it’s easy to get drawn into an unhelpful internal dialogue and before we know it, we’re no longer laying in a comfy bed, we’ve time traveled to re-living a conversation or we’ve leapt into future planning. Because being present is a doorway to contentment, it’s important to explore methods of arriving there, again and again.
I gently guide my attention back to my breath and receive at least 6 deep cycles of inhales and exhales. Using the breath as an object of focus is a simple way to practice being present. Full belly breathing also has numerous benefits for the body and mind. To help sustain my attention, I link my inhalation to receptivity. For example, I might imagine breathing in vitality, freshness and new possibilities.
An Appreciative Body Scan:
Still in bed, I’ll direct my attention to the part of us that is always present, the body. Starting with the tips of my toes, I move my awareness up the length of my body to further tether me to the “now”. As I allow and befriend the sensations in my body I like to add a few “thank yous” along the way. Like so many others I know, my habit is to entertain unkind thoughts toward my physical body when I look in the mirror and it’s a challenging tendency to interrupt because those thoughts have been with me since my pre-teen days. I imagine that actively appreciating my body is gradually helping to make amends for the past abuse.
Use the Mind to Work for You:
Once I’ve practiced reining in habitual, chaotic thinking so familiar to me during my past of living with anxiousness, (I recommend practicing coming back to the present moment through breath and body scans several times a day) I’m able to practice curating my inner landscape.
As a creative, I look forward to imagining what thoughts I can manifest. In every moment, any thought is possible, so why not choose thoughts that inspire and energize?
I use my mind to visualize my “sankalpas”, the highest visions I’ve committed myself to for my personal life, my business and my health. I picture future events vividly, as if they’ve already happened. If all goes well, the happy result of these imaginings is a swell of well-being washing over me. At this point, I’m energized and excited to get out of bed, a huge contrast from past days of resisting my alarm and suffering over a long dead past or dreading an unknown future.
Let the Light In :
The first thing I do when I step from my bed is open the blinds and windows to let fresh air in. Light and air help to clear the room of stagnation that builds up overnight. Allow these simple cleansing actions to remind you that while it may not feel like it, each day is new, ripe with possibilities and perspectives. Today, we can be new. Each morning is another opportunity to refresh our relationship with ourselves, our bodies and the people in our lives.
Spray, Splash and Scrape:
My husband and I have always had a deal that the last one out of bed gets to make it (I landed on the losing side for years as he woke up at 3:30 am as a morning show host). Before the bed gets made, I spray the sheets and pillows with an aromatherapy spray created by a dear friend and clinical aromatherapist (more about her later). It’s like offering a gift to my future self because it’s so nice to crawl into sweetly scented sheets at the close of the day.
I add physical practices to support my body’s healing processes and help me feel better overall. If our body feels tired and unwell, it’s a challenge to think beyond that. Feeling better can help us to think better and vice versa. I’m not sure when I started my next non-negotiable, but for some reason, it’s stuck. I splash my face with cold water 7 times, one splash for every main center of energy (chakra) in the body (the energetic system of the body may be theoretical to some, for me, any shift me make to one aspect of ourselves, body, mind, heart, soul, affects the whole). I encourage my clients to customize rituals for themselves because adding meaning to even the most mundane task can add richness to day to day life.
After my face dries, I exfoliate with a soft facial brush before massaging my face with a blend of essential and carrier oils crafted for me by the very talented Clinical Aromatherapist Sandra Detwiller, www.vernonbcaromatherapy.ca. I try to remain as present as possible during this ritual; utilizing my senses to take in the aroma of the oils, and the sensations of the self massage. If I’m really on my game, I’ll add some words of kindness to my reflection in the mirror further healing the habitual words of the harsh inner critic.
Next, or sometimes first, I scrape my tongue. Ayurveda, the science of life and personal responsibility connected to yoga suggests that we scrape our tongues upon waking to assist our body’s detoxification systems. Removing the layer of matter or “ama” that builds up on the tongue overnight is another way to purify the body during our morning routing of personal hygiene. To learn more about how Ayurveda can support your healthy lifestyle through balancing eating guidelines and practical self care, I recommend my regular workshop collaborator and teacher Aimee Pruitt. Find out more about Aimee and how she can assist you at www.aimeepruitt.com.
Whether I have a few moments, or I’ve been able to carve out the time for a longer practice, I always feel more vital after I’ve moved my body. Side stretches, a sun salutation, a squat and child’s pose are the bare minimum I will do before some time with my legs up the wall assisting in circulation, renewal for legs and feet, enhanced digestion and accessing the relaxation response. To read more detailed instructions about energizing morning movements, refer to my blog “Claiming Motivation” here.
I sit from 2 minutes to 20 minutes, or, I use my movement as a moving meditation, uniting my breath, mind and body. I’ve found that the more I access a pause in my thinking and settle into what is really happening in the moment, the more I can dip into a wellspring of energy. It takes unnecessary effort to worry and attempt to control the events of our day through over-planning. We spend most of our waking hours anticipating, ruminating, obsessing and doing. Set the tone for the day by creating space for “being”. The more you practice settling into the spaciousness between your thoughts, the easier it becomes. At some point, the space becomes a doorway that opens to contentment, or, “happiness without a reason”. This grounded sense of safety and well being is the perfect state to begin the day with purpose and possibility.
To create lasting results from small changes, allow yourself to deeply observe positive feelings and new insights that may occur from creating beauty within your morning. Neuropsychologist and long-time meditation teacher Rick Hanson advises to witness the echoes of your practices with a “beginner’s mind” to help seal them in. Instead of skimming over new realizations, allow their integration by observing them and inquiring into how they might support you later in your day.
Be a Student:
There’s much about our digital devices to be mindful of, but they do come with benefits I appreciate. I’ve gained an abundance of inspiration from online learning opportunities like digital courses, audiobooks and podcasts. If my family isn’t around me while I’m readying for the day, I love to listen to something that provides me with new knowledge and insights.
What I’m listening to these days:
Audiobook- “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself”- Joe Dispenza
Podcasts- “On Being”- Krista Tippet, “Where Should l We Begin”- Esther Perel, “Yoga Land”-Andrea Farretti.
Have a favorite podcast? I’m always on the lookout for more shows, send them my way please!
I appreciate you taking the time to read my experimentations of daily techniques to reclaim a courageous heart. Beginning the day by cultivating presence, peace and mindfulness offers us the chance to become a little more resilient, self-aware, compassionate and calm every day. I invite you to explore what works for you to transform a typical morning into a sacred act of self-love.
As always, if you’d like to know how I can help you to create a personal set of supportive practices, take a look at this.