Rituals performed after experiencing losses – from loved ones to lotteries – do alleviate grief, and rituals performed before high-pressure tasks – like singing in public – do in fact reduce anxiety and increase people’s confidence. - Scientific American
In reviewing how you have sought normalcy during the pandemic, you might recognize that the rituals you have engaged in have been lifesavers! Rituals are embedded into every culture and civilization. Some rituals are more communal- like Thanksgiving and Memorial day. Some rituals are personal to you or your family. Recognizing how you are using ritual will give you permission, and inspiration, to invite more of them into your life and recognize their sacredness.
Many of our habits are rituals, or are actions that are seeking the benefit or ritual (they don't always work, like stress eating for example). Rodolph Steiner referred to rituals as rhythm, and recognized the importance of rhythm in children's development. "Rhythm by its very nature has an innate logic – it has a natural order. The steady, returning rhythm is healing and instills a feeling of safety and trust as it lifts the burden of the children wondering what is going to come next and what be expected of them". Caroline Joseph, Waldorf Kindergarten teacher. A kindergarten teacher begins to instill a rhythm for the day, week, year, in the children so they become habits going forward. The student is able to use the sense of safety and trust rhythm, or rituals offer as they continue to mature and develop. This can work for us too! Rhythm and rituals free up space in our brain. We don't have to reinvent the wheel each day. The structure is already in place.
When you read about ancient rituals, or the rituals of indiginous populations, they can seem superstitious. The article from Scientific American quoted above tells about what one group of fishermen from the South Pacific Island when they need to fish in shark infested waters. It may seem like superstition, but look at what the performance of the ritual does for the community.
The sacredness we instill into our rituals give us a lot- they give us a boost, they offer us a moment to surrender, to celebrate, to let the feel-good hormones release in our bodies. This gives rise to positive and inspired thoughts and creates a specific energy that defines our day, week, month, year differently.
The people who have been practicing asana with me regularly have said the classes have been a "lifesaver". I know a big part of that is just the ritual of attending class. Even though everyone is still at home, rolling out the mat, putting on yoga-appropriate clothing (even if they are just different pajamas), closing the door to the room, getting the camera set up and clicking on zoom, all of this is part of the ritual, and part of defining the huge chunks of time we are spending at home now. It gives a structure to the day, not only for those who may not have much to do during the day, but its a way for those who are (over) working at home to break from that work. This is of course just as important. It also happens to be nice that the asana practice is good for the body, nervous system and mind, but that is really just a side benefit.
The word ritual comes from sanskrit. rit which implies cosmic order, a flow towards truth, honest and respected. And as you might expect, yoga practitioners use many rituals. Look for the rituals that feed you. If you come up empty, seek rituals that align with your beliefs. There are many resources out there. Rituals that have history behind them, and centuries of practice, also have a cosmic energetic connection that we, as modern day folks, may not be equipped to understand, until we engage with them. But the good news is we don't need to necessarily understand the alignment of stars and planets, and energetic vortexes. Like with Winter Solstice, that has all been figured out thousands of years ago. All we need to do now is step in the current that has been created and look to appreciate how the rituals enhance our being.
“Life, with its rules, its obligations, and its freedoms, is like a sonnet, You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.” Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time.