Oh, winter. How you aggravate the vata in us all! Anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, indecision: all of these manifest a little more aggressively in the winter, because it’s a dry, windy, cold season that just so happens to bring out those qualities in our bodies and minds. One thing to bring us back down to earth is ritual, one of the most grounding and fortifying things we can do for ourselves, not only during this airy vata season, but year-round.
My childhood and adolescence was rife with mental dis-ease; I was diagnosed with OCD and chronic anxiety and depression. By 15, I had been prescribed so many anti-anxiety drugs that left me numb, fuzzy and grey. I’m not alone. This is a growing problem: more children than ever are diagnosed with anxiety, hyperactivity and depressive disorders. The very definition of obsessive-compulsive disorder IS ritual–repetitive thoughts or actions. Uncontrolled, sick-if-you-don’t-do-it ritual, but ritual none the less.
Our collective unconscious is crying out for ceremonial reverence. Spinning the wheels of our minds trying to figure out the missing pieces, what to do with all this excess energy that our ancestors directed toward soul-nourishing ritual. Few things seem to be sacred in our culture: our religion is a perverted, abusive joke; privacy is becoming non-existent, even social interaction is tainted by phone-checking, Instagramming (so, so guilty, here.) and checking in on whatever app it is you need to check in on. So what’s left to hold as holy?
This is one of the reasons I feel Halloween and Christmas are so popular: Yes, they are heavily marketed and we are programmed to consume and spend during this time, but there is a deeper part of us that recognizes a holiness in these times.
Agricultural societies have formed their lives around planting and harvest seasons. They celebrated their abundance during this magical time, which usually coincided with a holy time honoring ancestors, guardians and spirits.
Some of my most grounding moments have been while participating in ceremony: Face down in the mud in a temescal in Puerto Viejo. Pulling down the moon around a fire on the Osa Peninsula. Passing prayers and a ceremonial pipe in Quesada. Gathering with fierce women to set intentions on a reservoir in Nederland. But ritual can be incorporated into everyday tasks. In Maya Tiwari’s The Path of Practice, she teaches various sadhanas, or mindfulness rituals, that can be performed on the daily.
The root of ritual is mindfulness, intention and energy-exchange. When you set aside a moment to mark something as sacred–morning routines, mealtimes, bedtime routines–it fulfills something deep that allows our subconscious to be at rest. It’s a form of meditation, it taps into a primal mindset that lives in conjunction with natural rhythms and knows how to heal ourselves.
These rituals are easy to incorporate into your everyday. Pick one or two and see what sticks. They may even cue your intuition to reveal a spontaneous ritual that works for you.
Also see How to Be a Morning Person
- Set a timer for 5 minutes the moment you wake up. Sit on the floor in a comfortable position and follow the day’s first breaths as they fill and energize your body. Notice how clear your mind is at the beginning of the day.
- Keep a journal on your nightstand and write for 3 pages each morning, stream of conscious-style. If this resonates with you, check out The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.
- Roll out your yoga mat and do a few sun salutes. In the mornings, I love Surya C, but choose what feels good in your bod.
- Enjoy your breakfast quietly, without distraction, preferably outside in the sun, if you’re lucky enough! Even if it’s just a cup of tea in the grass,
- Warm water with lemon, ginger and/or apple cider vinegar first thing is the perfect way to gently wake up your digestive system.
- Practice oil pulling. There are tons of benefits to oil pulling, ranging from teeth whitening to menstrual cycle regulating. Ideally, you’re working up to 20 minutes, but the time the oil is in your mouth is the perfect chance to take some quiet time to yourself.
- Cook! As often as possible! Make your meals with fresh, whole foods. According to ayurveda, the longer your food sits around, the less vital energy it has to nourish you. Avoid leftovers when you can and
- Hold your hands over your food and think good thoughts. Seriously. (Need evidence? Check out Dr. Emoto’s Water Experiment.) Think of how the sun nourished the plants, how they grew and how they will nourish your body and mind. You are being sustained by the sun’s energy! Feel that warm, fuzzy feeling of abundance and gratitude to wash over you.
- Eat slowly, without distraction. Try chewing each bite 40 times, tasting each morsel, feeling the texture.
- Have sex with your food. Or at least sound like it. I unabashedly make noise when I eat or drink something delightful: a nice dinner is filled with gratuitous mmmm’s, oh my god’s and sighs with closed eyes. Smell your food, look at it, feel it in your mouth. Vocalizing your pleasure with something actually enhances your ability to experience that pleasure instantaneously.
- Give yourself 15 minutes of quiet afterwards. Let your body assimilate your meal. Sit quietly, or go for a walk if you can.
- Shut off electronics at least an hour before you hit the sack. And definitely keep your screens out of your bed. The extra light from your devices confuses your circadian rhythms, making it harder for you body to know that it’s time for bed.
- If you didn’t meditate in the morning, try it at night. Notice the thoughts from your day enter your mind then float away, leaving you grounded and calm before bed.
- Give yoga nidra a whirl. It’s an amazing way to tune into intentions and rid yourself of any unconscious gunk you may be holding onto.
- Journal. Write about your day for 20 minutes. It doesn’t matter what comes out or if it makes any sense. Just write to get those thoughts on the page and out of your noggin.
- Brew a warm cup of herbal tea and quietly reflect on the day. Chamomile is an obvious choice, and think about doctoring it up with a dash of damiana or valerian root if you’re feeling a little wound up. Just stay away from green or black teas–why add caffeine to your system so late in the day?
- Take a long, hot shower. Complete with dry brushing, oil self-massage and anything else to help you feel pampered, cozy and rooted.
Now these are TONS of suggestions. You certainly don’t have to try them all, but see what calls out to you. Taking 15 minutes in the morning to meditate, journaling at night, and mindful movement at some point during the day are the rituals that I need to keep happy and balanced, especially during the winter when I tend to get a little anxious and flighty.
What are some of the rituals that you take solace in throughout your day?