Think back to just this morning. Can you remember the first five things you did upon waking?
Most of us fall into habits that make up our morning ritual, yet the way we start our day has a huge impact on our mood, productivity, and well-being for the next 24 hours. Hitting the snooze button a dozen times, or jumping straight to our phones to check email and social media upon rising can have a bigger impact than we might realize.
While practicing physical (hatha) yoga as part of your morning routine has incredible benefits, there are many ways you can incorporate the mindful practices of yoga without doing a single pose. For centuries, yogis have placed great importance on the first hours of the day, and even today we can adapt many of the rituals and teachings into our own lives.
Wake Up Earlier - And at The Same Time
Think about it - virtually every stressful morning you’ve had could have been solved by waking up even just thirty minutes earlier. But this teaching runs deeper than just having more time. According to Ayurveda, one of the world’s oldest systems of holistic healing, rolling out of bed at least 20 minutes before the sun rises can affect your productivity and mood for the entire day! Vata energy fills the atmosphere during these pre-dawn hours, and since vata is known for movement, this is the ideal time to rouse your body.
Once you pick a time to wake up in the morning, wake up at that same time, seven days a week. Yes, even on the weekends. Our bodies follow a circadian rhythm that relies on consistency. Having trouble getting to sleep at night? Sticking to a routine time to wake up will not only cue your body when it is time to rise, but when it is time to rest as well.
Say Goodbye to Morning Breath
You know that white gunk that you try to avoid looking at on your tongue in the morning? Well according to Ayurveda, this coating on your tongue can actually be a good indicator of how healthy or poor your diet choices are. It is also believed to hold toxins and impurities from the mouth, which is why yogis incorporate the practice of tongue scraping into their morning routine.
Whether or not you want to entertain the idea that there are invisible toxins hiding on your tongue that need to be rid of, your mouth definitely feels (and smells) a whole lot cleaner after scraping your tongue. It’s easy, and takes less than five minutes. Simply take the edge of a metal spoon and firmly run long strokes down your tongue until all the white stuff is gone. Then get ready to do the same thing tomorrow morning when it reappears. If you try it out and like the way your mouth feels, you can even purchase a metal tongue scraper to really get clean. (You can find one for under ten dollars on Amazon.)
Another next step to a clean, fresh mouth: Oil pulling. While it sounds strange (and feels even stranger the first time you try it), putting a spoonful of oil in your mouth and swishing it around for a good 20 minutes or so has been shown to improve the overall look and health of your mouth. Why? Practitioners have reported a wide range of benefits from whitening teeth and fighting cavities, to reducing headaches and skin problems. While there have only been a few scientific studies conducted on this ancient practice, the results show that at the very least it strengthens your jaw and mouth muscles, and leaves you with a clean, fresh feeling. Think of it like a mouthwash, but without all the chemicals.
Here’s how to try it out:
Step One: Pick an oil. Coconut oil is preferred by many because it has a pleasant taste and seems to be the most effective for whitening teeth, but sesame and olive oil have been shown to be popular choices as well.
Step Two: Place about a tablespoon of oil in your mouth, and start swishing. Try to aim for twenty minutes, but don’t hesitate to start smaller and work your way up. You can combine this time with another activity, like taking a shower or reading while pulling the oil to make the most of your morning hours.
Step Three: Spit it out. If you are using coconut oil, avoid spitting in the sink since over time, the oil can solidify and clog your drain. Try spitting it in the trash, or leave a jar under the sink for this purpose.
Get Things Moving
After hours of fasting during sleep, our bodies are dehydrated and depleted of vital nutrients and vitamins. Before eating any food, replenish your system by drinking a glass of warm lemon water. It’s easy and quicker than coffee - warm up some water using a kettle or your stove, and then squeeze the juice from ½ - 1 lemon into the water. You may prefer to strain out the seeds, or add a little honey or agave to sweeten it up.
The citrus in lemons aid the digestive system and help to “get things moving” before adding any more food to what is already in our system. Vitamin C is crucial for boosting the immune system and reducing inflammation. Drinking the lemon water warm helps the body absorb the benefits more quickly since the liquid is closer to our body temperature and therefore ready for our system to use immediately.
Brush from Head to Toe
Or actually, from toe to heart. Your skin is the largest organ in your body, and it has an incredible system for “detoxifying” and cleaning itself. Dry skin brushing assists this process by unclogging pores, and helping to excrete toxins. Just like you may have heard that getting super sweaty in hot yoga is good for you (it is), this simple routine stimulates your lymphatic system, which has been shows to reduce cellulite and promote supple, healthy skin.
To get started, you’ll need to pick up a natural bristle brush that can reach all areas of your body.
Start down at your feet, and use long firm strokes upward towards your heart (where your lymphatic system drains) on one body part at a time. Give a few good strokes to each area, overlapping as you go. Once you’ve brushed completely, jump in the shower to rinse off. For a bonus stimulation to your blood pressure, try alternating from super hot to super cold water a few times to bring your blood closer to the skin’s surface. Once you get out, make sure to moisturize with a natural oil of your choice, and you’ll be clean from the inside out.
Technically speaking, sitting can be referred to as a yoga posture. In fact, the word asana, while commonly thought to mean posture, actually literally translates to the word “seat.” But for this version of a seat, instead of focusing on hatha yoga, it’s the perfect time for a few minutes of a raja yoga practice, also known as meditation.
We all know we should be meditating more, but it’s just so hard to find the time! Or we feel like we aren’t “doing it right.” Taking just five minutes in your morning routine will ensure that you get the benefits of a mindful meditation first thing - and it’s much simpler than you may think.
Find a comfortable space, away from other people and as quiet as possible (yes, sometimes this may mean locking yourself in a closet for a few minutes.) Take a comfortable cross legged seat and place your palms anywhere comfortable on your knees or in your lap. Close your eyes, and focus on the space just below your nose, and above your lip, right where your breath enters and exits your body.
And that’s it. Your mind will more than likely wander time and time again, as it was built to do. That’s okay. Just keep gently returning your attention to your breath.
Make sure to set a timer for five minutes, so you don’t have to peek and check the time. Once your timer is done, take your time rising.
In just a few extra steps, you’ll start your day clean, refreshed, invigorated and grounded using the ancient teachings of yoga. Try adding one new morning activity at a time to help you work towards making these into natural habits. Bring on the rest of an amazing day!