Most of us engage in countless routines every day. For example, you may wake every morning at the same time to the same alarm or music, eat breakfast, shower, get dressed and then head off to work or exercise class. Other routines may include making your bed, cleaning your home, or making lists. While routines require discipline and are important to daily life, you probably don’t attach a whole lot of meaning to them. But what if you did?
How to Distinguish Ritual from Routine
The main difference between a routine and a ritual is the intent you put behind each. Rituals are meaningful because you are putting mindfulness into practice. You are engaged in the process of performing a ritual in a way you may not be engaged in performing a routine task.
Both routines and rituals are necessary because they help us structure our lives. When you examine your typical day, maybe you notice several routines that are supporting your health, such as brewing a cup of tea at the same time every day and sitting down to enjoy it and reflect. If you exercise daily, you may have your own routine around how you prepare for or finish your exercise. These are examples of routines that would become even healthier if you turned them into rituals.
However, there are rituals that, on a daily basis, aren’t so good for you, such as “retail therapy” or having a few drinks. These can fall into the category of mindless routines that are tension relieving instead of health achieving.
I am all for rituals that make your life easy, improve your performance at work, and enhance your relationships. In fact, without rituals and celebrations, we can lose sight of our true selves. And, some researchers believe that many of our culture’s physical and mental illnesses stem from our disconnection from ritual and community.
Health Benefits of Mindful Rituals
Not every routine needs to become a ritual, but every routine has the potential to become a ritual if you desire to make it meaningful. The biggest difference between a routine and a ritual is your intent.
In The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to The Practice of Meditation, Thicht Nhat Hanh talks about “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” He says that if, while we are washing the dishes we are thinking of something other than washing the dishes, then we are not living. We are sucked by our thoughts into the future (or the past) and are incapable of living each moment of life.
When you put mindfulness to practice you are living in the moment and this helps to improve your health. Some of the health benefits of mindfulness include:
- Better memory
- Improved mood
- Better sleep.
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower blood sugar
- Balanced hormones
- Improved immunity
- Fewer headaches
- Less pain
5 Rituals to Include in Your Daily Life
Being more mindful is something you can do every day. Simply pick one activity that you do each day, such as feeding your pet, and allow this to become an activity that you enjoy rather than a chore. For example, you can put down your phone and talk to your pet as you prepare his meal. You can sit in the same room as your pet while he eats, and then spend time with him after he finishes his meal.
There are many more ways to turn routine into ritual. Here are 5 rituals I have added to my own life. You can do them too. Here’s how:
Put your cell phone to bed.
Make a ritual of putting your cell phone to bed each night. You can even create a special place for your phone. It’s best to leave your phone charging downstairs or as far away from your bedroom as possible. This frees up space to get messages from your soul as you sleep. If you use your cell phone as your alarm or need it by your bed for other reasons, be sure to turn off your wi-fi.
Take time to wind down before bed.
Create a relaxing ritual around going to bed. Turn off all electronics at the same time each night. You may want to try a warm Epsom salt bath to prepare to sleep or pamper yourself in some other way. It’s best to get sleep on the earlier side of midnight. It’s more restorative.
Drink and eat more water.
I make a ritual out of preparing and drinking water every day. Each night I place a pitcher near my sink. In the morning I fill it up and add 1/8 teaspoon of Himalayan sea salt (for 20 ounces of water.) I also add a highly absorbable form of magnesium, called Remag and minerals, called Remyte by Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D. For optimal hydration, you can also eat your water.
Repair your dreams.
This is an exercise that can really help change your life. It takes only a few minutes. Whatever you don’t like about your dream you can change by drawing a picture of it or writing a better outcome. You can also just go back into the dream in your imagination and change the outcome to something more favorable.
Meditate for 15 minutes twice per day.
Since returning from a recent meditation retreat, I have been meditating twice per day for 15 minutes. I do Vipassana, a type of mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is really just being present, and it helps me to remember to be mindful throughout my day. Here’s my routine: First, I light incense and candles at my home altar, where I have figures of Buddha, Mother Mary, Ganesh, Green Tara, and Kali. I put my hands in prayer and bow. I am not praying to them, per se, but they are symbols of the Divine that I enjoy having on my altar. Then, I set a time on my phone and ring a set of Tibetan bells. Once finished, I sit in a chair with my back straight and my hands in my lap— right hand over the left, thumbs touching, which is what I learned at the monastery in Thailand. Then I simply follow my breath— saying to myself “in, out, sit.” When I find myself thinking about something, I just say to myself “thinking.” If I’m distracted by sound I say “listening.” When the timer goes off, I put my hands together in prayer and send Metta (blessings) to whomever I think could use it— or to the world at large. I then blow out the candles.
