HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (6/28/13) - “Each morning the sun takes another course into the sky. Light and warmth follow and the day begins, a common event of enormous circumstance. The sunrise informs and actuates the present. Each one is different. And deep within that mystery lies a gift for anyone perceptive enough to notice, anyone willing to accept it. It is the blessing for the day at hand, a fresh chance to create and to connect and to experience what it is that we were born to do.” – Robert William Case
Up until very recently, I was a self-proclaimed night-owl, passionate about how much I loathed the morning. After my first year of college, I (purposefully) never had a class earlier than 10am. Throughout my 10-year career in college admissions I had to be at work at 8:30am, and I was the queen of the snooze button. Every time my alarm went off, a few more minutes of sleep sounded like a better idea than eating breakfast, never mind a morning workout or a yoga and meditation practice. This was partially because of my insomniac tendencies. I rarely went to bed before 2am, oftentimes having caught an unplanned nap on the couch after work, my daily 4pm Starbucks habit getting me through the workday but not keeping me from crashing as soon as I got home.
It was an unexpected bout with anxiety (a story for another column) that inspired me to stop hitting the snooze button and create a morning routine, and now I can’t imagine my life without it. While I’m not sure I’d go as far as to call myself a “morning person,” I have begun to really enjoy the stillness and ease of the early hours. There is something sacred about the morning–a heaviness that lends itself to slowing down and paying attention, peacefulness that promotes deep inner listening, newness that feels like tangible hope and pure potential.
These days I’m almost always in bed before 10:30pm and I’m up long before I have to be anywhere. I have seen positive transformation and improvements in my life that I can only attribute to changing my schedule and using the golden hours of morning to my advantage. This is how I’m currently starting my day.
• 6am – My “Tibetan bell” alarm fades in, slowly nudging me awake. I sit up and notice my body and my breath, and take a moment to just watch my thoughts without engaging. (Try it–those first few thoughts you have can be equally hilarious and crazy!) I head to the kitchen, juice a lemon, add lukewarm water, and step outside and say hello to the sun. I bring myself present by reminding myself of the day and the date. I’m fortunate to live in bucolic splendor; I often walk barefoot into my yard in my pajamas and notice my feet firmly on the soft ground. It is a beautiful reminder of my connection to the earth, an acknowledgement of the support she provides me day after day.
• 6:30am – I’m on my yoga mat. I might do an online practice via Kripalu or YogaGlo, or a practice I have on CD or DVD. I might do my own practice set to music or in silence. But I always practice pranayama (breath work) and asana (yoga postures).
• 7:00am – I light a candle as I set an intention for my day and settle on to my meditation cushion for a minimum of 21 minutes. (I always give myself that one extra minute to settle in and breathe deeply).
• 7:30am – I make breakfast (usually fruit, raw nuts, and chia seeds or flax meal, or a green smoothie, or sautéed greens, poached eggs, and avocado), and an almond milk latte.
• 8:00am – I break a sweat (for the second time if yoga practice was vigorous!) and get outside, heading to the park for a walk. (I find that a walk after breakfast works for me; if I’m doing something more vigorous like a kick-boxing DVD, I do that before I eat breakfast).
• 9:00am – I begin working for the day.
Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of times that I can’t keep this schedule for one reason or another. There are some days that I make the choice to stay in bed longer, or I go to the diner for breakfast with my boyfriend if he has a rare day off from work, or I listen to my body and choose a gentle yoga practice or skip the walk if I’m feeling truly run down. I have had to learn not to freak out if my routine doesn’t happen exactly as planned. The point is not to accomplish it, but to be present for it, morning after morning after morning.
Your needs – physically and spiritually – are unique to you. Here are few general suggestions that you can mix and match to create a morning routine that works for you.
- Wake up gently.
Instead of that blaring alarm that rudely jolts you out of sleep, why not experiment with a kinder, gentler alarm? I have an app on my iPhone called “Sleep Machine” that is wonderful for ambient noises to fall asleep to, as well as an alarm that fades in and includes soothing music or a Tibetan bell (my personal favorite).
- Drink lemon water.
Lemon juice aids digestion, helps to cleanse the body of toxins, and boosts the immune system. Drink the juice of one lemon with 16oz of lukewarm water on an empty stomach and if you can, wait 30 minutes before eating breakfast.
- Say hello to the sun.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “The sun is new each day.” Saying hello to the sun each morning is a lovely way to mark the new day, to acknowledge it, to be present to it for at least a brief moment. Time passes and the days go by, and sometimes we get so busy that we wake up, five years have gone by, and we were too preoccupied to notice. Taking just a moment each day to acknowledge the new day itself helps to counter this.
- Practice yoga.
After a night of sleep, the body can be stiff and sore. Gentle yoga breath work, movement, and postures can help to wake up the muscles and connective tissues, preparing the body to move with more ease through the tasks of the day.
- Practice meditation.
Meditation doesn’t have to be scary. Set a timer (that Tibetan bell timer works great for this, too!), sit comfortably, close your eyes, and simply rest your awareness on inhaling and exhaling through your nose. Here is a great illustration that explains the many benefits of meditation.
- Eat a healthy breakfast
Starting the day with a combination of healthy carbohydrates, protein, and good fat is a great way to ensure good choices for the rest of the day. You are literally breaking a fast, and what you put in your body first can and does set the tone for your entire day.
- Break a sweat.
There are a lot of reasons to exercise in the morning, but my favorite? To get it over with. Plus, I find I make better food choices over the course of the day if I’ve already got a solid workout under my belt. Win-win.
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Writing/Photos by Hilary Lowbridge