On the importance of morning rituals
One of the most frequently asked questions last year had to do with my early-morning ritual: I was asked, over and over, for tips for waking up earlier and adopting a morning ritual like the one I practice every morning. I wish I could share some sort of magic formula that makes you instantly wake up earlier and adopt some practice for your wellbeing. But the truth is that my consistency with this ritual is the result of a mix of custom (since I’ve been doing this for over a decade) and dedication (since I very rarely let myself “skip” the ritual). If I had to choose a “magic ingredient,” I would say that it’s the attitude with which I confront my early mornings: to me, waking up early and dedicating time to myself is a sacred ritual that nobody can take away from me.
But because I’ve realized that it is a topic of interest, I decided to share some tips that, I hope, will help you rise earlier and start your own morning ritual, if that’s what you want. I suggest trying it for at least a few days and seeing how it feels. However, I do have something super important to say before going on:
waking up earlier to practice a morning ritual does not need to be a part of every person’s life.
And that is okay. Not waking up early or not having a morning ritual does not make us “bad” people and should not cause any guilt or discomfort with ourselves. On the contrary, I believe that we must listen and honour our bodies, personalities, and responsibilities before adding any new elements to our routine. Of course, I’m always in favour of exploring and experimenting. But what I am trying to say here is that you should never adopt a morning ritual—or any other ritual, for that matter—just because you’re trying to follow an ideal that some external factor is trying to impose. The only reason for doing this is to help us shine brighter and, as a result, we should always strive to be true to ourselves above anything else.
Having said that, below are three strategies that I’ve used to keep practicing my morning ritual for so long. I hope they help you get started if you are inspired to start a morning ritual of your own.
1. Go to bed early and leave everything you’ll need in the morning ready
This seems obvious, but the key to starting the day a few minutes (or hours!) earlier is trying to go to bed earlier as well. Each one of us has their own relationship to sleep, but I believe—and it has been proved by science, I dare say—that few things are worth sacrificing hours of sleep. And those don’t include the morning ritual. So if you want to sleep 7–8 hours (or more) every night and you want to start waking up early to incorporate a morning ritual into your routine, you’ll have to start going to bed earlier. I, for instance, try to be in bed by 9 pm every night. Another thing that I’ve found really helpful is leaving everything that I’ll need early in the morning ready: the clothes I’ll wear, some water in my kettle and the tea ready to be brewed. That way, I only need to heat up the water and pour it over the tea before getting started every morning.
2. Realizing that *I* am the only reason I’m doing this
As I said before, the purpose of rising earlier should not be to satisfy some external ideal of infinite productivity and activity that we sometimes impose on ourselves. The more time I spend practicing my daily morning ritual, the more I realize that it makes me feel so good! It makes me feel calm, happy, and at peace with myself, regardless of how difficult the day ahead might be or whether I’m going through a period of sadness or anxiety. It also makes me feel connected to nature, even though I live in a huge city: At 5 in the morning you can hear the birds sing and the skies are at their bluest shade. This is definitely one of the reasons why I practice this ritual in the morning. An additional reason is that, before 7 or 8 am, I don’t feel the pressure to start working or checking my email or replying to messages or comments on social media; this is a time when I get to be with myself and nothing else. And that is the only reason I wake up so early every morning and have continued to do so for years.
3. Explore, experiment, and leave enough space for change
One thing I’ve realized in the years I’ve been practicing my morning ritual is that it will necessarily evolve as we advance in our lives. And I am convinced that here is where the magic of the ritual lies: it gives us exactly what we need during a specific time of our lives.
These days, my morning ritual consists of waking up at 5 am to practice yoga and meditation while I watch the sun rise. I then have some tea while I free write in my journal. (These ideas often become Instagram posts or fragments of my dissertation.) During the last 5–10 minutes of my ritual, I open my diary to organize my day.
But it hasn’t always been like this. During my college years, my morning ritual was waking up early to train horseback riding at 6 am; I knew that I wouldn’t find the time to do it later in the day. While I was in the MA program at Parsons, my morning ritual became biking across Manhattan to do morning yoga or a morning run (depending on the day) before heading to class. When I worked at The Met, I would spend a few minutes reading, then practice yoga and head to a walk on Central Park before starting work. And during the craziest years of my Ph.D., the ritual was limited to a few minutes having tea, reflecting about life, and reading something that had nothing to do with my research (and usually related to yoga).
My invitation, therefore, is to evaluate your life in this moment: What do you need the most for your wellbeing and won’t do once “life” gets in your way? In your answer to this question, you’ll find the basis for your morning ritual. A corollary invitation is to be creative so that the ritual adjusts to your own personality: You can have a crazy dancing session during the sunrise, sing underwater, draw, write fiction, read Tarot, or anything else that serves your purpose in life.
Have you ever tried practicing a morning ritual? How did it make you feel? Let me know in the comments below.