It seems the idea of ritual isn’t just on my mind, it’s a topic of discussion in the New York yoga scene this week. But just what is ritual?
Mirriam-Webster defines ritual as “a formal ceremony or series of acts that is always performed in the same way.” And Yoga City NYC calls it “thoughtful repetition.” Aha. Yes, it’s not just habitual actions performed mindlessly over and over, it’s actions performed thoughtfully, in the same way each time. It’s the attention and intention that make it ritual.
But does ritual have to be religious? Good question. I don’t think so. If I bring intention and attention to the beginning of each meal (as in clinking glasses and locking eyes with the BHH before shoving food in my face), I feel the power of ritual. I can feel the power of ritual in my morning enjoyment of coffee, before anyone is awake, if only I stop the mind chatter, light some incense and sit quietly without social media while I drink it. Not so when I splash it into a mug and rabidly return emails before running out the door, hair-a-flying.
But more importantly, ritual is what helps me connect with the larger picture as I practice my yoga morning after morning. Without the ritual, the tradition, the mantras that remind me of the larger idea outside of bandhas and handstands and sweat, the whole thing could be just exercise, just jumping around on my mat. With ritual, the thoughtful repetition, the intention and mantras and surrounding philosophy that holds a mirror up to my patterns off the mat, I can feel the bigger picture helping me continue to study myself day by day.
Ritual can, of course, be religious. The lighting of the menorah for eight nights. Bar mitzvahs and baptisms and wedding ceremonies. But if religion doesn’t speak to you, you can still mark your time with ritual. In fact, you might need ritual even more. Our hearts and minds crave it. Long before organized religion, before churches and marriage licenses and popes, humans strove to make sense of our time by marking big events and seasons, birth, death, harvests and hunts with ceremonies. I.E. repetitive actions performed with intention and attention. And sometimes, when we disconnect from our innate human craving for meaning and order, the resulting chaos is less than comfortable.
Here’s an easy one to try. Give thanks at every meal. It doesn’t have to be ‘grace,’ some cheesy thing you remember from childhood. Give real thanks. It can be brief as in, ‘I am grateful for this abundance meal that supports me.’ This kind of gratitude at meals has helped me and many others to make peace with food and emotional eating issues and can be a great reminder of all that we really do have in our society.
Looking for inspiration to ground your days with ritual? Need a little help tuning in? Ready to set up a yoga ritual that you can make your own, with or without a studio? Let’s talk! Get in touch for your free consultation to see how we can work together, online or in person.