Every day, millions wake with a sense of urgency. Jerked from sleep by an alarm, we lurch directly to the coffeemaker, to our e-mail, to the day’s news headlines, or some other up-and-at-’em directive.
One way or another, we abruptly press the day’s “on” switch, and before we’re entirely conscious, long before our brains and bodies have nudged themselves into first gear, we’ve thrown them into overdrive.
As a result, we may wind up feeling frenzied, reactive — and taking that energy into the rest of our day, infusing it into all our interactions and projects.
We also miss out on a lot of insights and creative impulses available to us during the brief “twilight state” of theta brainwave activity that exists almost exclusively between sleep and waking awareness. What a waste!
So I’m making a case for reclaiming our mornings — or even some small part of our mornings — as an act of defiance against the less-than-satisfying status quo, and as a delightful and potentially transformative act of self-care.
My sister, Andrea, has this down to a sacred science. She gets up before anyone else in her house, lights a candle and a stick of incense, then puts on relaxing music. She unrolls her yoga mat, sits, and — at minimum — takes three long, centering breaths.
Generally, those three deep breaths lead her into a gentle yoga practice that may last anywhere from five to 30 minutes. At the end of her practice, she meditates for a few moments, sending loving thoughts to her friends and family, and setting some key intentions for the day.
When her mat-based practice is complete, she makes tea, has breakfast, and only then does she turn on her phone, consult her calendar and begin the active portion of her day.
Understand, this is not some idealized nice-when-it-happens thing for my sister. It’s a rock solid deal. She’s missed maybe half a dozen days in the past several years. That’s because she has a very simple, default-minimum commitment: Unroll the mat, sit, take three breaths. That’s it. The rest is negotiable.
Sometimes, things come up, of course, and when a longer practice isn’t possible, Andrea adjusts the program accordingly. But she never gives up on unrolling her mat, centering and taking those three deep breaths.
If she can get that far, she says, she almost always finds the time and willingness to do a little more. And she says these few high-value moments she devotes entirely to herself help establish a conscious tone and rhythm that carries through her entire day — and by extension, her life in general.
Then there’s my friend Brian Johnson, founder of PhilosophersNotes (insightful six-page summaries of books on optimal living, the reading of which make for a great morning practice in and of themselves). Brian starts his day with a whole series of what he calls “blissiplines” — daily disciplines he’s found to be fundamental in creating the conditions for his best, most blissful life.
Brian’s blissiplines (which he describes at about 6:50 in this fun video) include about a half an hour of meditation and movement, followed by time spent journaling and reading. Like my sister, Brian says he’s found these practices so essential for optimizing his productivity, creativity and happiness that he can no longer imagine going without them.
Of course, it does take a certain amount of willingness and discipline to establish a morning ritual, particularly if your current a.m. routine is so dull and drudging that you’ve never paused to consider it.
Happily, you don’t have to devote hours to a morning ritual in order to benefit. You just have to have a ritual and do it consistently — ideally, even (and perhaps especially) when you don’t feel like it.
I suggest keeping your ritual short, easy and very doable to start with, knowing that you can always expand it if and when you like.
When I first started doing my own morning practice (about eight years ago) it simply consisted of having a cup of coffee out on the porch, listening to the birds chirp, and pulling a wisdom card to help me start the day on a calm, conscious note. Total time: five minutes, max.
I’ve had more leisurely rituals, too. They’ve involved everything from candlelight journaling and guided visualizations to guitar playing.
Every year or so, I like to tinker with my ritual, working in various meditations and creative practices, gentle exercise, music, time outdoors, wisdom literature, poetry, or whatever appeals to me at the time.
Lately, I’ve gotten into following my sister’s example and doing morning yoga. My current minimum commitment is five minutes, but like her, I often wind up doing a bit more.
Maybe it’s the track of the Tibetan meditation music I play during my practice (it runs for about seven minutes, and it’s so mesmerizing, I can’t bear to pull away from my reverie before it ends). Or maybe it’s just that I really dig the mellow vibe I’ve created for myself by choosing to be before I do.
Whatever the case, I’ve come to love this Revolutionary Act (“Maintain a Morning Practice” is No. 52 of “101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy”) and I highly recommend it to anyone hungry for a little more centering and a little less stress in his or her life.
You can learn more about why the very first (and last) moments of our days count for so much, and get ideas for how to develop calming rituals in your own life by reading these articles:
Meanwhile, is there a small step you can take toward reclaiming your own mornings, starting now?
Do you already have a favorite morning practice of your own? If so, please share your ideas in the comments section below.
The more of us who choose to start our days on our own terms, the less frenzied this world of ours will feel. And the more opportunity we’ll all have to make the best and most conscious use of the waking hours at our disposal.