8 Ancient Rituals That Are Good for Your Health
In a previous blog, I wrote about the health benefits of drumming. This is an ancient ritual that can have many positive benefits for your mind, body, and soul. Here are some more of my favorite ancient rituals that can improve your health:
Dance can become a wonderful daily ritual. You can do it anytime and without training or spending a lot of money. Ancient cultures have used dance rituals for many purposes, including health. Traditionally, members of a village would dance to experience communion with each other, spirits, their ancestors, the earth and the cosmos. During a dance ceremony, participants have experienced visions, healings, and even ecstasy.
Dance therapy is a form of movement therapy that is often used to help both health professionals and individuals dealing with illness. The movement and expression of emotions through dance rituals creates positive changes in their attitudes and even their will to live.
If you want cleaner, whiter teeth, you may want to try oil pulling. Oil pulling has become popular recently, but it is actually an ancient Ayurvedic ritual. You simply put a teaspoon of oil in your mouth, then you swish it around pulling it through your teeth for about 15-20 minutes. The oil cleanses your teeth and mouth by activating enzymes to draw out the toxins. You can use coconut oil, sesame oil or sunflower oil.
Be sure to spit the oil out when you are done. Don’t swallow it! And spit into the trash or outside in the grass so you won’t clog your sink. Then, you can gently massage your gums and teeth with your finger.
Smudging is a cleansing ritual that has been said to provide wisdom, clarity and spiritual awareness. Sage is often used for purifying. Simply set your intention to purify your space, then place your sage in an abalone shell or clay pot. light the smudge stick, and walk around taking the smoke throughout your space. If you like the idea of yin-yang balance, you can burn incense or pal santo after smudging. Sage has a yang/masculine quality, and the incense brings int he feminine/yin qualities to balance your space. Pal santo brings sweetness and positivity to your freshly cleaned space.
Be sure to dispose of any ashes with intention. For example, you can take them outside and offer them to the Earth. You can also use bells or simply clap your hands as a way to end the ritual. Try doing this once per week at the beginning of a new week to cleanse the old week’s energy. Then, after a few weeks notice if the energy of your space has become lighter and calmer.
When you want to let go of the old and birth a new story, fire ceremonies can be very magical. Fire ceremonies exist in many medicine traditions. They are typically held around the full or new moon of each month.
Before your fire ceremony, create an offering to burn. This can consist of small sticks that represent whatever it is you need to let go of. Or, you could burn pieces of paper on which you’ve written what you want to release. You can even burn pictures. Use your intuition here.
When you place your old beliefs into the fire, you honor them as your lessons then turn them over to spirit. Fire takes the solid form of matter and transforms it into smoke, which wafts away in the air. This process allows you to heal deeply at the level of the soul. Pay attention to how the ashes go up into the air. It can be pretty dramatic!
Meditation is popular for good reason. The health benefits of a daily meditation practice are significant, including decreased cortisol, weight loss, decreased anxiety, lower heart rate, and even less pain. Any health condition that is worsened by stress (which is all of them!) can be helped with meditation.
Meditation does not have to be a long or involved ritual. Just sitting with your eyes closed or slightly open and focusing on your breath for 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes before you go to bed will benefit your health
Bringing more oxygen into your body helps on many levels. Deep diaphragmatic breathing brings increased amounts of oxygen into your lungs and helps to give your body more vital energy. Belly breathing massages your internal organs and helps improve digestion.
Kapalabhati breath is a yogic breathing technique that can help you release stress and toxins. To do this, you use your abdominal muscles to pull in your belly and then force your air out in repeated short exhalations until all your air is expelled. This can actually tone your abdomen! Buteyko breathing has been shown to improve asthma and allergies. You’ll find information on YouTube for how to do these exercises.
There are many other breathing exercises you can turn into rituals and even incorporate into your daily meditation practice. You may want to ask a knowledgeable yoga instructor for more information.
Sweating is a great way to cleanse your body and soul. From a physical standpoint, your skin is the largest organ of detoxification. Sweating allows toxins to be released from your body through your sweat glands.
Sweat lodges are an ancient form of sauna where people sweated to heal physically, mentally and spiritually. Of course, today you don’t need to go to a sweat lodge to benefit from this practice. Try an infrared sauna or take a hot Epsom salt bath.
Rituals of Pleasure.
Rituals of pleasure may help you live to a ripe old age. In his research on hundreds of healthy centenarians all over the world, Dr. Mario Martinez found that every one of them participated in daily rituals of pleasure. This could be enjoying your morning coffee, savoring a small glass of whiskey at 5PM daily or breaking bread with family at dinner.
Though we tend to think of some of these rituals as distinctly unhealthy, it’s hard to argue with someone who is thriving at age 100-plus It’s also important to remember, none of these individuals over-indulge. They simply enjoy their drink or their smoke at the same time of day in community. And stop with just one.
What rituals do you have that support your health? Please share them with me in the comments below.