10 Morning Rituals To Build A Long and Strong Life
People often ask me “What do you do” to maintain my vitality? This 10 Morning Rituals piece is a big part of the answer. Hopefully there’s a few rituals that will help you make the best of each day.
I HAVE a friend who boasts that he can be out of the house within 10 minutes of waking up in the morning. That amount of speed and efficiency is no doubt useful if you’re late for some appointment, but what else is it good for?
Here’s what a hectic, speedy blast to get out the door in the morning DOES NOT do:
- You don’t get to touch base with your state of mind.
- You don’t get to review you goals and objectives for the day.
- You don’t get to prepare your mind and body for achieving what you desire that day, even if it’s to rest and relax.
- You don’t get to practice habit making, the key to accomplishment.
- You don’t get to practice mindfulness, the key to peace and awareness.
- You don’t get to awaken and mobilize your body, the key to being free within it.
Rather than minimizing the amount of time your need to blast out of the house, why not maximize the precious time the morning offers? Why not use the morning to set up your ideal day before its demands swallow you up?
During that precious morning time — your time — cultivate a morning ritual that consciously and predictably prepares you to have the best day, the best life, that you can achieve.
Why Morning Rituals Are Valuable
Among the many online sources that underscore the value of having a morning ritual that I could cite, let’s briefly look at three that Eric Barker, Founder of the website Barking Up The Wrong Tree and author of a book with the same title.
In his article, The Best Morning Ritual, Three Secrets from Research, Mr. Barker compiles research that shows that you can derive substantial benefits from having a morning ritual focused, at least in part, on cultivating a sense of purpose, being in control and optimism.
Certainly you don’t need 10 morning rituals, but a few will make your life better.
Consider the following three benefits of a morning ritual.
1. Feel a sense of purpose, that your on mission, your life has meaning and you’re on an epic quest.
Not only will you feel better about your life but you just might live longer, happier. Researchers at Tohoku University in Japan did a seven year study of over 43,000 adults age 40 to 79. They asked the volunteers asking if they identified the meaning of their lives, and then tracked their health. People who did were much more likely to be alive seven years later.
2. Feel you’re in control and get these benefits:
- A 66% greater likelihood to feeling happy and satisfied.
- A decreased chance of mortality from cardiovascular disease.
- Be more likely to set intentions, be goal-oriented and confident — all three are part of the same neural circuitry and reduce worry and anxiety. Making decisions also helps overcome striatum activity, which typically pulls you toward negative impulses and routines. Finally, making decisions changes your perception of the world — finding solutions to your problems and calming the limbic system.
3. Feel optimistic.
Here’s a few among a long list of benefits that scientific research indicates is associated with being optimistic:
- Better health and a longer life.
- Causes (not just correlates with) an increase in happiness.
- The army teaches soldiers to be optimistic because it makes them tougher and more persistent.
- Being socially optimistic — expecting people to like you — makes people like you more.
- Expecting a positive outcome from negotiations made groups more likely to come to a deal and to be happy with it.
- Optimists are luckier. Research shows by thinking positively they persevere and create more opportunities for themselves.
Too bad we can’t just flip a switch and become optimistic.
Staring in a mirror and repeating some mantra like, “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better”, doesn’t work. Instead, to become more optimistic you need to think about your goal, consider the obstacles, and then figure out how you might be able to overcome them.
You become more hopeful and persistent when you’ve considered the problems ahead and have made a plan. Read more about this here.
My 10 Morning Rituals – A Quick Summary
Now that you have a sense for its value, let me tell you about my morning rituals, but first, some background.
The first thing to say about it is that I prepare for my morning rituals the night before!
Given that I need an extra half-hour to do the ritual, I must ensure that I go to bed early enough to get restful, recuperative sleep.
If you’re having issues with sleep and are willing to tweak a few things to gain the enormous benefits from consistently deep and restorative sleep, read my article, 7 Tips for Your Ultimate Rest and Restoration.
Here are my 10 morning rituals in a nutshell:
- Review my dreams
- Cite the two mantras
- Contract my perineum
- Make my bed
- Consume my “cleansing” drink
- Shower with alternating hot and cold water
- Do my mobility drills
- Consume my “building” drink and supplements
- Write-out and record three things for which I’m grateful and my primary focus for the day
There are good reasons this daily ritual, and they can be summarized thus:
My daily ritual addresses many of the proven lifestyle behaviors needed to extend my healthspan, and potentially my lifespan as well. They empower me to work at being the best I can be.
Let’s dig into each of them to see why this is so.
#1. I examine my dreams to glean the subconscious
This is the first thing I do after I awaken. I stay in bed and review my dreams. There are insights there. For instance, I can tell from my dreams if I’m anxious or in control, even though I may not be aware of it consciously.
