How to build daily rituals for supreme self-care

By Maryam Ovissi

Both ayurveda and yoga view that we as humans share universal building blocks: We are all made of the same elements. Yet our nature is expressed in unique ways. This recognition is essential when it comes to creating self-care plans that address the whole person.

A yoga therapist trains in the art of inquiry, observation, assessment, and guidance. Yoga therapists invite individuals to incorporate the tools of yoga—movement (like asana, or physical yoga postures), breathing (pranayama), meditation, and more—into their lifestyles to transform their habits and optimize well-being. This individual path of optimal health is called svastha.

Rituals are an integral part of carving out the path to well-being. Intentionally and consistently inviting self-care into our lives is one of the gifts of rituals. As a yoga therapist, I support people in creating daily rituals for self-care that meet their individual needs. We work together to weave these moments into transitional times of the day: 

  • Morning: Meeting the day ahead
  • Afternoon: Transitioning from the active rhythm of the day into evening
  • Evening: Preparing for our best sleep  

These rituals can stimulate the relaxation response, improve vagal tone, and promote present-moment awareness. The body-mind is designed to shift between active and restful states. If we continue to push ourselves and keep our systems on for a majority of the day, this can lead to burnout. Rituals support slowing down, connecting, and creating space to assess and choose how to transition into the next phase of the day with ease. 

Morning rituals: Rise & acknowledge

  • Got 5 minutes? Sit on the side of your bed or wherever you are comfortable. Allow your eyes to settle on an object that brings you peace. This may mean looking outside your window at something in nature. 
  • Connect with your breath. Invite 10 breaths that awaken the diaphragm and bring you into present-moment awareness. Allow the breath to be unhurried, smooth, and complete. (There’s a saying in yoga: Rush your breath, rush your life!)
  • Move the spine in all seven directions: elongate, laterally bend right and left, rotate right and left, and extend (arch) and flex (round) the spine. These movements may be done in a chair, seated on the ground, or standing. The relative stillness of sleep naturally creates stiffness in our body-mind; moving mindfully can help to relieve that stiffness.

Afternoon rituals: Pause & reflect

  • If you find you are going, going, going in your life, take a moment for constructive rest by placing your lower legs up on a chair or couch seat.
  • Reflect on the day so far. What is one thing you’ve learned? This learning is an affirmation of insight you gain about yourself, a situation, or another person. Journaling can support this reflective process.  
  • Linger with your senses in the present moment. If you walk in nature, don’t just walk through nature: Feel the earth, breathe in the air’s scents, see, hear, and touch your surroundings. You can also practice this in your home with a living plant or flowers.

Evening rituals: Massage & release

  • Release the psoas muscle! Consider practices that actively or passively release the psoas, which connects the lower and upper halves of your body; this muscle is one of your primary hip flexors and gets tight from prolonged sitting. I recommend some versions of a lunge (active) and lying on your back to hug one leg at a time (passive).
  • Practice breathing with extended exhalations; as you do so, intentionally lengthen the exhale, soften the belly and digestive region, and relax the lower back.  
  • Choose your favorite oil and massage your feet, face, and/or hands. Do this in your bed so you can roll over afterward and fall into sweet slumber. Self-massage can be helpful in chronic pain management and used as a tool to get in touch with yourself. 

The diversity of tools in yoga therapy are designed to meet the uniqueness of each person. In my experience, using one or more of these tools consistently—as ritual—contributes to improved well-being. Consider choosing a time of day that you can regularly show up for yourself and a ritual that promotes connection and care for your whole self. This will start to transform your life, one day at a time!

Maryam Ovissi, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT, is a trauma-informed yoga therapist, teacher, and artist. She is the author of Care of the Whole Self: Yoga-Inspired Practices for Befriending the Self.

Find an IAYT-certified yoga therapist to customize a self-care plan for you!

*As with any yogic practice, please do what’s best for your own system and follow recommendations from your personal healthcare providers. Also consider working with a yoga therapist to identify a breathing or movement practice that works best for you.