I never quite understood the importance of habits and routines until I read a book called ‘The Happiness Project’ by Gretchen Rubin, which examines the impact that healthy daily habits have on our overall happiness. In a nutshell, what you do every day matters far more than what you do once in a while and this equates to everything you can think of that affects your daily life. I realise that it’s pretty obvious but I felt like a lightning bolt had hit me after I finished reading her second book, ‘Better Than Before’ which develops her happiness theory further.
As someone who travels a lot, my routine often gets turned on its head because I’m far away from my gym, yoga studio and the hiking trails in Hong Kong. Jet lag, weddings, celebrations, eating out and simply not sleeping in my bed are just a few things that tend to affect how I feel mentally and physically, so I’m always looking for an anecdote that puts me back in balance while I travel.
Morning routines are not a new phenomenon – in fact, I’ve written about them quite frequently over the course of my career. The morning routines of successful entrepreneurs, high-flying CEOs and professional athletes often impress me, but it’s the morning routines of the people I see every day that have a much bigger impact on me.
During my last yoga class of 2016 in Hong Kong, I was thinking about how screwed up my fitness routine was going to be after my two-week Christmas break, and more importantly – how sore my body was going to be when I even attempted touching my toes in 2017 after so many flights and parties. As if on cue, while my brain was freaking out, the teacher asked the class to commit to 20-minutes of yoga every day with an added note that it would be far more effective than just doing a few long classes sporadically over the break. I walked out of the class with a steely determination to do 20-minutes of yoga/stretching every day and very surprisingly stuck with it. In hotel rooms, at friends' flats and home in Ireland I stuck with my little morning routine, and as the chain of days that I stuck with my habit grew longer, I found that I worked hard to protect it from any interference.
After about a week something strange happened, I switched from following 20-minute YouTube yoga videos to creating my own (very novice-like) yoga routine that worked on my hamstrings and lower back (my two weak points). I also incorporated in some stretches that physiotherapists and personal trainers had prescribed over the course of a few years. I then started adding on a 10-minute Headspace app meditation until I came up with a perfect little 20-25 minute routine that was right for my body and mind. I never in a million years thought that I would ever be disciplined enough to follow a morning routine, but that’s what’s so great about habits. If you follow a routine every day until it becomes ingrained in you, you don’t need any discipline at all because you don’t actively have to choose to do something every day – you just do it automatically. And there’s nothing more satisfying to a jet-lagged brain than the relief of not having to make any more decisions. Here are some morning routine tips that I incorporate into the beginning of my day - just in case it helps any frequent flyers find a little bit of balance in the morning.
1 – Rise and Shine at the Same Time
Setting your alarm clock for the same time every day is the first kind thing you can do for your body. Not only will the sense of routine be comforting, but it means that you will always have time for your morning routine and that this new slice of ‘time for you’ is always protected. I shifted my usual morning alarm from 6.15am to 9 am while I was on holidays as I was often going to bed a lot later than usual. Knowing that I had a little bit of time for myself between 9 and 9.30am every day kept me happy and stress-free while I was away. I’m now at a point where I would rather sacrifice 30-minutes of sleep for a chance to squeeze in my morning routine but everyone is different so do what’s right for you. Every time I thought about fobbing off my yoga, stretching and meditation routine I realised that realistically I would never get around to doing it before bedtime so ended up pushing myself through it, and I always felt better once it was done.
2 – Hydrate
I keep a bottle of water beside my bed and pop on the kettle after switching off my alarm and pulling on my shorts and sport’s bra (that I keep right beside my bed so I can jump into them without thinking). Hot water and lemon alkalises your body so grab a mug of warm water, put a slice of lemon in it and have it instead of your regular cup of coffee if you can resist your caffeine hit first thing.
3 – Just Do It
Fact - you don’t need a yoga mat to do yoga. I’m the queen of procrastination, so I had to hammer this point home to myself. I did my stretches on a cold kitchen floor and on a hotel carpet that left me with a few carpet burns after a particularly inelegant fall after a headstand. The thing is – you should be able to do your morning routine everywhere with zero equipment. All you need is your body and a little bit of determination. Whether your routine involves running, stretching or bodyweight exercises there really is no excuse not to do it every day. So get up and just do it before your brain starts reeling off reasons.
4 – 20 Minutes of Something is Better Than Nothing
Guess what – if you start doing something for 20 minutes, you’re going to want to keep going for a little while longer once you get into the groove. I started off by following some easy 20-minute yoga tutorials on YouTube and switched to my own sequence accompanied by my favourite music. Go for a 20-minute jog, put on a 20-minute YouTube fitness tutorial but most of all don’t make an excuse. It was only when I didn’t have Wi-Fi while I was in the Southern tip of Ireland that I realised I didn’t need a teacher to show me how to link up a few forward folds and downward dogs. I’m happy that no one I know saw my makeshift morning yoga routine as they probably would have found it very amusing, but it helped to loosen up my hamstrings, shoulders and lower back so I achieved my goal and that’s what matters most.
5 – Give Yourself Some Headspace
As anyone new to meditation knows, it’s pretty terrifying to be left alone with your mind for a mere 10 minutes. Apps like Headspace make the whole scenario a lot easier and less daunting. Guided meditation is perfect for beginners, and essentially once you get the hang of it, you should be able to gain a second of clarity before you react to any given situation. I found my meditation helped me get through the holiday season because instead of reacting to heated situations (that happen in every family) I just paused for a moment and breathed, in the end, I was always grateful for the things that I had left unsaid. If you don’t want to download headspace and 10 minutes seems way too long – simply set a timer on your phone or watch, close your eyes, sit in a comfortable seated position and count your breaths up to 100 for two minutes. Every time you lose track of what number you were on, simply start again from one until your time is up. I’m not an expert – but this helped me.
If you have a morning routine or any tips and tricks on how you stick to your routine while you travel let me know!. My evening routine is currently non-existent, but hopefully, this will change soon.
Image Credits: Photographer - Michelle J Procter; Styling - Christie Simpson; Hair - Danielle Abbotts at The Strand, Make-up - Smudge Make-Up Artistry: Clothing - Caelum Greene