Recently I was asked whether I have a special morning routine and, if so, if I would like to share it. I do have a morning routine that I recommend to everyone. My customary wake-up method hovers between good (the short version) and ideal (the long version), depending on the day. Since I’m a realist I’ll share both versions, so you too have options, and I’ll give some suggestions on how to improve the start of your day overall.
1. I wish it wasn’t so, but I usually wake up with my alarm. I have chosen a soothing sound to wake me up though.
You may have noticed that waking up with an alarm can be jarring for your nervous system, especially when you are in a deep sleep right at that moment. Choosing a soothing sound to wake you up, rather than a harsh “beep beep”, will make for a better start of the day. I have downloaded a song from my favorite movie on my phone, and chose that as my alarm tone. If you are worried you won’t wake up, just turn the volume to max – believe me: it works.
2. After going to the bathroom, I always (may I repeat: always) clean my tongue with a tongue scraper.
During the night a white sticky substance, which is a residue of your digestion, builds up on your tongue. In Ayurveda* this is called Ama and it is toxic. To maintain a healthy balance in your body and to prevent getting sick, Ama needs to be removed from the tongue instead of putting it back into your system. This is best done by using a tongue scraper (using a toothbrush will only push the Ama into your tongue). This simple method takes only 2 minutes and has a lasting positive effect. Brush your teeth after you’re done.
3. I have a dedicated space where I do my yoga and meditation practice, and I use it too.
Even if you don’t have much extra space, you can create a corner in your house that is dedicated to your (morning) practice. I have a little altar set up that reminds me of good things (it has a small wooden Buddha, a singing bowl, and some precious stones) that feels inviting to practice in front of. Fresh flowers and a candle are always great too. Keeping my yoga mat rolled out also encourages me to actually use it and not just look at it. I also have a special meditation cushion that makes sitting for a longer time very comfortable.
3 a. When I allow myself enough time (here comes the ideal version of my routine!), I start my practice with a Yin yoga pose that opens the hips and makes it easier to sit for meditation afterwards (see one of my previous blogs to read more about Yin Yoga):
Seated on your mat, bring your feet out in front of you, knees bent and to the sides, and the soles of the feet touching. The feet are away from, rather than close to, the groin, so that your legs make a diamond shape. Inhale, and as you exhale round your spine forward, allowing your head to come down towards your feet. Don’t force yourself into your deepest forward bend. Just let gravity pull you gently downward as the minutes pass.
Stay for 3-5 minutes.
To come out of the pose, inhale and slowly come back to a straight spine, if you were in the seated pose. Place your hands under your knees to help your knees back together. Hug your knees into your chest with your arms and stay there for a few breaths.
After Butterfly Pose I meditate for 24 minutes. 24 minutes is called a Gathika. This is the time it takes for your system to “reset”. See it as a complete reboot of your personal hardware. I like using the Meditation Timer app (the paid version is best) so I can choose the sounds that indicate the end of the 24 minutes, and it keeps track of when and how long I meditated. In the case you feel not ready yet to meditate for that long, just start with 6 minutes and build it up from there. I have written a blog about meditation that you may find helpful.
When I’m done meditating I either do a yoga practice or go out and take a Pure Barre class. My yoga practice can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on how I feel and what my body needs. It may take some time to get in tune enough with yourself to honestly feel what practice would serve you best. The mind is quick to tell you you have done enough. This may be true for the type-A personality that runs around all day anyhow (in that case a longer Yin yoga practice is in order), but if you are more complacent you will benefit from some rounds of Sun Salutations (or a run or other high(er) impact workout).
3 b. On those days that I can’t make enough time for my full practice (this is the short version of my routine!), I will meditate for 6 minutes and then practice Dasha Chalana (click here for a video of it).