Psychotherapist Joshua Miles describes Sigmund Freud’s belief that dreams are the “royal road to the unconscious”. As such, Freud believed that dreams were a window into our unconscious thoughts, feelings and desires.
I have long practiced remembering my dreams, which starts with intention. As you drift off to sleep, tell yourself that you’ll remember your dreams. Do this consistently, and eventually you will.
In remembering my dreams, what I seek is to ensure that my subconscious and conscious minds are in harmony. If my morning ritual is sublime and positive, yet my dreams are dark and fearful, then there’s something wrong that I need to uncover.
#2. The two mantras transition me to full wakefulness
As soon as my feet touch the floor, I say my first mantra:
Today is a perfect day for me and all those I encounter.
This sets my overall intention for the day. It’s not some magical spell. Sometimes a shit storm happens no matter your intention, but you want to begin the day on the right tack, with the wind fully in your sails.
With my feet on the floor, still sitting on the bed, I turn to my night table and pluck my little happy Buddha from it, give it a kiss and say my second mantra:
I go forth this day and every day with a light heart.
This “light heart” thing is useful for me, because I tend to “live in my head” where many thoughts are heavy. Again, not a magical incantation, but sets my intention.
I chose the Buddha icon because this version is a really carefree and happy fella, and because most forms of Buddhism mainly focus on providing practitioners the tools to have their own experience of the divine, as opposed to making them succumb to dogma.
Apologies in advance to anyone whose offended by Buddhism — I’m neither an adherent nor defender of it, but merely take from its teachings what’s useful to me.
#3. I squeeze my Perineum 30 times to stay asleep
Now that little Buddha is blushing, I stand up and go the bathroom. After I void, I contract my perineum (the muscle you use to stop yourself from peeing) about 30 times, holding it for two seconds each repetition.
(Now I’m blushing over telling you this!)
What I’m doing are kegel exercises, a very common exercise to help strengthen your perineum and pelvic floor muscles.
Why in the heck do I do that; what does this hafta do with staying asleep and given that I just awoken; why stay asleep?
Valid questions all, grasshopper.
I do this particular form of kegel exercise opportunistically. I’ve already adopted the mindset for a set of rituals, and I know I want to strengthen my pelvic floor and perineum.
For me, it’s really simple — I don’t ever want to be incontinent, and I don’t want to interrupt all those insightful dreams to go to the bathroom multiple times during the night — both of which tend to happen as we get older and those muscles weaken.
I first became aware of what might be ahead for me if I didn’t do something when a few different male friends of mine lived with me while getting divorced. My bathroom is positioned between my and the guest bedroom. I’m a light sleeper, so I would awaken to hear each of these 50-something year old housemates go take a leak one or more times each night.
Not for me!
I do my kegels consistently and stay asleep at night.
#4. I meditate for approximately 10 minutes
I light some incense, flip the hood of my bathrobe over my head, settle onto my meditation stool, put on my night mask and meditate for approximately 10 minutes.
Due to some problems in my hip joints, rather than sitting in the cross-legged in the “lotus” position, I prefer the stool often used in Zen meditation. By no means do you want some aching part of your body to compete with your tranquility, so if you have tight hips, find an alternative way to sit.
Use a cushion to either sit cross-legged upon or place between your buttocks and calves as a substitute for the Zen stool shown below.
More important than what’s going on below your pelvis is what’s going on above it — you want to position yourself such that your entire spine (from coccyx to atlas) is straight and aligned. (Read my article on mediation alignment.)
Perhaps you’ve never meditated or even considered it for yourself, but undoubtedly you’ve heard some good things about it, which I’d like to underscore a bit. It could be that once you fully grasp its value and simplicity, you just might be willing to experiment with meditation, if only for a few minutes here and there.
Here are seven very good biophysical reasons to meditate:
- Mediation calms our parsympathetic nervous system, resulting in what Harvard researcher Dr. Herbert Benson terms The Relaxation Response, the result being that you become calmer and more relaxed, and become able to bring this mind state into whichever previously stressful situation you desire.
- Meditation improves our immune system by boosting our “killer cells” (white blood cells that destroys infected or cancerous cells) and antibodies (a protein produced used by the immune system to identify and neutralize pathogens such as bacteria and viruses).
- Meditation can reduce systemic inflammation through the combination to the above two cites actions, in that stress can lead to inflammation, which in turn is linked to heart disease, arthritis, and various skin conditions such as psoriasis.
- Meditation reduces the risks of heart disease by enabling the blood vessel lining (the “endothelium”), to expand and contract, thus making it more pliable and less ridged and calcified.
- Meditation can boost telomerase production, the enzyme that helps keep the length of your telomeres stable. Short telomeres are predictive of a short lifespan.
