How a Morning Ritual Changed My Life

Last Saturday morning I looked at the clock and it was 8:15. I had already written my morning pages, stretched, walked the dog, made breakfast for my son, and fixed my coffee—and I felt good; I wasn’t sleepy or grumpy! This is nothing short of a miracle, let me tell you. At the age of 49, I am sort of becoming a morning person! At least, it’s not torture for me to be up and about before 9 a.m. anymore. I can’t explain what a big deal this is for me, and I’m proud of myself for creating this shift.

My whole life I’ve loved to sleep. When I was a baby my mother used to wake me up to play because she was bored. I regularly slept until noon when I could, up until my thirties! Once I had my son—who did NOT like to sleep—that all came to a screeching halt. I was so sleep-deprived those first few years, I felt like a completely different person. My sweet husband, who has never had trouble rising early, began to get up with our son when he would wake at 4 or 5 a.m. so I could sleep in—and I basically spent the next ten years trying to fill that sleep deficit. I jealously guarded my sleep like a thief hoards his jewels.

But about a year ago, I began to notice that I felt irritable in the morning way too often—as if I’d woken up late and was running to catch up. I also felt tired every day, even when I got nine or ten hours of sleep. I researched possible causes for this in my usual way—reading lots of books and doing endless internet searches. I discovered that my nightly glass of wine was probably keeping me from deep sleep, so I started skipping it—and what do you know? I woke up feeling significantly more rested and less irritable.

But many days I still felt sluggish. I emailed a coach I follow, Sonia Sommer, to ask her advice, and she recommended that I phase out all the vitamins I was taking. I had quite an array—ironically, most of them chosen to give me more energy—and she told me that as we get older, it becomes harder for our bodies to process supplements; we can actually overtax our liver. So I took a break from them and also started drinking dandelion tea, which supports liver function. She also recommended going outside and getting sun first thing in the morning to re-set my biological clock each day, so I began doing that. I added more exercise and committed to being in bed by 10 each night.

Finally, I took a hard look at my mornings. I realized I was hitting snooze until I absolutely had to get up, then jumping out of bed with that adrenalized feeling of being late. I would stumble out to the kitchen, feeling groggy, and race around doing morning chores while I gulped my coffee. It was an awful way to start the day—no wonder I didn’t want to get up! No wonder I was grumpy! I decided to stop hitting the snooze. Rather, I would open my eyes and lie in bed for a moment, stretching and breathing deeply—and consciously NOT thinking about my to-do list. Doing that really made a difference in how I felt.

I started taking my coffee outside, drinking it slowly while I sat with my feet in the pool. I would watch the clouds or the water rippling and listen to the birds and the breeze through the leaves. Again, I wasn’t thinking about what I had to accomplish, just letting my mind rest. 

As I did this for a few weeks, I began to feel much more in control and relaxed in the mornings, and that feeling would last through the day. I started noticing that I would wake up around 7 or 7:30, then make myself go back to sleep if it wasn’t officially time to get up yet. I decided to try getting up whenever I first woke up, just to see how I felt. I was amazed to find that I wasn’t tired at all; as long as I was asleep by 11, I would wake up naturally around 7 or so, and have plenty of energy all day.

I kept doing this, and got into a rhythm of getting up on my own, before my alarm clock. It gave me more time in the mornings, which I decided to spend on myself. I would stay in my bedroom and journal, or try to sit in silence, or do some stretches on the floor—and it made me so happy! I realized I was creating a sort of morning ritual that was helping put me in a positive frame of mind. I was more patient, calmer, and more centered.

In April I began a writing class led by Martha Beck and Elizabeth Gilbert; shortly after it started I was sitting outside with my coffee and I began wondering how they spent their mornings. I figured they must have some sort of amazing ritual, since they are living aligned with their dreams. I thought about other women I knew who were living like that, and wondered about their mornings. I realized it would make a fascinating book—and then I realized I could write it! I was both exhilarated and terrified, all in the same moment. I decided to go for it, because I wanted to share with other women how powerful a morning ritual can be. If I could help even one woman change her mornings for the better, as I had done, it would be worth it.

I committed to writing the book, and am about halfway through it now. I’ve interviewed over a dozen women—including Martha Beck!—and what I’ve learned has been fascinating. I can’t wait to share it with everyone. As it progresses, I’ll keep you updated!

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