Mornings can be hectic for many of us, especially if we have children or need to help others get ready for the day. Yet mornings, when done correctly, have the power to set the right tone for the day and really boost our wellbeing. It may be, in part, because of the replenished energy and mental capacity. The mind is refreshed when we wake up and instead of clogging with unnecessary information and emotion, such as from scrolling through the news or social media, we can get a fresh and mindful start to the day. Another reason why mornings are so important is the many biological processes that happen when we wake up, the boost of hormones that work hard to keep us awake and full of energy. It makes sense to employ the morning practices that support these hormones and support our health instead of doing something that does us disservice.
So in this post I would like to share a few of my favourite morning practices that help me feel better throughout the day and make a difference when practiced long-term.
12 Morning Practices To Boost Your Wellbeing
- Drink water after waking
- The body gets mildly dehydrated in our sleep, so it’s essential to hydrate it early in the morning. Even the slightest dehydration can negatively impact your mental and cognitive function. Drinking water in the morning will help to boost your brain function and your mood and prepare you for the challenges of the day ahead. In addition to that, it will help reduce bloating associated with fluid retention during sleep, improve your skin, support your cardiovascular system, kidneys and joints, kickstart your metabolism and help detoxify the body (which is already happening as you have been fasting overnight – we will talk more about this later on).
- Mindful breathing or meditation
- Setting five minutes aside while in bed to practice meditation or deep breathing can be a very powerful way to start the day for a few reasons. Your mind in the morning is a clean slate. Your thoughts are not affected by the experiences of the day or influenced by news and social media. Meditating and being mindful in the morning gives you a chance to prolong that state of relative emptiness while also getting to know what really is on your mind (morning journal is another way to do this). It also helps you clear your mind, release those thoughts and worries that you have. It promotes relaxation and the feeling of calm, boosts your mood and you are more likely to continue being mindful throughout the day. Meditating in the morning will also increase your focus, boost your cognitive function while reducing stress and anxiety and promoting resilience.
- Open windows and let fresh air in
- You may not think of it as important, but fresh air gives us a powerful boost of energy, especially in the morning. As the influx of oxygen filters out the stale air of used gases in your room, it enters your bloodstream and every cell in your body, boosting the energy production and literally waking you up. Since oxygen is particularly important for the brain, it also boosts the cognitive function and your ability to focus. Ventilating your house frequently will really improve the quality of the air in your home, reducing the pollution levels. Doing so in the evening helps to induce sleep but in the morning, it has the opposite effect. Start opening the windows as soon as you get up and watch the difference it makes.
- View the morning light
- Modern research in neuroscience shows that we, diurnal creatures, highly depend on the circadian rhythms. The circadian rhythms affect how the hormones are released in our bodies, which in turn, affect our sleep, hunger, mood, energy levels and many more. Viewing the sunlight in the morning resets those rhythms. First, it stimulates the release of cortisol, which wakes us up and promotes good energy levels. Second, it resets the timer for melatonin release that will ensure a good night sleep. A consistent dose of sunlight throughout the day also helps to keep hunger at bay, but for sleep and energy production, morning light is the key. We need a daily exposure of 2 to 30 min of morning light, depending on the weather conditions, and it must be unfiltered. The neurochemical changes occur when the light hits the retina of your eyes, not just the skin. Wearing sunglasses will block out these vital wavelength. The window glass will also reduce its effectiveness, so for the best results we need to get the light from outside.
- Yoga or gentle movement
- Movement in the morning helps you to wake up, boost mood and energy levels and kickstart your metabolism. It can be any movement really, from a short yoga flow to jumping or jogging, or even some stretches. While some people love doing heavy workout in the morning, I would suggest something more gentle instead, the reason being that the body tends to be quite stiff after the night’s sleep and without proper warm up, a strenuous workout increases the risk of injury. It also requires more time on hand. If you have the time, it’s great. If not, I would suggest bodyweight exercises instead. My personal choice is something short and sweet, like Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) yoga flows or a set of jumping jacks. A brisk walk outside is also great!
- Foam roller belly massage
- This one is my favourite! And no, this is not your regular practice of stretching your back, glutes or hamstrings on the foam roller. For this exercise, you need to lie down on your belly, with the roller underneath, and slowly move forward and back, to let the roller massage your stomach. Benefits of this exercise are many, but the main one is that by massaging your stomach, and its internal organs, helps boost metabolism and the natural process of detoxification. It helps reduce the bloating, too, and promotes a flat stomach.
- However, there are counter-indications: this exercise is not suitable during pregnancy and for those in the postpartum period, people with enlarged liver, spleen or other internal organ conditions, in post-operative period, during any acute diseases, pelvic varicose veins and aneurysms, abdominal hernias, kidney and gall stones or recent C-section (less than 1.5 years ago). If you are unsure if this exercise is right for you, please consult with your doctor before trying. A gentle belly massage with your hand in a clock-wise direction may be a more suitable alternative.
