Numerous studies have shown how important it is to take time out for ourselves every day – and how not doing so can lead to stress, depression and health issues such as high blood pressure and depleted immunity – but it can be difficult to do this in practice. Carrying out a regular ritual, such as a meditation or some simple breathing exercises, is an easy and rewarding way to include an element of self-care in your day.
A boring ritual
Intention: To embrace the benefits of being bored.
With the whole world at our fingertips, it’s easy to avoid boredom ... but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Over-stimulation means that our minds rarely have the downtime necessary to make sense of everything we’ve experienced, let alone give our thoughts a chance to surface.
This is the simplest ritual of all: you are going to practise doing nothing. Put down this book, sit on your hands and don’t check your phone or flick on the TV. You don’t need to focus on your breathing ... you don’t need to do anything at all. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but with practise you’ll start to build up your resilience.
Human beings need to experience under-stimulation for the creative part of our brain to kick in, so give this ritual a try and see what your brain comes up with when you give it a chance to
create its own entertainment.
An exercise ritual
Intention: To tune in to your body and exercise mindfully.
Change your exercise time from a routine to a ritual and it will be more beneficial and enjoyable: you’ll find yourself thinking of it as something positive that you’ve chosen to set aside time for, rather than something that has to be endured!
Before you start your session, listen to a favourite song to get you in the right frame of mind and mark the beginning of your workout – a calming track for yoga, or something upbeat that gets you ready for action if you’re doing some cardio. You can do this while you put on your exercise gear, or while you get your water or any equipment ready. When combined, these are all great cues to prepare body and mind for your workout.
Have something in mind to focus on during your warm-up, something that reminds you of why you’re exercising. It could be an inspirational picture that represents the results you want to achieve, or you might have a person or cause in mind that you’re dedicating your efforts to.
Exercise mindfully: pay attention to how your body feels – the positive as well as the negative! Notice when your muscles are feeling stronger as you’re repeating a move, or how your movements flow if you’re completing sequences. And remember that, although exercise apps can be a great motivational tool, we’re all different and feel different from day to day. So practise intuitive exercise and adapt what you’re doing if you don’t feel things are going to plan during a workout.
Celebrate the end of your workout by reflecting on all you’ve achieved as you cool down, enjoy some relaxing stretches and finish your ritual with a nutritious post-workout snack.
A sleep-boosting ritual
Intention: To relax and enjoy a peaceful night’s sleep.
Repeating a relaxing sleep ritual every night before bed will boost your quality of sleep and make it much easier for you to drift off. (If you have problems sleeping, a regular routine is one of the best things you can introduce as it provides familiar cues to help you relax.) First make sure you have a good, calming end-of-the-day ritual in place, with no screens, work, heavy meals or stressful tasks allowed in the hour or so before bed.
Make yourself a herbal tea containing valerian root – a natural sedative – or a cup of warm milk spiced with a pinch of nutmeg, which has a similar effect. Prepare your room by adjusting the lighting and the amount of bedding for maximum comfort.
Either diffuse an essential oil blend that specifically promotes relaxation (such as vanilla or cedarwood); spray your pillow with a mist made from cooled boiled water and a few drops of lavender essential oil; or put a sleep spell bag under your pillow. (It could contain dried lavender tips, some lavender essential oil and an amethyst crystal, for example – all of these aid sleep.)
Carry out some basic yoga stretches: lie on your back with your legs leaning up against the wall and your arms relaxed at your sides, followed by Corpse Pose to give your body a gentle stretch and calm the mind. Finally, meditate if you wish: you could try a guided sleep meditation to help you drift off.
The Little Book of Daily Rituals is out now.