Before 9

The Hosts of the 'That's So Retrograde' on Using Morning Chores as Meditation

7 min read

Essential Takeaways

Our series Before 9 explores the early morning routines of inspiring women, in their own words. Follow along for the hacks, habits, and tidbits that set them up for success during the rest of the day.

  • As the hosts of highly popular podcast That's So Retrograde, Elizabeth Kott and Stephanie Simbari have interviewed an extensive roster of wellness experts—which means that they've gotten a lot of firsthand insight into making the most of their morning routines.
  • "For me, the biggest thing I’ve accumulated is that it’s okay to not have a strict daily ritual," says Kott—a sentiment both friends share. "It’s alright to just feel the flow."

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If the incessant rise of the wellness industry seems more overwhelming than ever these days, imagine sifting through it all when you've made a career out of guinea-pigging your way through the neverending laundry list of dietary techniques, niche workouts, and varying modes of spiritual enlightenment that have shaped the LA scene over the past half-decade or so. Since their podcast, That's So Retrograde, launched in 2015, Elizabeth Kott and Stephanie Simbari have explored it all—from reiki and food therapy to nootropics and tantric numerology.

So it might be a little surprising—and on second thought, quite understandable—to learn that even after interviewing an endless roster of incredibly fascinating wellness experts, Kott and Simbari's own routines are relatively pared down. Think about it: When you're faced with an endless buffet of wellness options as part of your day-job, it makes perfect sense that after the novelty wears off, you really just want to drink a damn smoothie and call it a day. (That said, the key thing to note is that this smoothie is probably as thoughtful and nutritious as it gets.)

In Simbari's case, the smoothie isn't just proverbial, but quite literal—and that seems like the perfect segué into the co-hosts' decidedly minimalist (but still highly insightful) morning rituals. Wake up with them below.

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"I feel like it's the only time of day you have with yourself that's truly fresh and uninfluenced."

Stephanie Simbari: You kind of have it at night, but at night you're really tired. So I really like to use [the earliest hours of the morning] just for me. Journaling, meditating, exercising… those things are all little gifts for yourself and I feel like that’s what the morning is really useful for. I used to not do anything in the morning—I would just jump out of bed and go about my day—and I feel like I always had a low grade of stress because I wasn’t checking into myself.

"Listening is more important than doing."

After feeling like we're supposed to do so much in the mornings, we've actually learned to take a step back.

Elizabeth Kott: For me, the biggest thing I’ve accumulated [after interviewing so many experts] is that it’s okay to not have a strict daily ritual. It’s alright to just feel the flow. Sometimes I wake up at 6:30 in the morning and I make a 7am yoga class and that’s amazing, because I know that sets me up for the day. But other days I stay in bed until 9am. The most valuable thing I’ve learned is that all of that is okay.

A lot of the feedback we get from our listeners is that they feel like they’re supposed to be doing something. They should be doing something. If they’re not doing one thing then they’re doing something wrong. I really want to be a champion of the idea that there’s no wrong way to do your morning, but it is really important to give yourself space in the morning—as Steph said, to use those crucial moments at the start of your day to really check into yourself and just see what you may need. Whether it’s taking some time for quiet or meditation or just making yourself a cup of coffee, whatever inspires you to take the time to check in with yourself, that’s the important piece of it. Everything else is really based off of preference.

SS: I feel like both Elizabeth and I, on this whole “this is my morning routine” journey, have experienced this phenomenon where when we’re trying to do all the healthy things, we end up creating more stress. When you’re trying to do this and trying to do that, you start to be really hard on yourself and feel like you’re not taking care of yourself. But as Elizabeth said, the listening is really more important than the doing.

Simplicity is at the core of our morning routines.

EK: For me, it's just sitting outside. I just got a new place and I have this little outdoor area. I’m not always going to meditate first thing but what I’ve been finding is really lovely and really serving my Taurean soul is just going outside and looking up at the chipmunks and the birds and just tuning into that. Even if it’s just 10 minutes of sitting there with my tea—there’s no screen in front of me—it’s been getting my brain moving in a very back-to-basics way.

I also like doing a really menial task like loading the dishwasher—something that’s really task-driven but low-stake. I have a “happy light” in the corner of my kitchen, so I’ll do that chore while that happy light is on, and it kind of wakes my brain up in a more leveled way. I also like to read articles on my phone in the morning. I tried to tell myself I wasn’t going to use my phone in the morning because it’s “bad,” but you know what? I really like it. It makes me happy. I like tuning into what’s happening into the world from the comfort of my bed. It’s like the modern version of sitting at the breakfast table with a newspaper.

SS: I totally agree with the menial task thing. Something that’s really critical to me is making my coffee, making my smoothie, washing the dishes in my sink and walking my dog. Those are all things that have only to do with me and my space and nothing with the outside world. I walk my dog on one loop around the block, and I have that same experience that she was describing of just taking in stimulation of the world outside productivity. I also feel like because I’m walking my dog I’m servicing him, and that makes me feel happy because I know that makes him happy.

Usually I’ll do either a journal or a meditation as soon as I wake up—I always have a rush of thought or feeling when I wake up in the morning—but I’m not strict which one of those things I choose. I just pay attention to whichever feels more important.

But first, breakfast.

EK: I like to batch-roast vegetables and my boyfriend makes scrambled eggs so I get on board with that. But if I’m feeling really fancy I’ll do a cassava tortilla wrap with avocado stashed in it and Everything Bagel seasoning from Trader Joe’s, some fresh herbs, and maybe some of those roasted veggies and I’m really pleased.

SS: I’m a smoothie girl all the way. I double-fist a smoothie and coffee. The first thing I do when I wake up is chug a giant glass of water (and take my Ritual, of course). My smoothie is usually two handfuls of greens, a handful of berries, a collagen protein powder from Dr. Axe (which Vanessa Fitzgerald recommended to me), Moon Juice Brain Dust, Acacia fiber, and water. I used to put everything into my smoothie—herbs, dusts whatever—but I’m kind of getting back into this balance of less is more.

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