- Tongue scraping
- Still an unlikely practice in the modern world, this is an ancient Ayurvedic practice that has a few benefits that toothbrushing and flossing alone may not offer. For example, it helps eliminate more bacteria from the mouth and thus keep your microbiome balanced. Your tongue harbours a lot of bacteria, which builds up over time, leading to discoloured tongue, breath odour and poor sensitivity to different tastes. Recent research suggests that there is a link between Alzheimer’s disease and oral hygiene, with a plausible theory that a particular bacterium that is found in the oral cavity, Porphyromonas gingivalis, may travel to the brain and, once there, release neurotoxic enzymes that damage the brain cells. This is why proper oral hygiene is recommended for prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Since a lot of bacteria lives on the tongue and is not affected by toothbrushing or flossing, scraping the tongue (even with the bristles of your toothbrush) is a great way to remove the bacterial growth and keep your microbiome in check. Because in Ayurveda, the ancient Indian medicine, each area of the tongue is believed to be connected to a certain internal organ, Ayurvedic practitioners believe that cleaning your tongue will also gently stimulate and detoxify these organs, clear mental fog and improve your digestion. While there is no proof of that in the Western research, this practice is refreshing and makes breakfast taste better.
- Ice globe massage
- Massaging the face and neck with cold ice globes after moisturising your skin feels particularly good in the morning. The ice globes can now be found virtually anywhere and match any budget. I have steel globes, but they also come in glass finish. Filled with liquid, they need to be cooled in the fridge before use. While widely marketed as a beauty product that reduces the signs of ageing, these cryo globes do more than just improve your skin – they release tension, and that is very important in the morning! Massaging around the temple area, the jaw muscles and the neck help to feel an instant relief of tension and fatigue, and promote relaxation and a sense of well-being.
- If you have time to get a walk in early in the morning, it will surely supercharge your day. Walking is like a compound exercise, hitting a few spots at once: you get fresh air, you move your body and you get to view the morning light. If you have the luxury to walk before 10 am, this is going to be a game changer. It will elevate your mood, reduce stress and anxiety, strengthen your body, improve your sleep and your cardiovascular health among many other benefits.
- Cold shower
- There are many benefits to having exposure to cold, including cold showers, which I have previously spoken about. Cold exposure, when done correctly, can strengthen your immune system and reduce inflammation in the body. It’s been successfully used in treatment of anxiety and depression. Depending on the specific protocol, it can boost metabolism and aid fat loss by promoting the conversion of fat cells into brown fat that is used for thermogenesis.It can also promote good sleep, cardiovascular health and longevity, but in the mornings – very importantly – it also has the ability to energise and boost the mood. Try getting a cold shower after viewing the light and exercising, and see how you feel.
- No food for 60 minutes after waking
- This one may come as a surprise, since we are often conditioned to have a hearty breakfast early in the morning and are taught not to skip it to keep the metabolism going. But there are a couple of reasons why it’s good to postpone your bowl of porridge for an hour. When we fall asleep, our bodies get a chance to finally rest from certain metabolic processes (specifically, digestion) and repair itself. Depending on the time at which we finish eating for the night, most often as we fall asleep, we’re still digesting the food. But the repair cannot commence until the body is done digesting. So effectively, for the first few hours of our sleep we are not resting and not repairing ourselves – that’s why it makes sense to finish eating at least 2-3 hours before bed to maximise the time the body spends repairing itself.
- As the body stops digesting food and storing it as glycogen, muscle protein or body fat, the blood glucose starts to decline and the body enters into the repair mode. The lower the glucose, the more effective this process is. Towards the morning time, the body is actively removing the toxins and waste material from the cells and repairing the damaged cells, thus reducing inflammation.
- As we wake up in the morning, the metabolic processes kickstart and accelerate the repairing – as long as the glucose levels stay low. That’s why allowing it at least one more hour before we eat and start digesting is an excellent way to boost your health and wellbeing, without going into a deeper fast (which is also an option, if done correctly). Maintaining a 13-hour fast overnight, while observing the 2-3 hours of no food intake before bed and at least 60 min after waking, is the simplest, most natural way to regulate your circadian rhythms and improve your health.
- No coffee for 60-90 min after waking
- This is another shocking practice. As a working society, we are so used to relying on coffee to wake us up in the early hours. But this ‘boost’ of energy is actually counter-productive and plain harmful. We have already established that we get a natural peak in cortisol upon waking up to give us energy for the day, which is further optimised by viewing the morning light. Ingesting coffee or caffeine also raises the levels of cortisol. Topping up the natural peak (which lasts about 60-90 min) with coffee may seem like a good idea, but it is actually not. It sends the cortisol up high, which may activate the stress response in the body, and it also leads to a crash of energy once the cortisol wears out. So it is best to enjoy your morning cup of coffee 60-90 min after waking to ensure that the natural cortisol has done its job and returned to normal levels.
Of course, having a sound morning routine is difficult, unless you’re willing to wake up at 5 am. As wonderful as it sounds, such early starts do not work for my family at present, and I am not suggesting anyone does that. If you do, it’s great. But it’s not for everyone.
Neither is it realistic to follow all of these things at once when you have children that need to be fed and dressed and dropped to school while you are rushing to work. It may not be possible to stave off breakfast for too long, or get a workout or a walk in. But please remember that health and wellbeing are not All Or Nothing. Every little counts, no matter what it is. I may not have the time for a yoga practice every morning, but when I do I put it in. I can’t always go for a walk because of the weather. I do not shower every morning – it may be evening instead, and on some mornings it’s too cold to give up my hot shower. We shouldn’t strive to do it all. It is too high an expectation, and as my Sensei says, expectation leads to resentment. So don’t get too hung up on trying to do everything at once – pick one or two things and incorporate them into your routine, then maybe add a few more. Switching between your practices as the time allows is also fine. Every little counts.