The Power of Ritual

hands with tea and lemonWhen I was younger, my family was deeply steeped in Jewish ritual and family tradition. We were kosher. We went to temple on Fridays. We celebrated holidays with candles and Challah and Matzoh and prayer. And we went to my Grandmother’s house for a meal every Sunday. Sometimes these rituals felt like a pain. We were tired. There was too much to do. We had to get up early the next morning…There always seemed to be a reason to skip the ritual. But we didn’t.

As I got older and moved away from home and into my career, these rituals faded a little, leaving me feeling disconnected and forlorn. Recently, I began structuring my time around these gatherings again. And when I do, I usually feel a little pressured, but in the end, soothed. These are my people, my patterns, my connections that ground me.

I suspect this is part of why I am drawn to Ashtanga yoga specifically and mindfulness practices in general. I am by nature a flighty, artistic, windy sort, filled with the ether of Vatta. And though I value my freedom, I need pattern and ritual to hold me to the earth. Ashtanga yoga grounded my days and weeks. It helped me treat my body well so I’d feel good enough to get on my mat each morning. It took up time but actually created space. By following the prescriptions, I found a calming and sustaining rhythm, like a drum beat or a metronome. This steady pace often points out where in my life and habits I am unsteady. It allows my brain to turn off a little of the “what do I do now” in order to notice “what am I feeling now” or just to clear the thoughts all together.

Studies and articles like this one have shown that rituals work on a variety of levels. According to that article, “rituals appear to make people pay attention to what they are doing, allowing them to concentrate their minds on the positives of a simple pleasure.” Aha. No wonder people felt more connected, comforted and satisfied in the days of more frequent family meals.

Have you ever experienced this? You get home from a long and tiring day filled with work pressures or whatever your personal duties are, and rather than slowing down and enjoying your evening, you rush through a thrown-together meal with the same hurried work energy and end up searching the cabinets for treats, without ever really switching gears or noticing what you’re doing?

You can shift this mealtime habit with an intentional ritual. It doesn’t have to be complicated or steeped in religion or feature crystals and lavender (though those things can be good too). It can be as simple as this:

Change your clothes. 

A friend once suggested this to me, and it really works. You’ve got the energy of the day, of other people, of your work, all over you. Like starting from the body to work with the mind in yoga, you can shift your evening energy from the outside in by putting on some fresh, comfortable clothes. And while you’re changing keep your awareness on the fact that you’re removing the day (and do so with a sense of gratitude) and into a space of calm. Before you go into the kitchen, set an intention to bring that calm with you to the table.

The idea behind creating a sustainable ritual is to keep it simple and consistent. Here’s another suggestion:

Set the table. Not just haphazardly in your normal way, establish a pattern. Something you can do each evening (or on weekends, if every day is too much). Begin by setting placemats and your favorite dinnerware with care. Light a candle. Remind yourself and invite those at the table with you to take one full slow breath before reaching for the food and notice the colors, textures and aromas before you dive in. Most importantly, enjoy your meal without distraction.

Try this a few times and see how you feel. Notice how having followed the steps you prescribed for the experience shifts your energy in a relaxing, grounding way.

I’ll share ideas for a morning ritual soon! How we begin the day and how we end it impacts everything between.

I’ve found there is freedom in tradition and ritual. I think you can find it too. Let’s create some rituals that will allow you to divine meaning and strip away nonsense. Rituals will give you a place to stop and take notice that life is delectable.