Morning is both the witching hour and the sacred hour. This is the time when cortisol is at the highest, the mind is darting. It’s the moment I'm flooded with creative and chaotic voices at the crossroads of asleep and awake. Ideas merge with dream fragments, running like mad against the approaching light like a vampire. The sun firing through the low clouds, while the sense of urgency to mobilize, produce, evolve somehow from this immobile mass that I am is strong. Hope rests in coffee, a delivery from chaos. Time to determine and direct my body and mind. My endocrine system is jolted, I can be deliberate and fuel myself with the goals and intentions I have, instead of tanking with coffee, and shape the course of the day. The morning ritual sets this chaos aside and lays down the momentum of the day.
I go to the coffee, done in the most efficient, minimal movements; boil, grind, percolate, while the animal’s broken fast of excitement tracks me relentlessly through the transition of delta waves to higher functioning beta waves, as I trip over paws and tails. I'll continue my fasting for another few hours, only adding fats and mild caffeine to fuel my brain, staying away from additional carbs and sugars that would ignite the existing cortisol rush. Through a morning ritual, we can preserve the ability to heal by directing the cortisol. The parasympathetic nervous system disengages cortisol, adrenals, and sends messages that we are not under threat. This morning moment establishes that opportunity. For me, it's been a critical time to not just set intentions, but establish the dialogue with the day. And healing some crafty persistent physical and emotional knots.
Facing east, watching light dissolve the precipitation and cloud activity, crafting subtle shifts in an insistence of heat as sun pushes it’s way into my body, generating heat, qualifying action. All in due time. I sip my hot coffee with coconut oil. The new world order is established……then, I start moving. Into the joints, not through yoga, but more through listening to my body and responding to the aches, to create more mobility, to treat imbalances. If my body is fluid, my mind is. I settle into about an
Ritual “can be any set of actions and procedures, usually more than one and often repeated, that are performed in a meaningful or ceremonial way.” (Psychcentral.com). An act that engages more senses will impact more aspects of your brain and body. The key that continues to appear in research is the ‘intent’, the ‘deliberate participation’, ‘mindfulness’. Ritual is not defined by randomness or chaotic events, but by a clear intentional mind. Rituals deepen neuropathways, enable focus and become meaningful through intention.
My morning ritual occurs in the same place, same time, daily. It has become my passageway from sleep to wake, capturing the stillness and making a more graceful transition to how I respond to the flux of information. Rituals can become negative, habitual; they can become addictions. The repetition of ritual imprints deep into memory, as the same synapses are firing repeatedly. In time, the act requires less conscious effort. The synapses deepen the same pathways that create memory, behavior, We prefer to move from the previous experience. If the intent is reinforced, whatever intent that is, ritual deepens. The morning ritual sets the direction for the day. It's an opportunity to define yourself. It's simple, but powerful. I find that I can negotiate decisions more readily when I can establish my baseline. I'm less likely to engage emotions, and more likely to ignite calm.
Morning routines are researched, mimicked, repeated and we read about the ubiquitous: ‘How to start your day in 10 easy steps’, or ‘morning routines from the most successful….(fill in the blank...athlete, writer, CEO, boss man, world leader). How you start your day is up to you. If you want some focus, then get focused. If you could care less, then don’t focus. Point is, what you do in the morning matters. You're ‘fresh’, meaning you can make an impact on the direction of your thinking. But, you can’t pick up someone else's routine any more successfully than you can pick up someone's else's diet. It can be inspired by someone else, or influences, but only you can figure out what will put you in your flow to define what you want. What are your parameters, movement, space, smell….
In ‘biohacking’ my endocrine system, I affect my mind and emotions, establishing clarity. I am more decisive and can eliminate distractions in the morning, but I also know that with the right diet, activity level, and maybe a short nap if super lucky, I can tweak out some high level performance and creativity in the afternoon. The daily energy curve is higher in the morning, dips, and can usually raise again late afternoon when I have my hardest workouts. Depending on blood sugar, progesterone and hormonal levels, I can tweak enough balance to forge out more balanced energy. Otherwise I’m subjected to wild fluctuations. Watching the hormonal and nutritional needs and shifts are the key to monitoring energy levels. The morning ritual helps to establish homeostasis, establish a focused, grounded start.
Few people other than the Dalai Lama and Pema Chodron have helped me define the intention and spiritual aspect of my ritual. Stacy Sims, however helps me understand the science behind a neutral start to the day. Hormones are shiftings daily, wreaking havoc on energy levels throughout the day. This isn’t restricted to menopausal women. There’s not enough discussion about hormone regulation and performance on any level. Hormones affect our brain, become our behavior. ‘Estrogen and progesterone affect the hypothalamus- the regulator of fatigue, among other functions. Since the hypothalamus is highly interconnected with the central nervous system, anything that affects the hypothalamus can have a direct effect on the limbic system (center for emotional control) and autonomous nervous system (Heart rate, breathing rate, digestion). This can also increase fatigue, lethargy, and low mood.” (roar, p. 23). So, setting a baseline neutral in the morning, and regulating the stimuli and fueling throughout the day stabilizes our physiology. I can adapt more fluidly to situations throughout the day when I understand my baseline.
The sympathetic nervous system with large prefrontal cortex activity overrates and overthinks and judges the ‘day’, the 24 hour period as something that needs to produce novel results. ‘How was your day’…..’what did you do today’, how much was accomplished? What if we said how is your development of your life’s plans and what are you doing to move yourself out of your current situation into conditions more conducive to nurturing those said goals and heal any past obstacles that might be stopping you from becoming more compassionate and living the life you want to live…? Or something like that. Looking at the longer term, having a bigger vision, stepping back from judgement, allows less stress going into the day and less stress closing out the day. Deadlines are good and important, and daily lists might be necessary for some, but having a longer term on life expectations may help defray unnecessary judgement about what ‘productivity’ even means. Taking incremental steps toward big goals is how we accomplish tasks. Morning ritual is an effort to be intentional guiding your mind and body towards your goals.
Truth about morning is that you’re also closer to your subconscious, delta waves and other aspects of your brain that aren’t accessible as the sympathetic nervous system begins to engage and prefrontal cortex dominates, closing down healing opportunities. In the transition between sleep and awake, the brain has been actively recovering in delta sleep waves going through a very high level of parasympathetic cellular repair. Moving too quickly away from that seems ludicrous to me. Being able to tap into more facets of my brain and more healing qualities in the body is a super rich experience I don’t want to pass up.
Owning your personal morning ritual is sacred. It may be the only time you’re alone in the day. Or even if you aren’t alone, you can still claim time at minimum 5 minutes, and make space to focus on yourself. And as indulgent or unecessary as it seems, being intentional about your decisions, your choices, your life goals begins each day. Every day we wake up. We should be grateful to be able to wake up. In a simple way, beginning with some gratitude for the health we have and the ability to breathe and move. It can be very simple.