Author, travel writer and Youtimer Nina Karnikowski inspires us with her purposeful morning rituals: From making a ceremony of her pre-dawn tea, to daily journaling, and al fresco bathing in her backyard.
Image Credit: Peter Windrim
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I think it started as a by-product of jet lag, during my years of travelling internationally upwards of ten times a year as a travel writer, but it’s now as ingrained in me as the birthmark on my left thigh.
Thankfully, waking under the stars has allowed me to implement a handful of rituals that help me feel calm and in control in an increasingly destabilised world. They help me get myself clear, help me knit myself back together when I’m feeling frayed, and give shape, rhythm and flow to my days. Here are the rituals I find most indispensable.
After slipping into my office in the dark, I make myself a small pot of Chinese red tea and sit cross-legged at my writing table. On good days, I slowly pour myself three bowls of tea, simply focusing on the steam rising from the bowl, the earthy taste in my mouth, and my breath as I sip.
I learnt this ceremonial tea practice from Sam Gibb, founder of Cloud Hidden Tea, who runs regular tea ceremonies in Bundjalung country where I live in northern NSW. I also try to remember what Sam taught me about giving thanks to the rain, sun and wind that brought the tea plants into existence, as I drink.
If I start my day without emptying the contents of my fizzy brain into my journal for 20 minutes or so, I always feel a bit unmoored. It’s a powerful way of navigating my (sometimes treacherous) emotional landscape, of clearing some of the 70,000 thoughts that supposedly whiz through our heads each day, and of making sense of the world. This is the ritual I’m most passionate about sharing, and have started to teach it via workshops and online courses (link to ninakarnikowski.com) and mentoring over the past two years. Sometimes I use prompts (starting every sentence with I’m thinking, or I’m feeling, is a simple one), other days I just free-flow. It’s usually not beautiful writing, but it is always honest, and that’s the most important thing.
I sit with a local Zen monk on Zoom once a week, to meditate and listen to his fascinating dharma talks on Zen philosophy, and I try to sit in meditation at least once a day after journaling. Despite having meditated on and off for most of my adult life, and having sat numerous long meditation retreats, I still find this difficult. But the practice of simply observing my thoughts without clinging to them really challenges my monkey mind, and also changes how I experience reality, so I persist.
I can’t sit down to work without moving my body. Some mornings I go for a run with some fun, loud disco music, others I stroll to the beach with our maremma dog Milka to walk and swim in the ocean, others still I get to a yoga class or practice yoga at home. I just need to get my blood flowing, to shift any stagnancy out of my body so I can then find the discipline to sit at my desk and write for the day.
In Ayurvedic medicine, I have an excess of vata energy – which basically means I have too much air in my system and need to ground down. For breakfast, then, which I usually don’t eat until after 9am, I eat things that aren’t usually considered breakfast foods. Japanese bowls with brown rice, eggs, miso, spinach and pickles; Indian curries with mango chutney and spiced yoghurt; or my husband’s delicious Spanish omelettes. I’ll often add a simple nut-milk smoothie – cashews, macadamia butter, banana, blueberries and chia seeds.
I’m going to blame the vata imbalance for this too, but I really love bathing as a way of anchoring myself. Anywhere, anytime, but particularly in the morning if I can swing it (which I usually only can on weekends). We plumbed hot water into a bath in our garden recently - it seemed very indulgent given we were broke at the time, but gosh it was worth every penny. I add a few scoops of Epsom salts with some crushed lemon myrtle leaves from the garden, leave my phone in the house and just float there watching the birds do their thing in the eucalypts overhead. I’m never as present as I am in the bath.