Nurturing Mind and Soul: The Benefits of Incorporating Rituals into Your Mental Health Practice
A ritual is “a symbolic activity that is performed before, during, or after a meaningful event”. Rituals are purposeful, symbolic, and emotionally resonant actions or practices that are deeply meaningful to a person or community. They provide the structure of a routine, yet place greater emphasis on the process itself, and one’s presence with the emotions, sensations, and intentional depth that come with the ritual. They can be elaborate or simple, spiritual or secular.
Rituals are the soul’s way of grounding, a dance of the spirit in the rhythm of life. Ritual is resonant. Humming, buzzing, thrumming. Pattern, presence, purification. Messy, mighty, memory. Heavy abundance, rooted and swaying, light as whisper. Taste of ceremony. Glow of reverence. In each movement we pause. To celebrate. To mourn. To connect. To separate. To nourish. To breathe.
Why might you consider incorporating rituals into your mental health practice?
The psychological benefits of rituals include reducing anxiety, enhancing feelings of control, providing structure, and fostering a sense of security and predictability. Rituals can help with emotional regulation and serve as coping mechanisms, as well. They can be grounding and soothing, offering a sense of comfort during moments of stress or crisis.
Connection to Culture or Religion
Rituals are deeply ingrained in all cultures and religions, contributing to a sense of community and shared identity. Communal rituals, such as religious ceremonies or cultural celebrations, can foster a sense of belonging and social support, which contribute to overall mental well-being. Maintaining cultural connections through rituals, especially for individuals living in diaspora or multicultural contexts, can foster a sense of personal identity and connection with present or ancestral members of one’s community.
Devon Williams of the Squamish Nation speaks to her practice of Shukw’um (spiritual bathing) as reclamation of a tradition her family had lost through the generational effects of colonial laws: “As I am sitting in the water and pouring the water over myself, I am visualizing the darkness coming off of my body and being released into the water and not carrying it anymore – letting it go so I don’t have to hold it anymore and carry it in life.” Ritual reclamation can take other forms, as well. People who have experienced trauma from religious environments may choose to utilize ritual to reclaim practices that were otherwise meaningful.
Rituals can facilitate the process of grieving and healing following serious loss like a long-term relationship or death of a loved one. Creating a deliberate, structured, time-limited grief practice can make sitting with overwhelming emotions feel more accessible. The act of ritual can serve to honor the relationship or legacy of the loss and help you to maintain a healthy connection to it if you so desire. As bell hooks would say, memories serve to sustain us beyond death through “rituals of regard and recollection.” Conversely, grief rituals can serve as an act of letting go.
Transition and Change
There’s a reason so many communities, cultures, and religions mark significant transitions with rituals, such as births, marriages, and changing seasons. These rituals provide a framework for processing change and expressing emotions. Rituals can help you navigate other major life transitions, such as moving to a new city, starting a new job, or entering a new phase of life. Rituals can provide a sense of closure and empowerment during times of change.
Ritual in Relationships
Rituals can play a role in building and maintaining healthy relationships. Partners, families, and friends can use rituals to strengthen connections, foster trust and vulnerability, express love, and move through conflict. Rituals within relationships may be every time you visit your friend who moved away, you re-watch your favorite movie together, or a family tradition of making your grandmother’s meatball recipe every year. You and your partner may have a time you set aside every week to check in and be present with each other.
Rituals for Community and Social Change
Collective rituals within social movements ground communities in a sense of solidarity and purpose. Whether one conceptualizes protest as ritual or engages in community readings of voices from a movement’s history, community ritual can be grounding, rooting, nourishing, energizing, uplifting. Rabbi Jessica Shimberg speaks to the role of ritual in commitment to the deliberate action required for creating conditions for change: “Ritual and orchestrated communal action are an antidote to the hubris that causes us to act alone or the anger that can cause us to behave impulsively. They also can provide us with the strength and conviction to act when we might, alone, feel powerless or overwhelmed.”
Personal Identity and Growth
Rituals don’t have to be connected to religion or spirituality; they can reflect individual values, beliefs, and identity. You may use ritual for a mindfulness practice, focusing on developing nonjudgmental awareness through mindful eating, walking, or breathing exercises. As an artist or creator you may engage in rituals to foster creativity and inspiration, such as journaling. Whether it’s a daily practice or centered on specific circumstances, whether you believe ritual will bring what you desire into your life, want to bring clarity to your goals, foster a sense of gratitude or self-love, or connect with nature, rituals can be a powerful tool for personal growth and well-being.
In closing, rituals have a profound impact on our well-being. In an upcoming post, we’ll delve into the practical aspects of crafting personal rituals.
References and Further Resources:
Gino, F. (2013, May 14). Why rituals work. Scientific American.
hooks, bell. (1990). Belonging: A Culture of Place.
S2 ep5: Healing traditions. Emergent Liberation Collective. (2021, September 13).
Shimberg, J. (2022, March 22). How ritual grounds us for activism. T’ruah.