Why You Need A Morning Ritual

I’ve been waking up at 4 a.m. for a few months. But, it’s ok, I want to.

For a lot of folks, those two sentences are at odds with each other. While a 4 a.m. wake-up isn’t essential, it certainly makes for a better (read: longer) morning ritual. And regardless of when, everyone should consider having a morning ritual.

What My Mornings Used To Look Like

Previously, my mornings started with four alarms: “Wake up” “Seriously, you need to get up now.” “Are you in the shower?” “Ok, now you are late.” I’d snooze through the first two alarms. Easily. Thanks to sleep inertia, I’d start the morning groggy but I’d also be disappointed with myself for not getting up earlier. And I was stressed. What was I going to wear? What was I going to have for lunch? Run. Scurry. Panic.

Then we threw a kid in the mix.

The Inspiration

Thankfully, I recently heard an NPR article (or maybe it was a TED talk?). Unfortunately, I didn’t have the foresight to bookmark it. The reporter opened with how Maya Angelou, regardless of if she was traveling and staying in a hotel or at her home, would wake up every morning at four in the morning to write. He listed other creative thinkers and well-respected businesspeople who enjoyed getting an early start on the day.

And then he tried it. He woke up and found that it was a difficult task at first, but the stillness of the morning was invigorating and his creative juices were flowing.

I had to try it too.

Measuring Success Because My Type A Self Won’t Be Denied

The first couple of days I would spring out of bed. The anticipation of four in the morning made it difficult to sleep. It was a similar sensation to when I have a plane to catch. Doesn’t matter if it’s a short one-hour flight — the night prior is filled with tossing and turning because I’m so worried that I’ll oversleep.

Being the bullet journal junkie that I am, I actually have some data. I started in July and was successful 45% of the time. August: 54%. September: 40%. But there’s a catch with September. I’ve only woken up 12 times (so far this month since as of this writing it is September 29) at 4 a.m. but I have enjoyed my morning ritual 22 times this month. And so, if I change my metric of success to being that I got up and had a morning ritual, September isn’t too shabby at a 73% success rate. Woot woot!

So, dear Toto, allow me to pull back the curtains and share what makes up my new morning routine.

Morning Ritual Timeline:

4:00 – Alarm goes off. I open one eye to search for the phone. Think about skipping the whole deal. Snooze the alarm.
4:15 – The alarm goes again and I turn on a light. No more hopping out of bed for this gal. The motion can be described as a drag-my-feet-across-the-carpet-in-which-I-make-enough-static-electricity-I-could-taze-someone motion as I walk into the bathroom. Then it’s downstairs to do other essential things. Important things like coffee.
4:30 – Free write.
5:15 – Alarm goes off. This was my normal wake-up alarm. It now serves as a reminder to transition.
5:20 – Yoga for 10 minutes.
5:30 – Meditation for 10 minutes.
5:40 – Read for 5 minutes.

Morning ritual completed. Healthy habits established.

On the days that I don’t wake up at 4 a.m. I still make time to free write, do yoga, meditate, and read. However, the amount of time to write is greatly reduced. So it would behoove me to move my butt out of bed at that early hour.

The Elements Of Littlest Martha’s Morning Ritual

Free Write

silver fountain pen resting on a journal with cursive handwriting
Beautiful fountain pens are encouraged. Baby rabbit statue that your parents saved for you as a child to serve as your paperweight: bonus.

There was a time that I would be terrified to write on a blank sheet of paper. The fear of writing something “not good” prevented me from writing anything at all. Now I crave the weight of the fountain pen. I get excited when the ink bleeds all over the paper and onto my fingers. I especially love it when it gets lodged under my fingernails. It’s the tattoo of a writer.

Prior to my 4 a.m. morning ritual, my writing was very mean. To myself. I’d wait for some muse to come and would often find anger and disappointment at myself for not “being good enough.” (I’m noticing a theme here.)

However, I now flip through the pages of my free write journal and find poetry and prose on whatever is taking space in my mind that morning.

It’s a theory but I’m going with it: perhaps at this early hour the ego, my critical self, is still sleeping and not able to dish out the criticisms.

True or not, now when I’m looking for material to turn into a short story or poem I flip through my blue moleskin journal and have several months of material to draw upon.

Yoga

Siberian husky on a blue yoga mat
This is what happens if you leave the yoga mat unattended. You get squatters.

I sit for 9 to 10 hours a day. And now we know that “sitting is the new smoking” so yoga is my smoke break. I have a series of poses that I have committed to memory and will cycle through those for 10 minutes.

