Who does your day, your energy, your attention belong to before it belongs to other people? For most of us our day belongs to our family and friends, our boss or clients or complete strangers before we are even fully awake. According to a survey, 79% of people reach for their phones within 15 minutes of waking up (we will explain the detrimental impact this has on our brains and mental health further below). Can you imagine how powerful a change it would be if your priority in the morning was self-care and your mental well-being?
In this blog post, we focus on how to create a mindful morning routine that nourishes and nurtures you. The aim is not to become more productive or efficient but to cultivate sustainable well-being. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so let’s make sure you fill yours before you tackle your day. In the following sections, we will explain what “mindful morning routine” means before we give you some examples of what yours could look like – including the benefits of each suggestion.
There is no right or wrong when it comes to your personal morning routine. It needs to fit you and the unique demands of your life. Therefore, the invitation of this blog post is to draw some inspiration on how to create habits and rituals that you can look forward to when you get out of bed. Allow for trial and error – not everything we suggest here may be for you; it’s okay to give it a bash and not like it. Just tweak your routine until it feels right for you and know that it’s not set in stone. Stay as flexible as you need to be. What we mean by that is that it’s important to listen to your body and mind, rather than rigidly sticking to a regime. After all, this is about self-care. So, when you begin to reclaim your mornings, be kindmornings be kind to and patient with yourself. Keep your goals and expectations realistic. Start out slow and build your mindful morning routine in a sustainable way.
What is a Mindful Morning Routine?
Mindfulness means being present with and becoming fully aware of your experience – this includes actions, thoughts and feelings – without judgement or criticism. This requires, first and foremost, practice. It also means making a conscious effort to go against the stream of a culture that wants us to be switched on, at the top of our game, ideally 24/7, and if possible multitasking to cope with various demands and to feel more efficient. When you commit to a mindful morning routine, you prioritise removing distractions and paying attention to yourself and the world around you. You switch from running on autopilot to grounding yourself in what is (with acceptance and compassion), so you can ease into your day and make decisions, and respond to whatever your day throws at you from a state of clarity rather than emotional reactivity.
Is a mindful morning routine time intensive? Will you have to get up super early? The short answer is ‘no’. Setting aside 5 or 10 minutes is enough. If you wanted to or felt like it, you could dedicate more time towards your morning rituals. However, we recommend to start small. If you stick with what works for you, the payoff will be – among other benefits – increased mental and emotional well-being as well as building trust and an overall better relationship with yourself.
We will go into a selection of different suggestions and their benefits in a minute. Before we do, we want to point out that anything can be done mindfully – even making your bed or having a shower and being fully present in the moment, focusing on how the water feels on your skin, how the soap and shampoo smell, etc., or giving that first cup of coffee your full attention and making it a ritual that involves all your senses. A mindful morning routine is not another (set of) chore(s) that you need to tackle but should be something that brings you joy, fills you up, nurtures and nourishes you and allows you to show yourself some much deserved loving kindness. So, choose whatever feel-good activity works best for you – may it be playing music or dancing to your favourite song, watching the sunrise, watering your plants, … – for however long it is rewarding and fits into your schedule. Because you are worth it!
Our smartphones and other technology we use on a daily basis are designed to hijack our brains. This is done in such a subtle and ingenious way that we don’t even realise what a shock to our system it is when we interact with our phones when our minds and nervous system are most vulnerable to triggers because we have just woken up. At this time of day, our minds still operate on theta and alpha waves as this Forbes article explains. Our intention may be to just turn off our alarm or check if we missed an important text, email, social media notification or major news event. Chances are, though, that whatever we find or interact with will very likely trigger a stress response and a spike in cortisol before we have even made it out of bed. It also primes our brain for distractions. Instead of making us more productive and efficient, we are doing ourselves a disservice if we reach for our smartphones so early in the day.
Therefore, sticking to a “digital detox” and practising being present in the moment for the first hour of our morning is maybe one of the biggest gifts we can give to ourselves in regards to our mental health and sanity. If you focus on grounding yourself in real life before you connect with the digital world, you will gradually find yourself being more balanced, more creative and becoming more resilient as the above-linked video explains.
The aim should be to turn inwards and be present with what is – your thoughts and emotions. One way to do so could be by writing a journal. You could dot down your dreams, set an intention or a goal for the day, make a to-do list or simply do a 5 minute brain-dump. Journalling has been proven to be a fantastic tool to help with anxiety, depression and stress.