This is a simple exercise to loosen up all the major joints in the body and to get your energy flowing after a night in bed (this practice is also great after a long flight!):
Eight rotations minimum in each direction:
– Ankles (toes curled under, femur bone “hanging” straight from your hip);
– Neck (as if you are drawing circles with your nose on the wall in front of you);
– Shoulders (rotate backwards, then forward);
– Wrists (elbows and wrists together and interlace your fingers);
– Twists (small, twisting from above your navel, keep your legs and hips still. Tap your shoulder with opposite hand);
– Hips (keep rest of body still, like you are a wooden spoon stirring a pot);
– Knees (feet and knees together);
– Serpa (“the snake”; start with your sitz bones pointing backwards and let your spine ripple).
4. Before I eat in the morning I always drink a glass of warm water with fresh lemon juice, to cleanse my digestive tract.
For breakfast I love hot oatmeal in the winter, or a quinoa breakfast bowl in the summer. Whenever possible I buy everything organic. Both breakfasts are gluten-free, sugar-free, have a low glycemic index, contain healthy fats and blood sugar stabilizing cinnamon. Quinoa is packed with protein.
Hot oatmeal with banana and cranberries (serves 1)
½ cup of rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup water (use almond milk it you’d like more protein)
big handful of dried unsweetened cranberries
cinnamon, to taste
pinch of salt
Combine all ingredients in a pan and bring to boil. Lower the heat and cook for 5 minutes, or until oatmeal is soft. Stir regularly.
Some suggested toppings (to taste):
Dried coconut flakes
Ghee (clarified butter)
Quinoa breakfast bowl (serves 1)
½ cup cooked quinoa (either warm or cold)
almond milk, to taste
½ banana (and/or any other fruit)
handful of dried unsweetened cherries
handful of raw almonds
cinnamon, to taste
Combine all ingredients.
I also often make smoothies for breakfast, which is a great way to easily take in a lot of fruit and vegetables and plant-based protein.
My favorite morning smoothie (serves 2)
Handful of blueberries (fresh or frozen)
Handful of raspberries (fresh or frozen)
2 handfuls of spinach
1 tbsp. peanut butter (unsweetened)
2 tbsp. hemp seeds
1/2 inch raw ginger root
1/2 inch raw turmeric root (chopped)
1 cup water or almond milk (more if you like the smoothie less thick)
Combine all ingredients in a blender and mix till everything is completely blended. When I use frozen fruit I like to add some hot water so the smoothie isn’t ice cold, which is better for your digestion. Pour it in a bowl and decorate to your liking, to make it look festive and inviting!
I hope my morning routine has inspired you. Feel free to follow my routine or create one of your own (but don’t skip the tongue scraper!). I believe the way you start your day will have a tremendous impact on the rest of it. And if you think you don’t have time for this, think again! The more space you create, the more you will have.
Have a happy day!
* Ayurveda is a thousands years old Indian health care system and the sister science of yoga.
** Precautions: If you have, or have had, a knee, groin or hip injury or sensitivity, place a block, cushion or blanket under your knees to support the upper thighs, and reduce the stretch of the groin and the widening of the knees. If you have issues with your SI-joint, sciatica or a disc injury, lay down on your back with your knees bent and practice the pose lying down to take the pressure of your lower back. If you have an upper back injury or sensitivity that isn’t acute, you can practice Butterfly Pose seated but don’t round the spine. Instead, don’t come down so far but keep the spine straight and reach your arms behind you while pressing your fingertips gently into the floor, to help lengthen the spine, reach the crown of the head away from your tailbone, and get some reflexology on the meridians that run through your fingertips (Lung, Heart, Small and Large Intestine meridians). Do this also if you have any respiratory issues that prevent you from breathing deeply, as the rounding of the spine will make it even more difficult to breathe deeply. If you have any neck injury or sensitivity, keep the neck long instead of letting the head drop. You can let your chin rest in your hands or stack your fists on your feet and let your forehead rest on your fists. If your ankles are sensitive, you can place a thin cushion or a blanket under your feet.