Thanks to the Insight Timer app I have presets that I use every morning. Once the timer is on it activates a Do Not Disturb setting so no email alerts or texts can come through.

If you’re interested in starting your day with some yoga, check out these sun salutations.

Meditation

sunrise over the ocean with inspirational words

I am such a fangirl these days for meditation. However, it couldn’t have been more than a year go when I was introduced to meditation and I said: “Yeah, thanks but not for me. I lack the discipline.”

Again the Insight Timer app came in handy here. When I was brand new to meditation I would enjoy browsing through the guided meditation options. All so lovely. Morning affirmation meditations, Metta meditations (“Metta” is the pali word for lovingkindness), meditations to help you fall asleep, music and much more.

For my morning ritual, I will leverage the presets and meditate for 10 minutes. The thoughts would come rapid-fire like a tennis ball launcher on steroids (and they still do), but before my inclination was to try and chase them down. Exhausting.

As I’ve learned from Tara Brach, the mind excretes thoughts in the same way the body excretes enzymes. So, now I sit on the cushion and acknowledge the thoughts as they go whizzing by and return to the breath. It’s taking some practice but with each meditation, I find the experience is becoming more and more restorative and freeing.

Read

"Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids" book on hardwood floor
One of the books I actually finished reading. And it was pretty darn good. Blog post fodder right here.

My younger self was always reading. Car ride? Reading. On the beach? Reading. On the soccer field (provided I wasn’t playing)? Reading. The appetite to read hasn’t left me but I am not walking around with a book anymore since there are adult things I have to do now.

Enter the Insight Timer app. The third preset in my morning ritual is to read for 5 minutes. Unlike the other presets (as you can customize all presets) this one has no music, only the gong to signal when done.

This portion of my morning ritual has shown the most tangible results. Reading for 5 minutes a day has been really helpful. When I find the material is slow I know I can just read it for a few moments, but when it’s good I find myself sneaking a few more pages … or chapters.

The ultimate goal here is to read a book a month. Younger self, you’d be happy to learn that I’m on my way to finishing my third book.

An Extra Bonus To An Early Wake Up

Bright sunrise over rooftops

By this time the sunrise is peeking through the windows. Experiencing a soft sunrise warm up the sky and light up the room you’ve been sitting in is nothing short of magical. And it’s the perfect opportunity to give thanks.

For me, I use that chance to give thanks for the people in my life, the blessings in each day, that I get to see another day, and for my morning ritual. It’s also at this time that I’ll recite my mantra or the day’s intention.

Your morning ritual doesn’t have to start at 4 in the morning, but I hope that you make enough time for yourself to do the things that bring you joy, peace, and inspire your creativity.

With gratitude,

Martita signature

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Martha’s Musings: Bullet Journals and RAIN

Hi Friends!

I’m coming ‘atcha strong with a quote from Dr. Maya Angelou: “When you get, give. When you learn, teach.” So today I give you two things that I’ve recently learned and would like to share. The first is Bullet Journaling.  The second is RAIN, which is a beautiful meditation I’ve learned from Tara Brach that can be done any time and should be done by everyone.

Dr. Maya Angelou quote

Bullet Journal

A bullet journal, I have found, is ideal for the list-loving, Type-A personality within us, but also plays well with our free-spirited, go-with-flow Type B personality that comes up with those creative ideas and sketches that wouldn’t fit inside the margin of a pre-made planner.

I’m very grateful for my bullet journals (yup, I have two. One for work and one for personal use), as it helps me capture all that floats around in my brain on to paper, in an effort to stay organized, inspire creativity, capture gratitude, track goals, plan meals, and so forth and so on.

How Does A Bullet Journal Work?

Acquire the following:

    • Lined journal
    • Pen (ideally one that doesn’t bleed through to the other side of the paper)
    • Optional: Colored pens, pencils, washi tape

The first two pages of the journal are reserved for the index, a Table of Contents of sorts.

