When I hit my lowest point around six years ago, I wasn’t able to rise from that deep, hollow, sinking feeling. I was in the midst of a very uncertain and lonely time in my marriage of five years, which I later realised marked the beginning of the end of that relationship. I did what I could to help myself at the time, and the one thing that I knew I had control over: the day ahead. Each morning, I only thought about that day.
I realised that by taking each day, one at a time, doing things that I knew made me happy that day—whether it was sitting in the sun (I was living between Dubai and London at the time), going for a spinning class, going for yoga, meeting a friend—I could guarantee at least a few moments of happiness that would lift my spirit in short spurts.
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This is what carried me through a very long, slow and painful period of life that lasted about a year. What I realise now is that, over time, I created a toolkit of rituals to help me survive. This toolkit grew as I deepened my yoga practice and found joy in intense stretches and breathwork—being the editor of Dubai’s first yoga magazine surely helped. Then came the realisation that I needed to return to the healthy, home-cooked Gujarati meals I grew up eating rather than snacking all day—caused by the food and body issues I had developed over the years. Moving back to London, I began learning and experimenting with my mother’s and grandmother’s, recipes. This journey lead to two books (Saffron Soul and Prajna—Ayurvedic Rituals for Happiness) which brought together the different practices that helped me on my journey to rediscover myself.
A lot of the practices and rituals I write about in my book Prajna can be woven into our lives to create our own toolkits. To feel well and happy, we need to feel it in body and mind, both are as important as each other and thus my book delves into movement, food, stretching, philosophy and spirituality. In happier times, these routines we create give us extra vitality; yet in harder times it lifts us, and perhaps prevents us from sinking.
Here are a few simple and effective practices that can give you an extra boost of happiness as you begin your day:
Try smiling in the morning—even if this feels forced. Make this the first thing you do in the morning, perhaps as you yawn and get out of bed. Initially, it might seem odd and possibly forced, but over time it becomes a part of us. Smiling causes a reaction in the brain, releasing happy hormones, including dopamine and serotonin and thus generates feelings of happiness and calm. Gratitude goes hand in hand with this, making a note of something you’re grateful for, even if it is just a thank you for this life we live, or focusing on the smaller things, like a fleeting incident from the previous day.
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LEAN ON MUSIC
An uplifting and calming playlist is a great way of setting the tone for the day ahead without spending any time doing it. Play morning ragas or soothing songs (by Niraj Chag, Zakir Hussain, Deva Premal, Prem Joshua, Yaima and Krishna Das) while you’re getting ready so that you can get into the rhythm of positivity before you’ve walked out of the door.
PLAN A WORKOUT
Some sort of aerobic activity or yoga is a great way to release stress, but exercise also releases dopamine, the chemical that’s responsible for pleasure and happiness. Yoga works in a similar way, but different asanas also help release various emotions; and massage and stretch not only the body but also the internal organs. For example, spinal twists ease digestion and release the back, and the camel pose is a great heart opening asana. And so daily exercise can pave the way for more happiness, health and growth in life.
FOCUS ON BREATHING
Spiritual leader and Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.” When I started doing yoga, I realised the power of our breath. The fact that the ujjayi breath or merely slowing down the breath can calm anxiety, anger and pain. In moments of high stress, I found it could help me regain composure. Over time, having gone further into my yoga practice, I realised there’s so much more to breath. I now start my day with pranayama, simple yogic breathing practices, which help to build energy, aid the agni (digestive fire), increase oxygen in blood and balance the body and the doshas, helping me feel calm and energised. In the long run, these exercises can help unblock chakras where energy is not flowing correctly and expel toxins.
RECONNECT WITH NATURE
Try to include a short walk during the day, ideally in nature—it is entirely rejuvenating and refreshing. It boosts your circulation and increases the oxygen supply to all your cells (including your brain) giving you a burst of energy and focus. But on a deeper level, there are lots of words to describe the feeling we get in nature, the instinctive sense of relief when we’re surrounded by trees, the internal sigh, the instant freedom and vastness of mind, perhaps something akin to qualia (the consciousness and qualities of an experience). The Japanese have a word for this feeling of mystery and awe, the feeling too deep for words—it’s called yūgen.
Mira Manek is a wellness consultant and the author of Prajna—Ayurvedic Rituals for Happiness (Headline Home)
Photographs: Instagram (Mira Manek)