It was sheer chance, but it worked. Punita Khandelwal,* 32, a highly stressed chartered accountant based in Delhi, got hold of a tape of ocean sounds and played it while having breakfast one morning. And relaxed instantly. “The feeling of calm stayed with me all through the day,” she says.
Most of us would do much to wake up feeling happy and ready to take on the world. Yet it can be achieved easily enough. We talked to health and lifestyle experts, as well as busy professionals adept at juggling demands on their time, to bring you a prescription for a good morning.
1. Turn on the music
Make your morning musical, like Khandelwal did.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
About a decade ago, Frances Rauscher, a psychologist now at the University of Wisconsin, and her colleagues made waves with the discovery that listening to Mozart improved people’s mathematical and spatial reasoning. Even rats ran mazes faster and more accurately after hearing Mozart than after being exposed to white noise or music by minimalist composer Philip Glass. Some experts think that music boosts brainpower simply because it makes listeners feel better, both relaxed and stimulated at the same time, and that a comparable stimulus might do just as well. Apparently, music helps bring on a more positive state of mind, helping to keep depression and anxiety at bay as well. And morning is a good time to start positive, before the day can get you down.
Ayurveda too swears by it too. Ayurveda claims the doshas (vata, pitta and kapha) can be balanced by music therapy.
2. Meditate, in many ways
It’s not just for the spiritually inclined. “Meditating for just a few minutes, especially in the morning, right after you get up, can help clear the mind,” says Rama Ranjit Mehra, functional medicine practitioner at Ranjit’s Svaasa Wellness Boutique Spa Haveli, Amritsar, and Svaasa Wellness, New Delhi and Bangalore. “It helps in balancing the body channels, replenishes the mind energy and energizes the vital forces of our body,” she claims. And adds: “Our minds are in a constant state of thinking and, contrary to what most people think, it is most aggravated when we wake up. Which is why it’s no coincidence that heart attack rates are at their highest in the morning, just after waking.”
There’s scientific proof of the benefits of meditation: A 1960s study by Akira Kasamatsu and Tomio Hirai, physicians at the University of Tokyo, found that alpha waves in the brain became amplified in 48 Zen masters and their disciples during meditation.
If sitting still with your eyes closed is not your definition of relaxation, here’s a style of meditation no one can complain about. Herbert Benson, director emeritus, Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, writes in his book The Relaxation Response that meditation can be interpreted as walking, swimming, painting, knitting…basically any activity that helps keep your attention calmly in the present moment. How’s that for simplicity?
3. Set the clock back
New Delhi-based Geetika Ganju, business communicator, master of ceremonies and television anchor, wonders why she didn’t do this earlier: “I had been hearing of this all my life from my mom, but (only) when I began practising it about a year back, I realized its effectiveness,” she says. “It’s simple: I just set my alarm clock 15 minutes early. This way, I don’t have to jump out of bed and rush through the morning. Plus I get time to do things I enjoy during this time. I have tea leisurely, take my dog for a walk, write a bit on my Vaio (or add to whatever I am writing at the moment) and make a list of my to-dos for the day in my little black diary. All this while there are Shiv shlokas (playing) in the background. These extra minutes add to my feeling of well-being and reaffirm every morning that my happiness is a priority.”
4. Colour your cuppa green
Green tea is already popular because it has one-third the caffeine of regular tea and does not bring on caffeine dependency. But there’s another benefit: its calming effect.
Several studies have shown that the amino acid L-theanine in green tea improves memory, cognitive functions and learning and counters stress responses, both psychologically and physiologically. L-theanine also stimulates the production of the same alpha brainwaves that were generated by the Zen monks during meditation.
5. Note to self: read
Why not read something positive or uplifting in the morning for a while? Read something inspirational, motivational or spiritual. Those few minutes early in your day, used for feeding your mind with positive thoughts, will pay dividends all day long—indeed, all life long. “I have a collection of motivational quotes and poems and I like to read at least one every morning…puts me in a positive frame and then that’s the frame I stay in all through the day,” says 28-year-old Gargi Purohit,* a sales executive from Noida.
To add a memory-boosting bonus for your brain, also eat a breakfast of high-fibre whole grains, low-fat dairy items, whole fruit and lean protein.
6. First, drink water
The fact is that you’ve been fasting all night, so you wake up dehydrated. This is why drinking water first thing in the morning is a very good idea. Not only does it cleanse your system, but also improves bowel movements and helps remove toxins from the body. Plus, it keeps you energetic throughout the day. “Ever since I have started drinking water first thing in the morning, I feel that I have a lot more energy and a much better level of concentration all through the day,” says Amitabh Sharma, a Dehradun-based entrepreneur.
7. Coax a cuddle
“Right in the morning, jump-start the relaxation response of your body by cuddling your pet, giving a huge hug to a family member or snuggling with your spouse,” advises psychologist Ashima Puri, Fortis La Femme, Delhi. This way, you can show tension the door and keep your stress levels low all day. Studies have also shown physical contact (which includes petting your dog or cat) may actually help lower blood pressure and decrease stress hormones.
8. Get exercise
A good reason to work out in the morning is that it gets your metabolism going and jump-starts your body and mind for the day ahead. There is nothing like getting your heart rate and sweat going for an immediate sense of wellness. “When you exercise in the morning, the endorphins produced last all day, adding to your sense of well-being and happiness,” says Delhi-based Nisha Verma, master trainer, Reebok. This endorphin hit is addictive and you will continue to feel good for 24 hours after that, which should see you through to your next workout, she notes.
“Plus, when you work out in the morning, you are more likely to adhere to your exercise regimen,” she adds. “This is because exercise is all about discipline and there are chances that you’ll try and wriggle out of the commitment if you give yourself flexibility to do it later during the day. But once you get it out of the way, you don’t have all day to come up with diversions and excuses.”
9. Roll your eyes
Working continuously for umpteen hours, staring like a zombie at the computer screen, trying to finish that presentation before starting on the next… Is this what you foresee in the hours ahead? Then you are probably also dreading tired, swollen eyes, blurred vision, light sensitivity and headaches later in the day. “Eye fatigue is a common problem, so take steps to sort it out right in the morning,” suggests Delhi-based yoga instructor Abhinav Sagar.
He advises yoga mudras for the eyes, such as the Sambhavi mudra: Look up to try and see your eyebrows, and then down to try and focus on the tip of your nose. Repeat 10 times to the extent comfortable every morning.
10. Things to avoid
Equally important are things to exclude during the golden hour of your morning.
• Television news: If at all you must, get it in small doses.
• Snooze button: Start waking up when you have decided to. You won’t sleep well once the alarm’s clanged and clamoured, so you may as well get up and get on with it.
• Coffee refills: Give that second cup a miss. Avoid drinking too much caffeine during this time of purposeful planning and preparation.
*Names changed to protect privacy
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To learn more about nutritional gatekeepers who influence how a family eats, Cornell University researchers queried 770 family cooks about their personalities, cooking methods and favourite ingredients. Five distinct types emerged.
“Giving” cooks (22%) are enthusiastic about cooking and specialize in comfort food. “Methodical” cooks (18%) rely heavily on recipes, so are strongly influenced by the cookbook they use. “Competitive” cooks (13%) think less about health and emphasize on making the most impressive dish. “Healthy” cooks (20%) often serve fish and use fresh ingredients, but taste isn’t the primary goal. “Innovative” cooks (19%) like to experiment with ingredients, methods and cuisines, which tends to lead to more healthful cooking. ©2009/THE NEW YORK TIMES