When it comes to looking after ourselves, it’s always tricky to break old habits and change our morning routine. For me, the breakthrough came when I started to get up a little earlier in the morning to make sure I could have some precious time to myself before launching into the day. Previously, I had a more chaotic approach, jumping out of bed just in time to shower and get ready for work, having coffee on an empty stomach before grabbing breakfast on the way to the office (usually something not so healthy). This would mean an adrenaline rush before launching into the working day – no wonder I felt stressed.
I knew things had to change as I was running on empty, and so one Spring as the mornings turned lighter, I used the opportunity to carve out some extra time for me. I began by getting up just 15 minutes earlier to do a mini yoga routine. Also, I made sure I ate breakfast at home, so that it would be something balanced and healthy. I still enjoyed my first coffee, but it wasn’t on an empty stomach so it felt less harsh. It was relatively easy, and it made me feel so good that I did it without fail every weekday morning as well as a longer version at the weekends.
Not only did I begin the day with focus, and clarity, I felt less stressed by the time I got to work and psychologically it felt like a fresh start, a new beginning for each day which was very positive. Even if the day ran away with me (which it inevitably would), then it didn’t matter so much because I’d prioritised my wellbeing and just that little bit every day seemed to pay me back many times over. It became addictive and eventually, I was up 30 minutes, and then an hour earlier to slot more things in.
Of course, winter mornings can be a struggle, but I get up, light a candle, and depending on what I’m doing I’ll make sure I have my favourite cashmere shawl and hand-knitted socks to hand to keep me warm. Also, there are times when it is impossible to do it at all – when travelling or when there are other deadlines to meet. I don’t feel guilty, I do what I have to do, but always make sure I go back to the morning routine as soon as possible.
These are some simple ways to get a good start to the day:
- Breathe in bed. That ‘jump out of bed’ feeling we often get in the morning is not all in our minds. We experience a rise in cortisol (one of the stress hormones) as a natural part of the sleep/wake cycle. We need it – it’s what gets us up, but the trouble is, spiking that with coffee and sugary breakfast foods can set us off into a ‘wired and tired’ cycle for the day. So, take a few minutes to wake yourself up slowly, by connecting to your breath. The beauty is you can stay in bed to do it. Lie flat on your back, feet hip width apart, arms loosely by your sides, palms facing the ceiling, make your chin level so your head isn’t tipped too far forward or back so you can relax your neck. Gently close your eyes, and slowly inhale to raise your navel to the ceiling, exhale, allow it to drop back towards your spine. Inhale and exhale like this10 times, before bringing your legs together, arms up over your head for a big stretch, slowly open your eyes before getting up.
- Drink a cup of hot water. This is a great way to hydrate, warm up from the inside and get the digestive system going. The jury’s out about whether to add lemon – I’m going with my dentist’s advice to not add it as it can erode enamel on teeth if done habitually. Instead, fresh herbs are a good idea – mint leaves, basil or rosemary are all invigorating and great as a kick start.
- Write down your thoughts. When the day begins in earnest, we often forget what our true intentions for the day were. On waking, we often have more clarity and insight, and it might drive us to see what our deeper priorities are. Don’t think too much – it’s not a formal ‘to do’ list – just go with your stream of consciousness and write what’s on your mind. It only has to make sense to you, and it might not need actioning at all, it may be simply a way of making sense of how you feel about a situation.
- Sit in stillness. Early morning is the best time to set up a meditation routine. In yogic terms the time just before dawn (3.30-5.30), Brahma Muhurta, is when spiritual energy is high. Also our minds are at their clearest, not cluttered with the happenings of the day. The simplest way to begin is by sitting comfortably, either in a chair or crossed legged on the floor – it doesn’t matter as long as your spine is straight, chest open, shoulders back and down, and your head is in line with your spine. Have your hands resting in your lap or on your knees. Gently close your eyes and become aware of the natural rhythm of your breath. Every time your mind wanders, bring it back to the breathing. As you start to relax, see if you can notice a pause at the top of the inhale and at the bottom of the exhale, even if it is momentary. This is where you can find a deeper sense of peace, and your breath will automatically slow. And if ever you have 5-10 minutes during the day – even travelling on a train – you can bring this technique into your day to centre yourself.