Growing up as an athlete with a single pointed focus of reaching the Olympics, I became fascinated with different daily practices that helped me get centered, connected and ready to perform at my very best. In the sport of Freestyle Skiing, where an entire season of training and preparation can come down to delivery of a single jump or run, the ability to get “into the zone” in all sorts of conditions was an essential part of the journey. While I couldn’t always control the end results, I learned that what I could control were the simple things I did with my own energy prior to my run (the way I breathed, moved and imagined my way into the day)… and more often than not, these simple things had a profound impact on the outcome!
When my own Olympic journey (and knees!) shattered just shy of reaching my dream, I stumbled into the world of coaching and discovered a lifelong passion for guiding teams and individuals to achieve extraordinary visions (in sport, creativity and life) without blowing up their bodies, relationships and businesses along the way. During this time, I’ve come to recognize that one of the most powerful contributors to transforming potential into exceptional outcomes in virtually all endeavors of life is how we choose to begin our day. In the same way that elite athletes cultivate simple practices that set themselves up for game day, what we each do with our minds and physical bodies in the early moments of each day sets the rhythm for our experience in the game of life and can have a profound effect on how we feel, what we create, how we relate and what we allow ourselves to bring, give and receive.
Imagine the sun is getting ready to rise and you are rising with it. Here are some powerful first actions to incorporate into your daily regime:
1. Scrape your tongue
This ancient Ayurvedic practice is done immediately upon rising to rid the mouth of many toxins and bacteria that are released into the mouth overnight. Tongue scraping can be done with a silver spoon or dedicated tongue scraper (gold, silver, copper, and bronze are ideal metals. High quality stainless steel is also acceptable). The tongue is the mirror to all the organs of the body and scraping (7-14 gentle scrapes from back to front) helps to stimulate the internal organs, improve digestion by increasing your sense of taste, and cleanse the body and increase mental clarity by reducing toxins from the head. Our mouth is one of the main gateways between our body, mind and the environment, so maintaining the health of this connection is essential to our wellbeing.
2. Oil Pulling
Oil pulling (also known as kavala or gundusha) is another ancient Ayurvedic ‘dental’ practice of whole body wellbeing, dating back over 3,000 years. The practice involves placing a tablespoon of oil (sesame, olive or coconut) into your mouth and swishing it around – pulling it between your teeth for 5-20 minutes – before spitting it out. Traditionally sesame oil was the primary oil used, but many now use coconut oil for its detoxing, hormone balancing and digestion improving qualities – adding to the other researched benefits of increasing energy, whitening teeth, improving skin tone and killing candida. The process of oil pulling, along with being a great face workout, draws toxins from throughout the oral cavity. So, whatever you do, do not swallow the oil during or after pulling as you will be ingesting the toxins you are trying to wipe out. Spitting, rinsing with fresh water and brushing teeth afterwards is a perfect next step and will leave your whole mouth and head feeling clean, clear and alive.
3. Dry Brush Your Skin
If you find yourself bored as you’re standing there, swishing and pulling oil through your mouth, a great activity to add to this moment is dry skin brushing. Our skin is a complex system made up of nerves, glands, and cell layers. Skin serves as a buffer, protecting our body from extreme temperatures and chemicals, and it is also in charge of 25% of our body’s detoxification efforts each day. Skin brushing is powerfully instrumental not only in detoxifying the body, but cleaning our lymphatic system, stimulating circulation, increasing cell renewal, tightening skin, improving digestion, stimulating glands and removing dead skin layers – to name a few! You can pick up a good natural skin brush (not synthetic) from most organic grocery stores or natural skin care outlets. Brush vigorously in circular motion from the soles of your feet up to the top of your head (in all areas except your genitals, breasts and face). Do this on dry skin with a dry brush before you shower or sweat. The process is quite meditative and leaves your entire body feeling totally invigorated.
4. Self-massage with Black Sesame Oil
The Ayurvedic art of self-massage, also known as Abhyanga, is considered one of the most important regimes in Ayurveda, not only for keeping the skin, hair, nails and joints healthy, but for stimulating and balancing the energy points in the body. While other oils can be used (coconut, almond, etc.), black sesame oil is used by Ayurveda practitioners because it is warming, grounding, penetrates deeper than other oils and has a deeply pacifying effect on the central nervous system. Warming the oil (gently on a burner or even just in your hands), then massaging vigorously, starting with your limbs and working toward your heart (until your pores are open and perspiring), is a wonderful treat for your system – particularly in the winter when our joints and bones can become stiff and “dry feeling” on the inside. Warm Black Sesame oil has a way of lubricating these joints and leaving your whole body feeling loose and calm.
5. Stand on Earth, Gaze at Sun
If you’ve followed the first four steps, you’ve now got a very clean mouth, freshly brushed and deeply oiled skin and you’re in a perfect moment to pause for intermission and let that oil soak right in before you shower (step 6). This can be a great time to meditate, do Chi Gong, Yoga, or – as I often do – venture outside and stand barefoot in the grass, soaking up the healing electromagnetic energy of the Earth and early rays of sun. Science and indigenous cultures across the globe have demonstrated The Many Benefits of Earthing (reducing stress and inflammation, slowing down aging, eliminating chronic pain and balancing our adrenals and hormones – to name a few!) and a series of studies have also revealed some potentially powerful life-energizing outcomes derived from the ancient Egyptian practice of “sun gazing.” Sun gazing has some technical considerations – for example, you must do it during the very first or very last 45 minutes of sun each day, you must start with very brief exposure (10 seconds) and build up very slowly from there. If you are awake in the pre-dawn hours, it’s worth reading up on Sun Gazing and exploring it as a powerful, vitalizing window into your day.
6. Hot and Cold Shower (Hydrotherapy)
The ancient Essenes were known to plunge into the cold waters of the Dead Sea each morning as a pillar practice of holistic vitality. The modern shower version of this is something I discovered during months of injury recovery as an athlete to help stimulate blood flow and decrease swelling after workouts and therapy. Having an older brother who often hurled glasses of freezing cold water over the shower curtain while I showered as a kid, this was not an easy practice to embrace, but I grew to love and experience the benefits of Hot and Cold showers so much that I continue to do it almost daily. Similar to the skin brushing, hot and cold showers have a variety of wonderful effects on our circulation and immune system, creating a pump action in our blood flow which works in cleansing / detoxing ways around our body, hydrating the cells, improving skin and muscle tone, loosening tight muscles and improving the overall function of our internal organs by stimulating blood supply. There are a few different theories on time frames and ratios, and – depending on your local water supply – you may wish to experiment with this, but I tend to go with 2-3 minutes of hot, followed by 20-60 seconds of cold, and repeat the cycle anywhere between 3-4 times. As a stand alone practice or following the first five steps, hydrotherapy will wake you up for your day in ways you can’t even imagine! Caution: Be very careful to adjust the water temperature gradually so as not to shock or burn your skin. And if you dare, always end on COLD… Wow!
By finishing (or interweaving) the above steps with 1-2 full glasses of clean, filtered water (warm or room temperature), drunk slowly with gratitude, you will now have positively infused virtually every cell and system in your body.
This regime – done as a sequence or in parts – may take between 15-40 minutes overall. In my experience of following these practices, I find whatever amount of time I am willing to give, each element gives back exponentially in aliveness, alertness, connection and positive energy for my day. Experiment with these practices individually – and as a series – to see what your body connects with most as you take the next step in becoming who you truly came here to be.