by Dr. Will Cole
Rituals are a part of human history. Ancient people – even our grandparents – honored the sacred to give our lives more meaning and keep our minds focused on something higher than ourselves, whatever that meant to the individual. Life was slower and more deliberate just a few decades ago, and rituals kept us anchored and linked together as families, communities, and humans.
But today, rituals seem to have little room in our sophisticated, evidence-based modern culture. Or do they? Science is finally catching up with antiquity and research has shown that rituals actually seem to be beneficial in more ways than one – these benefits include improving attention, increasing effectiveness, stabilizing emotions, and raising confidence levels.
As a functional medicine practitioner, I also see these same benefits in my patients when I help them cultivate healthy rituals. You don’t have to wait for a holiday – you can incorporate rituals in your everyday, starting now. Here are my favorite health rituals to bring stability and calm to our crazy modern lives:
1. Start and finish your day with a mindfulness reset.
How you start and end your day will determine the quality of everything that happens in between, helping you to be more mindful and deliberate about what you do and say and the decisions you make in your life. Do you want to be the victim of whatever life throws at you, or would you rather have what it takes to thrive even when things go wrong?
Mindfulness meditation has been used for thousands of years as a ritual to create inner peace. And today, mindfulness for lowering anxiety and increasing focus is very well-researched. But just as with fitness, consistency is key. A regular, consistent meditation practice will grow your mindfulness muscles! Start with just a few minutes twice a day. My friends Light Watkins and Charlie Knowles both have excellent video classes to help you get started.
2. Start a morning elixir ritual.
After you nourish your soul with your mindfulness reset, make sure to nourish your body. I am a big fan of something warm for your morning elixir. Try hot water and lemon, your favorite tea, or anti-inflammatory turmeric milk. Get up early enough to be able to enjoy this drink sitting down, creating a sacred space of calm before your busy day.
3. Take adaptogenic breaks.
Now that your day is going at full speed, find time – even just little moments – to center yourself with mini-rituals. Adaptogens like ashwagandha and rhodiola are a family of herbs that has been shown to balance stress hormones and calm even the most type-A personalities. Check out my favorite adaptogenic herbal and mushroom recipes to sprinkle into your schedule. These smoothies, elixirs, and teas are quick to prepare ahead and easy to bring to work with you.
4. Establish a ritual that engages your senses.
5. Smudge your space.
This may be too New Agey for some of you, but have an open mind! Smudging or burning dried plants like sage or palo santo has been a ritual for thousands of years to cleanse living spaces of negative energy. Today, researchers have found that medicinal smoke can be an effective way to clean indoor air of airborne bacteria, giving that “negative energy” scientific backup.
Whether you choose to believe in negative energy or not, nobody likes airborne bacteria, so why not give smudging a try? Like the air after a rainstorm, smudging really does bring about feelings of cleansing and renewal. My friend Dana Claudat gives some great pointers on the subject of clearing negative energy.
6. Bring the outside inside.
Create a sanctuary for yourself by bringing nature into your home and workspace. Surrounding yourself with beautiful plants, rocks, crystals, and a water feature will create a positive environment for your day.
7. Connect with the earth.
Make it a point to get outside as much as you can during your day. Taking small breaks to connect to nature is a great centering ritual. On nice days, ground yourself by taking off your shoes and socks and walking on the grass. This is called “earthing,” the practice of direct skin-on-earth contact.
Earthing has been shown to be an effective healing and calming tool. This may be because the earth’s surface electrons are an untapped health restorer, as is suggested by some groundbreaking (pun intended) medical literature! So go ahead – feel the breeze, be in awe of sunsets, observe clouds, touch the soil, and give your full attention – at least every so often – to any part of nature that speaks to you.
8. Declutter your home and office.
Clutter in your living space will create clutter in your mind. Donate what you don’t use and clean and organize your space. Try out the KonMari method and create tidying festivals to clear out your outer and inner spaces.
9. Detox regularly from the digital realm.
Don’t panic, but I suggest that my patients create rituals of silence with digital detoxes. Turn off the smartphone, TV, computer, and any other electronic device. Try to give yourself “no screen time” breaks of at least two hours before bed. If you are up for more, check out my smartphone detox guide.
10. Indulge in a detoxifying soak.
At the end of your long day, unwind with a detox bath ritual. Add 1 cup Epsom salt, 1 cup Himalayan sea salt, and a few drops of sandalwood essential oil to a warm bath and soak for around 20 minutes. If that’s too intense, start with just five or ten minutes and work up to longer soaks.
The truth is, consistency builds character and shapes us as people in all kinds of ways, but especially in the practice of ritual, whether it’s physical, emotional, social, spiritual, or all of these at once. Creating healthy routines is an essential tool to a life that is both grounded and elevated. Rituals make the mundane magical, so become your own modern shaman and create sacred routines, spaces, and thoughts to calm your stress and bring peace and balance into your life.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.
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