Quality of Sleep
It is well worth prioritising getting a good night’s sleep through investing in a bedtime routine. Again, this can look different for everyone but should include winding down from your day (e.g. listening to relaxing music or an audiobook, reading, taking a hot bath or shower, drawing, sitting with a candle or in front of a fire, doing some light stretches, etc.) and exclude alcohol as well as screens/technology and working (out) for at least 90 minutes before you go to bed. Your bedroom should ideally only be used for sleeping and be dark as well as cool (between 16 and 18 °C). It helps to go to sleep at roughlyroundabout the same time every night. This should give you the best chances at getting some good quality sleep. The processes our bodies gogoes through during the night and the processing our minds do when we are asleep are extremely important for our mental health. A good night’s sleep is also the foundation for your mindful morning routine as you want to have the physical energy and mental clarity to intentionally start into your day and be able to be present for whatever arises.
Morning Meditation or Breathing Exercise
One way of practising mindfulness is through meditation. It doesn’t matter if you do it for 2 minutes, 10 minutes or 30 minutes – doing it regularly is much more important than how long you spend on your cushion. The benefits of meditation range from improving your cognitive flexibility and ability to focus, over decreasing stress and anxiety to enhancing self-awareness as well as kindness and empathy. There are numerous apps and YouTube videos that provide free guided meditations and will help you get started in building a meditation practice. As with your morning routine, it is important to bring an open heart and curiosity when you are turning your attention inwards. There is nothing you need to achieve. Simply notice your thoughts and emotions and their ever changing quality without expectation, judgement or criticism. And whenever you catch yourself getting distracted by something or caught up in a story in your head, gently bring your attention back to your breath and start again. If meditation isn’t quite right for you, you might want to try a different breathing exercise – for example Wim Hoff breathing.
Movement – even if it’s just for 3 or 5 minutes – is a great way to start the day and tune into your body when you are just getting up. You could choose anything from gentle stretches and Yoga to warm up your muscles over walking, cycling, swimming, dancing, doing jumping jacks or push/pull/sit ups all the way to giving yourself a hand or foot massage in bed. It really depends on how you are feeling and what brings you joy. Exercising and doing sports has many physical and mental benefits. Your body will release the feel good neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. If you move your body regularly it will improve your flexibility, endurance, and strength as well as strengthen your cardiovascular system. Furthermore, it can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Exercising is also beneficial when coping with or trying to release stress and anger.
Gratitude is a very powerful and often underrated emotion. We have written an in-depth blog post on “How writing a daily gratitude list will change your life”. More important than dotting down things you are grateful for is taking a moment or two to actually feel the gratitude in your body and heart. Focusing on two or three things that you are grateful for each morning can change your entire outlook on your day. Scientists have proven that gratitude leads to better physical and psychological health, improves resilience, heightens empathy, helps with self-esteem, lets people sleep better and leads to overall healthier relationships as it promotes love and kindness towards yourself and others. In case you are running out of things to feel grateful for or find yourself listing the same things over and over it might help you to draw some inspiration from Tim Ferris’ gratitude morning routine. When he practices gratitude, he chooses something he witnessed or experienced the day before, an opportunity he has today (e.g. calling your best friend or your parents just because they’re still alive or hiking up a mountain because you are fit enough and able to do it), an old relationship that he values highly or a person that really helped or impacted him in his life, and something that is within sight (so gratitude becomes tangible and isn’t just abstract).
Mindfulness with New Life Portugal
Sometimes, it is so much easier to let go of habits that don’t serve us any longer and establish a new, healthier routine if we allow ourselves to break away from our normal environment for a while. New Life Portugal is a wellness retreat and mindfulness centre that has holistic and sustainable well-being at the core of its mission. Our program offers three different paths and a rare combination of meditation, yoga, counselling, coaching, fitness, nature, and mindful community life. Our professional team consists of experts with real life experiences, who bring empathy and understanding to their work and are happy to customise the program to your individual needs and goals. We welcome people from all walks of life who wish to work on their mental or physical wellbeing and personal development. Our team of experts has experience in helping people with depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, loneliness and grief.
At New Life Portugal, we have integrated “nobel silence” in our morning routine as studies have proven how incredibly beneficial it can be for our brains and bodies. You get to start the day with meditation or yoga and will benefit from three tasty meals made of minimally processed foods and containing plenty of fresh fruits as well as vegetables, lean proteins, low GI foods, and probiotics.
If you’d like to enquire about a stay with us or have any more questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch today.