Heather Denniston explains how to create a solid morning practice that brings peace and joy to you throughout your day

The frantic rush of the morning is a scenario many of us can relate to. Barely after opening your eyes, you grab your phone, and after an “incoming crises” email scan, you leap out of bed and head for an abbreviated shower. A speedy blow-dry, primp and dress, you head downstairs to toss cereal in bowls and start the hunt for your keys. On the way to the door, you grab a protein bar, shuttle the kids into shoes and jackets, and then race toward the day.

Sound familiar? Many of us have mornings that are a version of this cortisol-spiking slam into the beginning of our day. This cycle on repeat is disastrous on many health metrics, including hormone health, metabolism, and cognitive function, but what option do you have? 

You are not alone if you roll your eyes and giggle at the thought of a “morning routine.” It conjures a colorful vision of some biohacking, self-made entrepreneur with nothing but time on their hands. 

You could sit in lotus pose, drink green tea, and endlessly journal, too, if you had that kind of time. 

True that most of us may not be in a season where we can embody the ideal morning routine, but could we add just a few tiny strategies that slow our morning roll and set us up for peak performance? 

Good news. Yes, we can. 

Micro Morning Routines for the Rest of Us

Below is a list of several micro-options to support the launch of your day.

Octopus stretch

Before climbing out of bed, take one minute to “octo-move.” Imagine an octopus dancing across the sea floor, articulating all her legs in every direction. Start with rotating your ankles, flex and extend your knees and then hips, circle your wrists, circle your elbows and shoulders as you reach for the ceiling, then roll over to your tummy or back, and squirm and move to ensure all your joints have jostled and moved through their full ranges of motion. This short movement series improves circulation, increases range of motion and readies your brain for go time.

Gratitude stomp

Once seated on the side of the bed, place your feet on the ground. Take a deep breath in and lift your left foot. Place it back down as you say one thing you are grateful for. Lift your right foot and place it back down as you state aloud a second thing you are grateful for. Repeat a final time with the left foot for a third statement of thanks. Be specific. Instead of saying, “I am grateful for the weather,” proclaim what precisely you are thankful for. “I am grateful for the sun peeking through the silvery morning clouds.”

Breath burst

Breathwork is quickly becoming one of the fastest tools for bridging the gap between fight or flight and rest and relax, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Try this one-minute breathing series before you head to the shower. 

  1. Take four slow deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. 
  2. Take one deep breath in over a count of four, hold for a count of four, release for a count of four, and hold at full exhale for a count of four. Repeat four times.
  3. Take one breath in, place your hands on your belly, and then quickly repeat the word “TA” (ta, ta, ta, ta, ta, ta, ta, ta) until you are entirely out of air. Your belly should flex inward with every “TA.”
  4. Finally, get into a gentle squat position with hands on your thighs. Take a full breath in through your nose, open your mouth wide, stick your tongue out, and exhale from the back of the throat. You should sound a little like a lion roaring.

This series of four breathing techniques oxygenates the whole body and amplifies energy and focus for the day.

Meditation moment

Sit comfortably in any position with your feet flat on the floor. Imagine beautiful, warm earth energy (give it a color!) rising through the bases of your feet, and then up through your ankles, calves, knees, thighs, and hips. Imagine it crossing over the pelvis, abdomen, and chest and cascading over the collar bones, down the arms, and into the hands. Finally, imagine this beautiful earth energy slowly rising through the neck and filling past the jaw, cheekbones, ears, and eyes to the crown of your head. Once the body is “full,” take three deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth (ahhhhhh).

Shower hum

Step in the shower, and as the water warms you up, place your hand on your chest with a bit of pressure. Take a big breath through the nose, then close the lips and hum as low as possible for a full exhale. You should feel a calming vibration coming from your chest, especially at the final part of the exhalation. Repeat five times. Isn’t it incredible to create the benefit of sound bowl therapy from the inside of your body?

Six-sentence journal

Pull open a journal and grab your favorite pen. There are no rules to journaling; the less perfect, the better. Set a timer for three minutes and begin writing or drawing. Keep at it until the timer goes off. I like to begin by describing my surroundings (presence), then what I am feeling or anxious about (awareness), and finally, what I am grateful for (gratitude). There is no need to analyze or consider what you have written. Morning journaling permits your subconscious to finish the delicate processing it was working on throughout the night. 

Compassion and a smile

Kristen Neff, the godmother of self-compassion, teaches us that very often, micro-traumas (or macro ones) throughout our lives may cause us to become extraordinarily self-critical. To combat that inner bully, we must consciously practice self-compassion to build up reserves against that ceaseless critical voice. A short morning micro-strategy is to close your eyes and let the corners of your mouth curl upward into a smile. Keep smiling even if it feels awkward. Smiling releases happy hormones into our system, promoting good vibes. Now comes the compassion part. Still smiling, name one thing you are good at, one thing you are proud of, one thing you like about yourself. For some, this may be very difficult. You may not have been shown how to be compassionate to yourself or may have been raised in a critical household. Be gentle and keep practicing. Feel the emotions of saying lovely, kind statements to yourself and then let go. Let the happy hormone dump do its work. Bonus points for including your name in the statements. Instead of saying, “I like that I am a good friend,” state, “Sarah, I love that you are a good friend.”

My challenge to you is this. Select just one micro-technique and implement it daily for three weeks. After 21 days, add a second strategy. You might just end up with a solid morning practice that brings peace and joy to you and the people you touch throughout your day. 

Dr Heather Denniston bridges the connection between personal well-being and professional success for elite leaders and their teams. She delivers custom solutions for burnout and stress and provides performance optimization strategies that maximize ... (Read More)

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