Monday, September 6, 2010

Creating Rituals

Habits are routines or actions that are repeated without intention or even awareness. They can become almost unconscious forms of behavior. Rituals are actions or routines done with intention and with great awareness. There is often a symbolic or emotional meaning behind the action and it is done with assent.

Smoking, drinking coffee, biting your nails. reacting to people or situations, sleeping late, our thought patterns can all become habits. Some habits like smoking can become addictions. We tend to label our habits as good or bad depending on if they are beneficial to our lives or not. Good or bad, habits are difficult to break. Because they are basically involuntary, we have to make a great effort to change our habits.

Some of the strongest rituals in nature are the mating rituals. Without procreation a species would die. At the climax of their courting ritual, a pair of grebes will skitter across the surface of the water with their wings spread behind them, their long necks arched gracefully upwards, and then, in perfect synchronization, they suddenly dive together disappearing into the water. Penguins court each other face to face singing to each other and affectionately rubbing their beaks together. Moving with agile, undulating bodies, male humpback whales will jostle with each other to attract the attention of a single female whale until she finally chooses her mate.

Rituals abound in the sporting world. Football players huddle to strategize and psych each other to win. Basketball superstar Michael Jordan always wore his North Carolina college shorts under his Chicago Bulls uniform. World tennis star Rafael Nadal of Spain lines his water bottles up with the labels facing the baseline he is playing from. Before each race Michael Phelps listens to Rap music, climbs up on the block, bends forward, clasps his hands behind his back and like an albatross preparing for flight, stretches and flaps his arms back and forth. All these athletes have intense focus and an unstoppable desire to win. Their rituals create stability amid the unpredictability of each performance.

Bringing ritual into a yoga practice makes it more powerful. When we sit and center ourselves with our breath, it helps to relax our minds and let go of incessant chatter. Setting an intention gives a powerful focus for the practice making it more than just a stretching routine. Savasana as the final pose at the end of a practice, lets the benefits of yoga settle into our bodies and minds. Even within the practice you can have your own special rituals. Taking a deep inhalation and opening to grace before each pose could be a personal ritual for your practice.

We use rituals to remember, to let go and for transformation. A simple act can have a great impact when we use it as a ritual. Potent times for rituals are just after waking or just before sleeping. Try the simple ritual of giving gratitude at these times and notice how more and more reasons to be grateful will come into your life.

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