- Long-term meditators show less age-related decline in the thickness of their brain’s cerebral cortex.
- Meditation “turns on” genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion, as well as reduced expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stress-related pathways.
Go here to read my piece on the psychological, emotional and spiritual benefits of meditation. You’ll also learn how brain wave entrainment technology can have you meditating like a monk in 20 minutes.
Here’s an example of a type of brain wave entrainment technology called “Isochronic Tones”. Listen with headphones.
If all this meditation stuff is not for you, but you’d like a simple way to de-stress and relax, you might be interested in a yoga breath technique, check out Harvard Ed’s description of the technique, or the 4x4x4 technique taught by the military.
4 Research Studies that Prove Meditation Increases Lifespan (Not To Mention Happiness)
Meditate Like A Monk In 20 Minutes
How Meditation Posture and Intention Manifest Your Goals
Can Meditation Really Slow Aging?
#5. Make my bed
Psychology Today writer Judy Dutton says, Make Your Bed, Change Your Life.
Yeah, if only it could be that easy, you may be thinking. But consider the statistics Ms. Dutton reels off:
71 percent of bed makers consider themselves happy; while 62 percent of non-bed-makers admit to being unhappy. Bed makers are also more likely to like their jobs, own a home, exercise regularly, and feel well rested, whereas non-bed-makers hate their jobs, rent apartments, avoid the gym, and wake up tired. All in all, bed makers are happier and more successful than their rumple-sheeted peers.
Admittingly, it’s doubtful that the mere act of making your bed makes all this good stuff happen. My guess is that happy, well adjusted people just happen to make their beds, which speaks to correlation, not causation.
Nevertheless, fake it to you make it… so, make your bed.
#6. Consume my cleansing drink
As I shared in Why You Must Detox All The Time, our bodies possess complicated mechanisms that try their best to keep us from expiring from toxic overload.
Toxins emanate from outside ourselves (exogenous), such as pesticides, plastics, air pollution, heavy metals, and from inside ourselves (endogenous) that are mainly a result of compromised digestion and inefficient metabolism, such as candida, elevated homocysteine levels in the blood, and elevated blood levels of uric acid.
I try to do some sort of detox cleanse two to three times a year, such as the so-called Chinese Cleanse, among others. But that’s insufficient given that I, like you, am exposed to toxins every moment of every day, more so now than ever before given the extraordinary number of chemicals used in agriculture, processed foods, plastics, etc.
So, it’s important to include detoxifying foods in your daily diet in order to help your organs of elimination (lungs, skin, liver, kidneys, etc.) do their job.
Rodale Wellness has a good list of 30 foods that can naturally detox your body. I routinely eat them all, particularly cilantro, garlic, ginger and lemons.
I practice a form of Intermittent Fasting which reduces my “feeding window” from 1:00 PM to 8:00 PM, so I don’t eat in the morning. Delaying my “break fast” encourages and extends the cleansing function the body enters into when not digesting food (like during sleep), which brings us to my morning cleansing drink:
- 8 oz warm, pure water
- Half a lemon squeezed
- Half a lime squeezed
- Sprinkle of cayenne pepper
- Shake it, drink it
After you drink it, chase it with some more pure water after swishing it in your mouth, so that the citric acids don’t play rough with your dental enamel. (Don’t worry, these citric acids turn alkaline in the stomach, which helps make it detoxifying.)
Read this to learn the benefits of lemon water and cayenne (but forgo the sweetener).
Read this to learn how lime benefits eyesight. (I still don’t need glasses.)
#7 Shower, alternating hot and cold water
Not only does alternating between hot and cold water wake you up better and faster than chugging a pot of coffee, but it’s therapeutic.
The hot water dilate the capillaries close to the skin improving the bloods circulation, while the cold water restricts the capillaries forcing the blood to retreat. This action helps reduce inflammation and promotes faster recovery of damaged soft tissue.
Warning — this takes fearless practice.
It sure does for me, because my first reaction when the cold water hits is to leap from the shower.
Here’s what to do:
- Make the water a bit colder and aim the flow onto your head, as it can handle it better.
- Focus on breathing in and out in short bursts like a choo choo train. Dunno, helps me.
- Once you’ve acclimated, let this colder water cascade down the rest of your body.
- Return to warm water for a minute.
- Now make the water colder than before and do the head/body sequence.
- Repeat this for a few cycles.
Nothing gets you as revved up as a cold shower. Be patient, it may take awhile to acclimate to this.
My body and mind is now ready for #8.
#8. Mobility drills so I can get off the floor
Now that my body is invigorated and ready to go, it’s time to do some mobility training.
What I seek to do during this 10 to 15 minute session is to articulate all of my joints, from ankles to neck.