In my index there are some recurring collections like monthly logs (i.e. November: 47) and then some one off topics like “Meditation thoughts: 40.” The number (47 and 40) are the page numbers. In the bottom right is a key of the signifier symbols. Having a key is great to reference but after a few entries you’ll likely have the symbols committed to memory.  In the left hand corner of the photo is my rose quartz egg, because pretty. Oh and a Coffee Makes Me Poop mug. But jokes on you! I’m drinking Earl Gray.

gratitudelog

This is the pièce de résistance of a bullet journal: being able to create pages that are specific to your life. For me that means having a monthly goal tracker for things like reading for 15 minutes a day (room for improvement here — oof!) or my yoga practice (I can do a headstand now!).  On the right hand side is my gratitude log. Every day I take pause to remember at least one thing that I was grateful for. Sometimes that comes easily like having an impromptu get together with friends. Other times they are the little things that made the day: chicken soup, meditation practice, wine, podcasts. What would be on your list?

And, that is the proverbial “it”, ladies and gents, on what you really need to get started. However, to learn more visit the bulletjournal’s website. Especially how to get started where you will learn the difference between the daily, monthly and future log.  And the beauty of the signifiers! And if that’s not enough, be sure to check out this great lifehacker article. 

Now some folks really get creative and can spend a lot of time decorating their bullet journals.  You do you. I’ma be like this at these people with their crazy doodles and sketches:

Whoa

 

RAIN

raindrops
One of the things I have listed in my gratitude log is my new found enjoyment for podcasts and there is one in particular I devour on a daily basis: Tara Brach’s talks. She is a meditation teacher, psychologist, founder of the Insight Meditation Community in Washington, D.C., and she keeps me calm on my long commutes to and from work. In one talk she spoke about a meditation technique to use in daily life to help deal with the difficult, stressful, or emotional situations that arise: R.A.I.N.

R – Recognize

A – Allow

I – Investigate

N – Nurture

How To Use R.A.I.N. In Your Life

Imagine there is someone in your life with whom you have tension or difficulty with. Bring up a recent situation and watch it unfold in your memory. Perhaps it was a heated argument with a loved one, a tit-for-tat exchange with a co-worker regarding a deadline, or a heated call with a customer service representative. During the moment of  tension and stress can you Recognize what emotions were raising up or how you felt in your body? Perhaps your heart was pounding or maybe your jaw was clenched.

Allow those feelings and sensations in your body to be there.  Breathe deeply and quietly name the sensations. “Angry.” “Tense.” “Disappointed.” “Tightness.” Give yourself permission to let those feelings and sensations be as big as they need to be.

Then, when you are ready, Investigate why when this situation occurred you felt and reacted in the way you did. As Tara puts it: “What story am I believing about myself?” or “What am I believing?” or “What most wants attention?” When you look internally do it with love and compassion as you would when a friend comes to you looking for solace. You wouldn’t chide them for seeking for help, so be sure to offer yourself the same kindness. Sometimes, the I in R.A.I.N. doesn’t come easily and may take several attempts into introspection. That’s OK.

Now I’ve learned that there can be two N’s in RAIN. The first, is to Nurture yourself. Tara Brach mentions that a physical gesture, like putting your hand over your chest above your heart can help bring that message home. Sometimes having an expression you can say to yourself is also helpful: “It’s OK, sweetheart.”

The second is for Non-Identification. Non-identification is liberating and comes naturally after you Recognize what is stirred up within you, after you’ve Allowed that feeling and sensation to just be, then kindly Investigate within yourself why these feelings and sensations are manifesting within you. When you can do this, the natural next step is to realize that you are not identified with those feelings and sensations. Sure, you may get angry or feel jealous at times, but you are not an angry or jealous person.

When Does It RAIN?

You knew I’d have to find a pun somewhere. Even if it were a stretch.

RAIN is best to use after experiencing intense emotions or situation.  Recently, I’ve been practicing the R and A of RAIN during some emotional or stressful situations and it has been a tremendous tool to help me stay present in the moment and actually reduce tension in my body.

Want to give it a shot? Remember to take deep breaths and to mentally name the sensations that arise within you. Then, allow those feelings and sensations to be there.

The neat thing I’ve found is by being present in my body I am able to take pause and make a conscious decision if I want to react like I would when I’m normally triggered or to come from a place of  love and compassion.

I don’t always succeed in the latter, however through Tara Brach’s RAIN I am recognizing that I can have compassion for myself and others and that’s a beautiful thing.

 

Tara Brach’s RAIN Meditation

Try the meditation now with Tara Brach. Hit play, close your eyes and let her calm voice guide you through.

Visit Tara’s website to read this adaption from her book “True Refuge: Finding Peace & Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart” on RAIN:

Working With Difficulties: The Blessings of RAIN

I hope either the bullet journaling or RAIN are helpful to you as they have been for me. If you try either, please let me know your thoughts.

With love and kindness,

Martita signature