Why We Rebel Against Routine
And How to Embrace It in a Way that Works for You
I have a confession to make. I don’t love routine—especially when it becomes too, well, routine. But Ayurveda is really big on routine. Really big. And as an Ayurvedic practitioner, I have often witnessed the part of me who knows the potency of a daily routine wrestling with the part of me who, it seems, will always resist it.
A well-crafted dinacharya (Sanskrit for daily routine) is one of the most grounding, nurturing, and powerful gifts we can give ourselves, provided it is done in a way that is truly supportive of our bodies, minds, and spirits. But what I’ve discovered is that it can be really difficult to receive the full benefits of a routine—particularly if we’re mired in an inner conflict where part of us is always resisting it.
It is my hope that this exploration might shed some light on your relationship with your routines, and also help you to harness the full potential of a dinacharya that’s truly FOR YOU.
The Value of External Structure
One of the patterns that I have seen over the years is that I am decent at embracing routine when there’s a strong presence of externally imposed structure around which to build it. For example, my husband is a high school teacher and my son is currently in elementary school.
So for now, our lives largely revolve around their school schedules (talk about externally-imposed structure extraordinaire).
When school is in session, by the time I start my workday (around 10 a.m.), I’ve typically done all of my morning hygiene practices, meditated for 30 minutes, stretched a bit, packed my son a hot lunch, helped him get ready for school, dropped him off, hiked with my dog for an hour in some wild and nourishing landscape, showered, eaten a healthy breakfast, and prepared for my first client.
But when the external structure falls away (i.e., when I don’t have to get my son to school by a certain time), I often lose the battle with the part of me who resists routine. And believe me, that part can be incredibly persuasive in convincing me to abandon even the practices and habits that are the most supportive of my overall health and well-being.
When this goes on for a few days, or even weeks, there’s often a valid argument to be made for slowing down and embracing some much-needed rest and relaxation.
As a mamapreneur who is committed to showing up fully for my family, who is passionate about my work in the world, and who values self-care as the foundation upon which everything else rests, I know that down-time is crucially important (more on that in a future blog post). But when this lackadaisical approach goes on for any length of time, it can really take a toll on me.
In fact, by the end of summer break, it’s usually all I can do to contain my excitement that the school year is about to begin again. Not because I don’t enjoy the freedom, the travel, or the sense of adventure and wildness that our summers afford us. It’s more because I’m not very good at maintaining routine on my own. Doing so requires a lot of effort.
So by the end of ten weeks without the structure that school provides, and around which I normally build all of my other routines, I’m beyond ready for school to resume.
What’s interesting here is that, going into the summer break, I always crave the freedom that’s coming. I can’t wait for it. I fondly imagine long, light-filled days to be spent however our heart's desire. I look forward to unplugging from our overly wired lives and immersing ourselves in the nature for weeks at a time on our camping and backpacking trips.
But whenever we’re at home during the summer, it’s almost as if I suffer at the hand of the very freedom, flow, and spaciousness that I was so eagerly anticipating before it arrived. The same tends to be true of shorter school breaks and vacations.
What Was Wrong with Me?
For a long time, I really wrestled with these patterns. Why was it that I so desperately craved flow and space when immersed in structure, only to sabotage the spaciousness whenever it actually showed up?
Why did I sometimes struggle to stick with the routines that I knew in my bones were deeply supportive of me—especially when I had the most space and openness in my schedule? And why did part of me still resist routine, seemingly just for the sake of the resistance itself?
This was all so hard for me to understand, and I judged myself harshly for it. I truly thought that I must be missing some crucial human skill. And as an Ayurvedic practitioner, I carried a certain amount of guilt and shame around these ingrained yet unhelpful habit patterns that I couldn’t seem to shake.
My Clients as Mirrors
Then, a few years ago, as my coaching practice grew, I began to notice similar patterns in my clients and realized that this struggle was in no way unique to me. In fact, at least among my clients, it seemed rather universal.
I noticed that when I invited my clients to embrace some simple morning practice—a short asana flow, a few minutes of pranayama or meditation—many of them were failing to implement the strategies that we had both felt excited about during our sessions.
But it didn’t make sense. These were clients who typically followed through on their intentions, and these practices were designed to be dedicated (and much-needed) moments of self-care in otherwise full and busy lives.
Again, my curiosity took over. What was happening here?
