It is January! I write this a little bit before 4 o’clock in the morning, as I start my early morning rituals.
These days I go to sleep early- usually sometime between seven and nine o’clock, and rise in the wee hours, sometime between night and day, before the first stirrings of the early morning, when the energy shifts and the deep quiet and stillness gives way to a light, clear energy. I like to be awake and present for that energetic shift, as it brings about a similar shift in me. If I sleep past this time (known in yoga and Ayurveda as Brahma Muhurta), I wake feeling late, as if the world has some how renewed itself without me, and I have missed the moment of awe in being that nature manifests in the early dawn.
I first began the practice of rising before the dawn in New York City. When I was initially endeavoring to make this shift in my life, I created an obligation for myself so that I had no choice but to wake up and begin my day before the sun- committing to clean and open the yoga studio where I practiced every day, before the first class began. On those mornings, in addition to cleaning, I also did my own practice of breathwork, chanting, and playing harmonium before I did my morning asana class. The quietude of this time- when almost everyone in the city that never sleeps was sleeping- imbued my days with a peacefulness that otherwise seemed elusive in New York City.
Now that I live in Northampton, Massachusetts, together with my young son, I no longer have as rigid a discipline for the mornings as I used to, as it no longer feels possible, or even necessary. Instead, the time before dawn is more like a gift I give to myself, but I don’t know what will be inside when I open the package- I allow myself to do whatever feels in the moment like it will be most helpful to me in terms of clearing energetic blockages, re-grounding myself, finding new energy and inspiration.
Sometimes it is practicing saucha– or ritual cleanliness, which is one of the niyamas, or personal observances, in the type of yoga I practice, ashtanga yoga, an eight-fold path leading to a still mind. This week, for instance, I cleaned my home thoroughly, and washed the floors and surfaces with water mixed with essential oil of clove and cedar. Practicing saucha for me might also include supporting my body in its natural self cleansing process through oil pulling, tongue scraping, cleaning my nasal passages with warm water, and bathing, all of which are part of the morning routine for those following dinacharya, the Ayurvedic daily routine.
Other times it is taking a warm bath and massaging myself with warm oils which in Ayurveda is known as abhyanga and is a nourishing and grounding practice, easing tension and stiffness in the body. Other times it is writing. Sometimes it is asana practice. Other times it is taking care of things I need to do so that I can start the day without burdens- things as simple as ordering groceries, or selecting library books for my son, or paying my bills. Having these things accomplished before the day starts helps my mind and body feel at ease.
While I do now allow my mornings to be fluid, there are a few rituals and routines I try to follow:
Warmth in the morning
When I wake up in these cold mornings, one of the first things I do is to turn on the heat. I sleep in a cold room with warm blankets, which is recommended in Ayurveda. But it can sometimes be hard to roust myself out of bed in the winter when it is frigid, so I always put on slippers and scarf and hat as soon as I get out of bed, and then turn up the heat in the room where I will be so it feels warm and cozy.
I learned from my apprenticeship in herbalism at Thyme Herbal that it is especially important to keep the body warm in the early morning in fall, winter, and early spring, as coldness can create tension in the body, which can then cause stiffness and energy blockages. Heating costs can be expensive where I live, so I turn the heat down after I begin work in the mornings, but I do always indulge in warmth in the hours just before and after sunrise.
Cozy warmth on a cold morning is something very comforting to me. It reminds me of the early mornings I used to spend as a child in the summer with my grandmother in her cottage on an island in Casco Bay, Maine. Her house wasn’t heated, and mornings in Maine are cool and crisp, but I always knew that if I went down to the kitchen, I’d find the wood burning stove warming the room and warm doughnuts heating on top of the stove.
I also always make a warm beverage in the mornings. Drinking warm water with lemon first thing in the morning is the best way to start the day from an Ayurvedic perspective, and sometimes I do this. It can energize the body and also support elimination.
I also really love the ritual of making and drinking coffee in the mornings, but coffee increases both vata and pitta dosha, and as someone with a vata-pitta constitution, it is not always the most balancing beverage for me; it can make me jumpy and anxious. When I do drink it, I always add warm nut milk and sugar, which makes it more soothing. Also, adding cardamom can make coffee more grounding.
If I am feeling at all anxious in the morning, I usually choose something else to drink; lately it has been hot chocolate. I make hot chocolate with warm almond, oat, or macadamia milk and add spices like ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and turmeric. I also add in the medicinal herbs ashwagandha and shatavari. Here is the recipe for the hot chocolate I made this morning:
Grounding Hot Chocolate
Vanilla oat milk, heated on the stovetop
Pinch of turmeric and ginger
1/8 teaspoon of powdered ashwagandha and shatavari
Two heaping teaspoons of cocoa
You might also add in a little ground pepper or coconut oil
Another important part of the early morning to me is making some kind of offering of generosity to the community and world I belong to. When I was at the yoga shala in the early mornings, cleaning the studio was to me this kind of offering- something I did with love, care, and reverence for the community of yogis who practiced there. Now, it is often something as simple as putting food in the feeders I have in my yard for the birds and squirrels, or giving a treat to the neighborhood cat, who lives outdoors. Sometimes I deliver little packages to my neighbors, like a loaf of homemade bread or some plant medicine.
Sharing morning ritual with my son
When my son awakes, which is usually shortly after sunrise, I try to start his day gently, and make his morning as peaceful as I can. He recently stopped nursing, but when he wakes I still get in bed and hold him until he wakes fully, so he can linger in that liminal moment between night and day- and between being a toddler and being a young boy.
When he is fully awake, I open the curtains and recite a short blessing I adapted from a poem the teachers recite at Brooklyn Forest School, which Kai attended, greeting the earth, the sky, and ourselves. Sometimes we think together about all the other people we love that we’d like to send our greetings and good energy to, or think about people we don’t know yet but to whom we are inextricably interwoven. This kind of simple ritual helps us starts the day with gratitude, and with a reflection on being part of something larger than ourselves.
Good morning to you!
Now it is almost five o’clock. An hour has passed. My cat is up and about now, sitting by me and purring. He’ll want to go out and roam around now, in the hour or two before dawn, doing what it is that cats do. The time between now and sunrise is about how much time I likely have before my son awakes; I think I will see if I can take a bath and then practice asana, to clear out some stiffness I feel in my body as well as some residual emotions I can still feel in my body from yesterday, causing some constriction and tension. I want to see if I can release those and make room in my body and mind to open myself up to the new possibilities today brings.
Good morning to you!