Imagine an approach to wellbeing that is centered on creating healthy habits.
Habits, we are told, take 28 days to cement. During these days, we must painstakingly commit to rigorously integrating these new habits into our lives – day in, day out regardless of how we feel or where we are. The threat of eternal exhaustion/anxiety/symptoms looms over our heads as we push our minds to overcome any feelings of judgement or restriction that arise in our bodies. We hold ourselves real tight – resisting our very human and real desires to soothe our feelings or emotions in the ways we know how to. We restrict. We threaten. We cajole. Oftentimes we bite of a little too much – attempting to form multiple new habits at once.
And so the threat and inner criticism is multiplied as we walk through our days steering clear of any temptation to go ‘back’ to old ways. Ironically, these inner threats that we make to ourselves have the same effect on our health as external stressors – they evoke the fight of flight response, suppress our immunity, create anxiety and will have us reaching for those things that soothe us (food, alcohol, busy-ness).
If we make it through the 28 days unscathed – with the newly formed habit intact and integrated into our lifestyles – we merely break stride to celebrate and reflect. Swiftly moving onto the next thing to be fixed.
Now imagine, if you will, an approach that is focused on ritual.
Rather than holding ourselves to an impossible, rigid standard – we recognise that we are women. We recognise that the feminine energy is expressed differently than the masculine energy that habits represent. We understand that women operate on a 28 day cycle – that we are affected by the tides and the moon and that on every single day of that cycle we have different gifts, different abilities and different energy levels depending on our biochemistry and hormonal balance.
We create mindful rituals – daily, weekly and monthly – that reflect our deepest needs. They are a sacred space of self-devotion. The practice might be simple – a careful, deliberate creating of the perfect cup of tea – then sipped from a beautiful cup on a favourite chair in the sun. That same ritual repeated daily forming the basis of the daily rhythm – five minutes to check in, clear the mind, do some abdominal breathing and set an intention for the rest of the day. A self care ritual might be focused on a deeply nourishing warm bath filled with salts and surrounded with candles followed by a deeply nourishing self massage with a grounding oil like black sesame. Perhaps focusing on compassionately massaging the areas where we feel sore or tender – our womb, our shoulders.
No matter what the ritual is – it is the intention and the awareness that is brought to it that matters.
More elaborate rituals might enable the processing of feelings – a self care practice so integral to a woman’s wellbeing – it is one of the foundations that I teach in all my programs. A letter written to a younger or future self – feelings poured onto the page directly from the subconscious. If the letter has been written with the intention of letting go, it might be burned, using the cleansing power of flame, or buried, using the sacred vessel of earth to transmute those feelings from the body into a different place.
My weekly ritual – a cup of milky rooibos tea on a Sunday night and my journal. I set intentions for the week and reflect on the past week. Rituals allow reflection and space so that one can understand the perfect rhythmicity of life.
Rituals – unlike habits – are not externally driven. We do not do rituals to get external validation – they are not born from reading someone else’s opinion of how we should behave. Rituals are merely repeated practices wherein we bring our full, undivided attention to what we are doing. Rituals are mindfulness in action and when used to respond to the messages that our bodies, minds and souls are sending, they are the most powerful tool we have in creating our own version of wellbeing.
Habits imply a linear path to wellbeing. An ever-upward trajectory of success that does not allow us to stumble or trip or fall off the wagon and learn the lesson again. Rituals reflect the truth – that the path to wellbeing is like a spiral staircase. As we learn we are always climbing upward – but we will circle around the same sometimes deeply painful issues as we go. The beauty is, as we climb, we see things from an ever-changing perspective. And thus, with mindful awareness, we make micro-adjustments that suit as as we go.
Rituals need not require elaborate crystals, altars or other material items (though they can be used if you feel they would assist). All they require is an intention to spend some time in full attention with what you are doing – a commitment to honouring and being with yourself.
The benefits of spending even five minutes a day in this state are tremendous. You will be teaching your body to slow down – stimulating the vagus nerve (rest and digest state) through relaxation and helping your mind to let go of the worry, projections and rumination even just for a little.
The act of doing something as a deep devotion to yourself, too, can transform. You are listening to the signals your body is sending you and you are honouring them. The confidence and self acceptance and compassion that comes from that simple act is, when repeated, profound.
When designing your own rituals, think about the following questions:
1) When would rituals work for me? Daily, weeekly, monthly?
2) What is my intention? What feelings do I want to foster?
3) Where will my rituals take place? For example, nature can be very soothing and is in alignment with the feminine energy. If you find yourself stuck in your head, grounding yourself in a naturalistic ritual can help you become more embodied, and release stress in the process.
4) What elements will help me achieve my intention? Earth(grounding)? Water (soothing)? Fire (cleansing)? Go with what first comes into your subconscious – a simple candle lit might be enough to bring in the element that you need.
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