Rituals are human activities. Since the dawn of time, we have used rituals to make physical our internal reality, and vice versa; to internalize our physical reality. Rituals are perhaps most well known for their role in major life transitions: birth, coming of age, marriage, and death. We don’t have to wait for a big event like this to take advantage of the tremendous power of ritual.
In fact, daily rituals continuously usher us into more elevated states of being. They are very useful for providing and maintaining a dialogue between our inner and outer selves so that we more easily live in accord with both; which means, we live authentically. Rituals are perhaps the most effective way to embody change.
Let me provide an example of a ritual we are all familiar with: the ritual of marriage. Despite various cultural nuances, the ritual is largely similar around the world. Two separate people approach the altar together, they do a ceremony (ritual) that displays that they are transforming into a unified couple. Finally, they leave the altar as one unit, fundamentally changed from when they started. The couple is not who they were when they began the ritual, and now they embody unity. Their psyches and their bodies participate in the shift. We look to create this experience daily in our practice as we catalyze small shifts toward the state of yoga (psychospiritual integration) as our new normal.
Right now, it’s likely that our “normal” existence is fraught with mental chatter, negative self-talk, judgment, and worry. We’re human! These states of mind are common! But, if we craft a personal ritual that shifts our consciousness into a more elevated state of mind, then that becomes our new normal!
Three Key Ingredients of Ritual
To craft our own daily ritual, we must understand the three parts of a ritual. The first part, the pre-liminal period, is the activity before the ritual action. Before the ritual starts, you are not who you will become, but you have an idea of where you want to go. It is in the pre-liminal period that we decide our intention for the ritual’s outcome. Once the ritual begins, we are in the liminal period. This is the state where we are not who we were when the ritual began, but we are not yet who we will be when the ritual ends. We are essentially in limbo. This is the most important part of the ritual period. During this time, we do the actions that create shifts in our consciousness. Once this is done, we close the ritual and move into the post-liminal period. This quiet time after the ritual is when we most profoundly feel its effects. We want to exit the ritual completely aware that we are transformed, and allow that transformation to settle into our body, mind, and spirit.
Create Your Own Ritual
Establishing your own ritual is personal…it must be if it is to be transformative for YOU! While these instructions provide you a template, the details must be your own. Feel free to shift them over time until you find what really works for you. And, don’t forget, as you deepen your spiritual practice, your practice evolves, too. Remain flexible and allow your ritual practice to grow and change with you.
Begin by deciding on the intention of your ritual. We have already discussed the importance of an intention, and how it allows you to remain present during your practice. Your intention might be simple, such as, “I intend to establish and maintain a connection throughout my day,” or, “I intend to keep my heart open.”
Once you establish your intention, find a symbol that is meaningful to you. This could be a statue, a picture, a trinket…almost anything will do, so long as it is personally evocative. It may have zero meaning to others, but that doesn’t matter, this is your ritual! Gather this symbol or talisman and go to your practice space. You may want to include other items in your ritual such as: crystals, candles, inspirational cards, incense or sage. Make sure these items are all handy and arranged in an aesthetically pleasing way. All of this preparation for the ritual helps to cue your unconscious that change is afoot!
To begin the ritual, cross over some kind of threshold; whether it be going through a doorway or entering your practice space intentionally, this “entry” signals the start of the ritual. You may choose to cleanse yourself and the space with sage or incense, circling the area or your body three times. Light a candle (flames are very transformational), sit within your practice space, and place your symbol or talisman nearby. If you are using an inspirational deck, feel free to pull a card. Close your eyes and go within. Take deep breaths to clear the mind. Say an invocation out loud that reflects your intention for this ritual. Here are two examples:
Bliss that I AM, please let me feel a state of deep connection so that I may be connected to myself and all that is.
Bliss that I AM, please help me to open my heart in order to be more kind and compassionate to all.
Remain in quiet contemplation and ask silently, “What message is most important for me today?” Without forcing it, judging it, or second-guessing it, allow an answer to arise. It is likely a simple answer; perhaps one word, or just a feeling. Whatever comes, allow it to come and acknowledge it. At this time, you may also hold your symbol or talisman, as it helps you to connect to the wisdom that you gather throughout the ritual. The symbol is an anchor to your most connected, open-hearted self.
At this point, if time allows, you might transition into some simple movement. Do the Lunge Stretch Warm-Up, a quick child’s pose, and cat-cow stretch, or even a short Shavasana. Maintain a steady focus on the intention and connection with the message you received. Make every movement a bodily extension of your elevated state of mind.
When the time is right, close the ritual by placing the right hand over the heart and chanting Om three times. If you are done with your practice for the day, snuff the candles, take a small bow to honor yourself and the space, and move out of it with gratitude. Acknowledge your new state of being, knowing that you come back to it every time you remember your intention, come into contact with your symbol or talisman, or feel a sense of gratitude.
Remember, your ritual must look the way you need it to look. The development of our personal ritual is a key element in our sadhana. Enjoy the connection and elevated mind-state it cultivates and allows it to set the tone for your entire day! The next chapter looks at smart ways to integrate more movement and asana into our practice to help us embody these changes more fully.