Now it’s important to understand that I’m a Women’s Empowerment Coach who works primarily with women who have exceptionally high standards for themselves and others. In general, they tend to be more burdened by their obsession with striving than by any tendency to blow things off. So the fact that they were blowing something off was noteworthy.
My clients also possess an exquisite level of emotional intelligence and access to profound levels of intuitive knowing. In other words, my clients—every one of them, even if they aren’t yet fully aware of this themselves—are deeply tapped into divine feminine energy.
At the same time, most of these women have been confined, defined, and shaped by a culture obsessed with ambition, accomplishment, and rather linear, masculine metrics for success. As a result, in order to belong, in order to be valued in a world that scarcely acknowledges their innate capacities, many of them have actually lost touch with an essential aspect of who they are.
So under the surface, consciously or not, they longed to reconnect with the quietly forsaken aspects of themselves. They needed flow. They craved presence and spaciousness. They aimed to feel guided and tapped in as they navigated their days. They wanted their actions to feel aligned with their highest purpose.
And they hungered for the synchronicity and magic that comes when we live our lives in this connected, integrated way.
But let’s face it. Routine itself is rather unglamorous. It is masculine in nature, repetitive, linear, easily tracked on a to-do list. In other words, it’s not immediately obvious how following a dinacharya might satisfy that craving that we all shared.
Its benefits, on the other hand—especially those that come from practices like yoga, meditation, and pranayama—are more cosmic, ethereal, and subtle in nature—precisely the kind of place where we might access this other way of being.
But in order to do so, we needed to be fully engaged with our practices, awake to the more-than-human world, able to connect with something transcendent and beyond the self. Obviously, this becomes impossible when we are mindlessly going through the motions or treating these moments as “routine” aspects of the day.
Incongruency Creates Resistance
While this may not be the case for the simplest aspects of our routines like scraping our tongues or brushing our teeth, the more connective aspects of our routines require our full presence. They have to be ALIVE for us. When they are not, when they become in any way rote, or lifeless, or laden with “shoulds,” they don’t feel as nourishing as we know they might.
Worse yet, we know—in our hearts—that we’ve lost contact with their most essential value. In fact, from this frame of mind, we’re unable to receive the potent levels of transformation and expanded consciousness that these practices are capable of stirring within us.
It occurred to me that perhaps I was unintentionally relating to my practices in a way that fundamentally altered my relationship to and my experience of them. I began to ask questions of my clients as well, and while every experience was, of course, unique, one theme resonated for all of us.
We all recognized that, somehow, our practices were feeling a little bit flat and that we were therefore resisting them.
Before we get into exploring solutions, I’d like to make it clear that resistance is a complex topic—one not easily resolved in a single blog article.
So while there is a great deal more that could be said about resistance, in general, I’d like to focus on the two invitations that seemed to apply almost universally to this exploration involving me and my clients.
It became immediately clear that if we could simply do two things, profound shifts were possible—both in terms of how willingly we might embrace routine, and also in terms of how deeply we would be fed by our practices.
1. Release the Shoulds
So many of us are striving valiantly to do everything correctly—so that we can live rich, full, healthy, and happy lives. But sometimes, the striving only serves to make us slaves to our own expectations, which are usually rather unrealistic.
I want to invite you to pause for a moment and to imagine a practice that you are currently doing or would like to be doing. Next, feel into the energy of the following two statements—one at a time—filling in the blank with your practice. Really witness what happens in your body when you read each one.
- “I should ___________.”
- “I choose to ___________.”
What do you notice? To me, the “I should…” feels heavy, constricting, laden with subtle elements of guilt and shame. “I choose to…” on the other hand, feels light, expansive, filled with freedom, potential, and possibility.
Shoulds quickly squelch inspiration. If a practice that’s meant to be nourishing—however powerful it might be—becomes something that we’re doing out of a sense of obligation, it tends to lose its power. In order to receive true nourishment from our practices, we have to stay connected to their potency—their juice.
So first, we must recognize that our shoulds are killing the magic. Next, we have to tap into a different source of fuel—access a different type of motivation. We need to find a way to choose, to want these elements of our lives—and we have to find a way to choose and to want them over and over again so that this choice does not become stagnant.
When we are able to do this, everything about our practice changes.
2. Breathe Some Life into Our Practices
As we have already established, when our practices feel overly routine, they lack a certain essential quality that lends them their potency. So in order to be fed, we have to breathe some life into this sacred, ritualized space that we are creating for ourselves.
