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The Beauty of Habit and Ritual

At the Thiruvalamchuzhi Ganesh Temple, Tamil Nadu, Dec 28, 2010

This morning I made my tea, as I do most mornings, and sat down with it to think about what new habits and rituals I want to establish in the New Year. Our lives are filled with both rituals and habits, and it’s interesting to discern between the two. A habit is a recurring pattern of behavior, conscious or unconscious. A ritual is a symbolic action or behavior that marks an occasion or confers significance. The line delineating one from the other can be fairly blurry, but ritual can or should make meaning in your life. Preparing my tea and sitting to think is a habit that gives me pleasure, but it doesn’t necessarily have meaning beyond that satisfying moment. In contrast, here is an example of a ritual…

When I finish teaching a yoga class, I release my palms from prayer pose (Anjali Mudra), touch my left hand to my heart and my right fingertips to the ground. Release. Lift my head and take in the room. I’m not sure if I adopted this small ritual from another teacher some years ago or if I made it up, but the symbolism is clear to me – I am affirming the connection of my heart to the hearts around me, and honoring what we have just co-created in the space. It is a gesture that takes approximately 5 seconds, but it seals the experience for me, and fills me with gratitude for having yoga in my life and for being part of an amazing community. This ritual feels good, and after some years of doing it, necessary.

Think of the rituals we embrace: lighting candles, making toasts, creating new year’s resolutions, sharing birthday cakes, sending cards and emails, and more. Celebration, remembrance, reverence, and transition are all moments that call for ritual. Rituals can become rote, and turn into empty habits, but with a little attention, we can re-infuse them with meaning or simply decide that they no longer serve us. If we create the habit of a daily yoga or meditation practice, that habit can become a ritual, rich with meaning and substance.

In this New Year, I invite you to join me in examining old habits, forming new ones, and creating meaningful ritual that enriches our daily lives.

Susanna Harwood Rubin

Author Susanna Harwood Rubin

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