The word “ritual” usually brings to mind some type of ceremony, religious or otherwise. Where our minds may immediately go to the familiar or the bizarre (depending on what movie you’ve seen,) the reality is that rituals can not only help us celebrate everyday life, but impart calm, constant inspiration and affirmation when we need it most. Rituals are powerful tools for physical, mental, and spiritual health: they have the ability to raise our consciousness and help us manifest a more enlightened, mindful way of being.
Exactly how do you create rituals in your everyday life? We asked Barbara Biziou, spiritual thought leader, author, and public speaker, to help us learn more about the power of rituals and how they can bring us peace of mind and increased happiness. Here are some of her top tips:
What does “ritual” really mean, anyway? What are we talking about?
“Ritual comes from an Indo-European ancient root word; it means ‘to fit together.’ It’s a conscious act of recognizing all the changes in life, and then creating something to honor and support those changes. It’s like creating a map for yourself; it offers structure and order to your life. In times where everything is up for grabs and life moves so quickly, you need some structure and order. For me, ritual always brings life back to a spiritual base. It grounds you so you’re focused on something bigger.”
Rituals can reshape the way you think
“Rituals are actually really crucial. When you think about how our brains work, they’re very much like Velcro for negativity and Teflon for positivity. So, negative things stick to it. When you create conscious rituals, you change your body chemistry: your brain starts to pump out serotonin, oxytocin – all those feel-good happy chemicals that make it much easier for the brain to shift into that peaceful state.
When you look at how our bodies and brains work, they’re very ancestral. We’re hard-wired for negativity and danger, which leads to that famous ‘fight or flight’ syndrome we’ve all heard about. That means you could have twenty good things happen in a day, but one bad thing will happen and you’ll obsess about that one bad thing incessantly because the brain reads it as danger. In order to switch your brain from that negative, fight-or-flight stress mode to happiness, you have to do something to change your brain chemistry. It’s why I love rituals: they create a conscious action so you’re really doing something to change the way you think and feel right that moment.”
Rituals don’t have to be religious in nature
“Rituals don’t have to be religious at all. I believe they’re the kind of thing you do deliberately with intention, something more special than a routine. For instance, maybe you have dinner with your family all the time, but if you make Thursday ‘Family Night,’ then it’s very different. When it comes to that family dinner, research shows that even when kids have addict for parents, if they have one stable adult and one event such as a family dinner once a week, that can be enough to turn the tide to ensure that they’re happy and healthy. It doesn’t take much to ensure people have grounding.”
Rituals don’t have to be big events. You can do them at any time.
“Anxiety and fear can strike at any time, but that kind of fear only happens if you’re obsessing about the past or the future. When you’re totally in the moment, you’re not in that kind of stress, so the best thing you can do is take a deep breath. What I like that works even better are “joy breaks.” Let’s say you’re feeling totally out of sorts. Take a break to do something that brings you joy. I know people who use aromatherapy as something that delights them, like keeping essential oil around that raises the mood. Anything citrus will help: orange, lemons, grapefruit. Vanilla, which is an anti-depressant and the number #1 ingredient in perfumes, is also fantastic for raising mood, as is jasmine. Just stopping for a second and smelling something like that can shift you instantly. Scent, out of all our senses, provides direct input into the brain. If you smell something you love, that feeling goes immediately into the brain and can change your mood instantly.”
Feeling grateful is also a ritual
“Gratitude is a powerful tool: people talk about it a lot, but they don’t always do it. Create a gratitude jar. Every time you feel sad, focus on something you’re grateful for — your body, the sun is shining, a bird flying by— put a penny or a nickel in the jar, and watch it grow. If you create those kinds of rituals in your life where you spend five minutes a day blessing what you have, it will change everything. I asked my mother and her best friend the other day what was the secret to their longevity (one of them is about to turn 100 and the other is 98,) and she said, “Just being grateful for what I have. They also assume that they’re not fighting the Universe. Assume the Universe is on your side. People who believe in a benevolent Universe are healthier, happier, and save more money because they believe there’s going to be a future. Just that simple shift can make a great difference in your life.”
Make them part of everyday life
“Start the morning with a gratitude poem or prayer, something that’s inspirational. Get up early once a week to watch the sunrise. That’s a huge thing. If you’ve ever gotten up to watch the sun rise, you feel amazing. Make your morning tea or coffee as a ritual of self-nourishment. Buy fresh flowers for your home so you give yourself a gift. Bringing nature into your home is powerful; it calms you down. If you feel off, turn on your favorite song and dance. It doesn’t have to cost any money. You have to start building these things into your life that are meaningful and joyful.
Play with color
“If you’re home and feeling down, pick out your brightest color and put it on, maybe a scarf. Colors make you happy. I painted my kitchen orange because it’s the color of happiness. That’s what fashion is about: a way to express individuality. Most people express who they are this way. It’s like playing dress-up. We need to get back to that instead of that fear where you’re not wearing the right shoes people won’t think I’m chic. Play dress-up. Be someone else for today. That’s the beauty of fashion. They’ve done research to show that when they paint the walls pink in a prison, there’s less violence. Some colors are relaxing, energizing – pick the appropriate color and use it.”
Involve your children
“People who have kids can let them help in the ritual of planning a weekly dinner. Your youngest can help by drawing placemats. Maybe they want to have pizza for dinner, so let them order it. Let them write a thanksgiving poem. Kids, by the way, are great at ritual. Watch children. They do things that make them feel safe. The average kid could eat the same sandwich the same day for two years. It’s the stability in it. It’s not just the food; it represents something to them. How many times do they want to hear the same bedtime story? Positive rituals make them feel safe, which gives you an anchor to take risks. You can learn something from your kids. They know.”
Visualization is an incredible ritual tool
“Visualization is a powerful tool to bring yourself to a state of calm and happiness, because the brain doesn’t know the difference between visualizing and reality. Just sit and imagine your happy place, like the woods or the beach or a museum, and be aware of sights, sounds, smells, the surroundings. Can you smell flowers, the ocean? The more you can engage your senses and engage in it as a reality right now, you will see a huge difference. Why not use that for a powerful tool, for your own health and happiness? Happiness is an inside job. If we’re always looking for things to make us happy, that where we shift. Visualize yourself in the place you want to be, and you will start to shift in that direction.”
Take it one step at a time, and with people who support you
“When you’re going through a difficult time, keep going. It’s like building a muscle; anything and everything requires time. But the most important thing is to reach out for support; you don’t have to do it alone. I think too many women try to do everything by themselves. Part of the idea of ritual is creating community and support. When you find like-minded people, gather them around and nurture those relationships. Even one positive person can shift your whole energy. If they’re not in your community, go find them. Reach out. Go online, go out to a lecture, but reach out to other people.
You can also connect to people through their stories. Read an inspirational autobiography. When we really look at it, everyone has gone through challenges. No one has gotten away with it. That’s part of just being here. We all have all sorts of challenges, so it’s key to have support.
Be kind to yourself
“Also, be nice to yourself. Especially women, we’re very hard on ourselves. If we’re going through something, we tend to blame themselves that it’s all our fault. Take blame out of the conversation, and start making the small changes you need to make thing different. Take small steps to move in a different direction, and give yourself permission to have fun, grow, make mistakes, and then ask yourself if you’re willing to change. It just takes that one small step, and before you know it, you’re off in an entirely new direction and in a different place.”