Yes, it’s true. An appropriate amount of discipline and commitment can support us in continuing to show up for ourselves and for our practices. But there also needs to be space for our practices to COME TO LIFE so that we can connect with the mystery and come away nourished by it.
How best to do this will depend on you, on your practice, on the particular ways in which your practices may tend to stagnate.
That said, what follows are some suggestions that my clients and I have found helpful in awakening more fullness in our practices. I hope that they inspire you to find ways to bring more of yourself to yours:
- Change things up. Keep things fresh in order to avoid going through the motions. If you follow a specific sequence of any sort, rearrange it. Consider moving your practice to a new location in your home, or take it outside. Go to a new class. Embrace change as a way to keep both your mind and your heart fully engaged.
- Create a space, not a rigid “routine.” Welcome a new level of freedom and flexibility. Consider setting aside a time and place for practice and then, each day as you begin—in the moment—check in with yourself to discover how you want to use that time.
- Take a moment to reflect before you begin. Connect with your intentions. Allow this time to be deeply FOR YOU. Clarify how you would like to be served, and ask to receive precisely those gifts.
- Embrace “beginner’s mind.” See yourself as a life-long learner and recognize each practice session as a new beginning, regardless of your experience level.
- Embody your power. Invite the part of you who is intuitive, receptive, and who longs for flow, alignment, and authentic presence to lead you.
Building a Routine That’s Not Overly Routine
My best advice is to start as simply as possible. It is better to add one new element to your routine at a time (and really register its impact), than to try, and fail, to do too much all at once. So go slowly. You can always build on your commitments as you feel able.
There are certain elements of my routine—of any solid routine—that are (or will eventually be) rote by nature. And this is a good thing. It supports us in forming healthy habits.
For example, I never feel like my day has begun if I haven’t scraped my tongue, brushed my teeth, used my neti pot, eliminated, and consumed nearly a liter of warm water. These are things I do without thinking about them. And they don’t require my full attention.
I highly recommend incorporating a couple of these types of easy rituals into your day because they will most certainly support your overall health. As a starting place, here are three worth considering:
- Scrape your tongue every morning. If you don’t already use a Tongue Cleaner, this is an absolute must. It takes less than a minute and can radically improve your oral health, which is closely correlated with overall health (more on that in Banyan's Guide to Oral Health).
- Start your day with warm water. Upon waking (though after cleaning your tongue and brushing your teeth), drink 1–4 cups of warm water. This practice is cleansing, hydrating, and it supports healthy digestion while gently awakening the digestive tract for the day. The warmth serves to protect agni (the digestive fire).
- Take Triphala. Triphala is nourishing, detoxifying, tridoshic, and it is brilliant when it comes to supporting proper elimination. About 30–60 minutes before bed, take 2 Triphala tablets, or use as instructed by your health care practitioner.
If you want more to work with, you may also consider:
- Oil pulling with Daily Swish.
- Nasya with Nasya Oil.
- Ayurvedic self-massage with Daily Massage Oil.
Conveniently, Banyan’s Daily Routine Bundle includes all of the products necessary to get started with all of the above, even if you don’t want to commit to doing every one of them every day.
The More Substantive Practices
Our spiritual practices are something else entirely—something sacred. These aspects of our routines require a different level of presence. They invite us to drop into contact with our authentic inner nature and to expand to touch something unseen.
Discovering what practices most resonate with and will best serve you is a very personal exploration. However, all of the following options offer profound depth and potency:
- Heart-based meditation. I have practiced many different styles of meditation over the years, and I adore Heart-Based Meditation.
- Yoga. As a sister science to Ayurveda, Yoga is a profound path in its own right. While there is no substitute for a skillful teacher, you’ll find a number of useful resources in Banyan’s Yoga Department.
- Pranayama. Practicing pranayama (yogic breathing exercises) is one of the best ways to bathe our tissues in prana (life-force energy). If you are new to pranayama, I would suggest starting with Full Yogic Breath. From there, consider Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing), which is incredibly effective at clearing and purifying the subtle channels of the mind-body organism, while balancing masculine and feminine energies.
If you are still wanting more guidance or support or wanting to explore the expansive realm of the traditional Ayurvedic daily routine, please see Banyan's Daily Routine Department.