Improving or maintaining your mobility gets more and more significant as we age. The lack of muscle combined with restricted mobility in our joints is a big reason that old people look old, can’t move well, can’t get up off the ground without help and break their hips when they fall.
To get you started, check out these videos that focus on posture and hips, both of which are assaulted daily by all the sitting we do.
Want more? Check out how Dr. Andreo Spina does it.
#9. Consume my “building” drink and supplements
I might actually be doing this Intermittent Fasting thing a bit wrong. There’s an ongoing debate among experts about how many calories you can consume prior to your feeding window without breaking the fast.
Unadulterated coffee and tea (nothing added) and of course, water, is approved by everyone, but some say you can also consume up to 50 calories of easily digested foods and drinks. Others say, “No way”.
I’m not concerned with the calories. I am concerned about cellular autophagy, the principal reason I do Intermittent Fasting. Autophagy means “self eating” in Greek.
“During a period of ingesting limited calories, or starvation, not only do cells break down proteins and nonessential components and reuse them for energy, but also cells use autophagy to:
- Destroy invading viruses and bacteria; and
- Rid themselves of damaged structures; a process which…
- Is thought to get disrupted in cancer, infectious diseases, immunological diseases and neurodegenerative disorders; including Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.”
Scientist believe that the more this all happens, the healthier you’ll be and longer you’ll live.
The building drink gets protein in the body
My “building” drink contains:
- A slow-absorbing, low calorie protein powder, such pea powder
- Pure water
Use the amounts of each you want, but keep in mind the number of calories in the protein pea powder.
The reason I call it “building” is because protein is necessary to repair the body, especially muscles that have been taxed by resistance exercise (weightlifting or calisthenics), which I regularly do.
Given my exercise regimen, I feel like I need some protein in the morning; otherwise, per the Intermittent Fasting I do, my muscles would not be fed for 18 of a 24 hour day.
Note: Once I’m in my feeding window, and after exercise, my “building” drink has many more useful ingredients. Check out a very informative article that can’t help but be useful to you, irrespective of your age:
The morning supplements are those best taken on an empty stomach
I’m a heavy-duty supplement consumer. Some medical experts would tell me that all I’m doing is creating expensive urine; others, like amazingly buff neurosurgeon, Dr. Brett Osborone, would give me a high-five. (Check him out: A Buff Neurosurgeon’s Top 10 Supplements Recommended For You.)
I try to let science be my guide, leaning heavily on sources such as PubMed and Examine.com to investigate if there are relevant studies about supplements of interest. Then I check with ConsumerLab.com and Labdoor.com to see what they have to say about the quality of specific supplement brands.
At a later time, I’ll delve into which supplements I take in the morning. In the meantime, check out my supplements page. It contains a list of supplements categorized by health function, such as “Antioxidants”, “Blood Sugar Control”, “Digestion”, etc.
One supplement I’d like you to get a heads up on right now is Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+).
NAD+, a coenzyme found in all living cells, which thanks to scientists such as Drs. David Sinclair and Leonard Guarente has been made into a supplement.
Why take NAD+?
Elysium Health, the maker of an NAD+ supplement called Basis, conducted a first-in-humans study demonstrating that Basis can increase NAD+ levels in the blood safely and sustainably.
The placebo-controlled study was randomized, double-blind and found that NAD+ levels in participants taking the recommended dose of Basis increased from baseline in whole blood by an average of 40% at four weeks, and maintained that increase for the duration of the trial.
Why is that important?
Here’s how Dr. Guarente put it:
“As we age, NAD+ levels in our cells decline. The trial results indicate that Basis increases NAD+ levels in a sustained way. And since NAD+ is involved in hundreds of critical cellular processes, we think it is a vitally important component to optimizing our cellular health as we get older.”
Elysium put together an informative infographic and was kind enough to include a blurb from me:
I encourage you to consider supplementing with a Nictotinamide Riboside supplement like Elysium’s Basis.
Check it out here. (affiliate link)
I take at least 250 mg every morning. UPDATE: I doubled my dose and explain why here.
#10. Record three things for which I’m grateful + the day’s focus
Google the “benefits gratitude practice” and be blown away by how much value there is for you to simply spend a few minutes each day writing down what you’re grateful for.
For one thing, it gives you perspective.
My last of 10 morning rituals is to go to my desk and write down:
- Three people, places, times and/or events for which I’m grateful, and
- My main focus for the day.
I then pick up my smart phone and dictate those three things and the day’s main focus. There are several apps that provide voice-to-text. (I use ClevNote on my Moto X Android-powered phone.) Given that my phone is usually nearby, I can pick it up several times a day and read what I wrote to reinforce it.
That’s it. Nearly as fast as it took you to read this post — my 10 morning rituals are done. I’m ready to go forth into the day, ready, willing and able!