By Kathryn Boland
Yoga practitioners are no strangers to healthy rituals, yoga being a formalized (yet adaptable) practice that one can regularly execute for enhanced well-being. Many yogis and yoginis find a sense of peace and stability in an active morning asana practice (such as with Sun Salutations), a before-bed restorative and/or meditative physical practice – as well as other forms of practice in any other parts of the day in which it might be beneficial for them. Countless modern individuals, however, find it difficult to maintain rituals in the forms of regular wellness practices.
New Years’ Resolutions can be a key example; some begin with the best intentions to maintain a certain healthful daily practice (one within yoga or other wellness modality). Those individuals begin highly motivated and truly enjoy the initial effects of such practices. Then family, work, et cetera obligations – and sometimes all-too-common drops in motivation, from fatigue or other effects – sideline those best intentions. They come upon March and laugh at, or even harshly criticize, themselves for having yet again abandoned their New Years’ best wishes.
I myself am certainly not exempt from that group of those who have found themselves in such a cycle of setting and then leaving behind healthful practices. On a positive note, however, I have found how to incorporate certain practices into my life that work into my busy schedule and that are flexible in the midst of unexpected changes (and, as the saying goes, nothing in life is guaranteed but “death and taxes”).
For instance, I have formed my own personally meaningful mantras and spiritual practices that I perform as settling-to-sleep and waking rituals. Before jumping into bed, I read a short passage from a Roman Catholic prayer book, and as I rest my head I repeat to myself “God loves me, and all is well”. As I awake (after turning off my blaring alarm clock), I repeat to myself “God, let your light shine through me today”. These practices align with my Catholic faith orientation, but are transferable to any faith system. That flexible approach might be an avenue into regular meditative practices for those who might initially resist them because they see the practices as exclusively Buddhist or Hindu practices.
Other practices I perform at these times are similarly available to most anyone of any faith/spiritual belief system and physical ability. As we understand the body and mind are connected in complex and powerful ways, those mental practices would not help me settle into sleep or wake as they do without also attending to my body. After that Catholic-inspired mantra I repeat while settling into sleep, I move into a measured breath practice of four-count inhales and four-count exhales.
In basic pranayama theory, lengthening exhales to be longer than inhales induces relaxation – so such a counted breath practice with longer exhales than inhales could be helpful for those who find falling to sleep difficult (and the same for those mid-night walkers, as perhaps an alternative to counting sheep). I do the same breath practice after my morning mantra, which could be also be adapted for those who have trouble awakening – having longer inhales than exhales to stimulate the body and mind.
When rising to my feet, I release my hands by my sides and perform a gentle (yet firmly aligned) Mountain Posture. I try to sense my feet grounded into the floor and how I am carrying my weight. I then clasp my hands and stretch to each side. This helps me to release tension, “check-in” with my body’s energy on that day, and begin to wake up my sleepy muscles. Such a simple physical ritual can be adapted in numerous ways for different bodies’ capabilities and needs.
For instance, those who are anxious can especially concentrate on grounding and releasing tension with whatever simple yoga (or other somatic therapy) postures/movements. Those who struggle with depression and low energy can conversely gently bring in movement (such as easy shoulder, head, and bent knee rolls) to help bring energy into their bodies. That energy can come into their minds for increased liveliness and vigorous outlooks towards life, all day long. Such rituals can take as little as two minutes, which most anyone can commit to his or her own wellness (yes, we are all busy, but often just a bit of re-prioritizing can open up space for healthy practices). The same rituals can be expanded to take longer, if you might find the time and need for them on certain days of the week (such as weekend mornings, when some people have a bit more time to rest up and recover from busy weeks).
The possibilities are endless for finding rituals that are part of what you normally do every day, and therefore won’t be so easily left behind when life’s inevitable curveballs come your way. For instance, my Clinical Dance/Movement Therapy professor spends a whole day once a week – privately and peacefully – packing her bags for her separate Dance/Movement Therapy groups and dance classes that week. Doing so feels grounding, comforting, and gives her the assured and confident sense that she is ready for the week ahead. Another professor of mine always lights candles as she unwinds at night, a relaxing treat that she knows she can look forward to no matter comes her way in the midst of hectic days.
Whatever your life might hold, it just takes a bit of curious exploration and mindful commitment to find healthful practices that you can regularly maintain. Such rituals can make a world of difference in how you come to approach both consistent and unexpected stressors, as healing and dependable despite any and all of them.
© Copyright 2015 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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