Last year, while I was driving home from Seattle Washington, I got a call asking if I would teach a couple classes… at 6am.
The truth is, I wasn’t super excited about the prospect of getting up that early, and I couldn’t imagine many students would either But having been traveling for almost a year, I decided to take the opportunity to share some of my new yogic wisdom, even if the classes only lasted a few week due to attendance.
Over a year later, the early morning classes are still going strong, and are some of the most consistently attended classes on the schedule. Despite my initial hesitation, I’ve grown to love these pre-dawn sessions, as have my students. And, the more I teach them, the more I understand why. Our body, the mind, and the universe conspire to produce great benefits from an early morning practice.
- Morning is closer to divinity.
- Before 6am is during Vata time.
- You aligning your wake-up with the world waking up.
- Decision fatigue is averted.
- Your daily grind hasn’t kicked into the mind.
…and a bonus!
Dawn and the Dead
It’s said that when we sleep, we are closest to divinity. This is because our conscious mind – the piece that perceives and creates maya – is turned off and our unconscious mind rules the natural processes of the body. There is a place between sleep and fully awake when were are closest to divinity while still being conscious.
Alternately, Tantra philosophy – and turn of the Vedas yogis – embraced their yoga practice in and near burial grounds, believing that these places held a sacred gateway between the living world and the return to cosmic consciousness.
These two different ideas have a thread of connection: Be as close as you can to the transition point into divinity while remaining in this world.
Baring a trip to the cemetery, practicing yoga close to the time you wake up allows you to already be in the “in-between” state. A smooth and steady practice keeps you in that space of connection to divinity.
It’s Vata Time
Ayurveda is often considered the “science of yoga.” It’s a balance of three qualities: Pitta, Vata, and Kapha. During our day, the 24 hours are split into two four-hour time slots of each quality. The important part to know for our discussion is that Vata transitions to Kapha at 6am and we stay in Kapha until about 10am, when Pitta kicks in.
Pre-6am, we’re in the mode of creativity and communication. Yoga – in any of it’s forms – is an attempt by the practitioner to “create” something in their life. Whether you call that creating the balance between Atman and divinity, or cultivating healing, or building a peaceful nature, we are always creating in yoga.
Practice during the Vata time encourages our yoga – physical or otherwise – to naturally be in a space of creation.
During most of the year, the 6am practice begins in the dark and works through to the daylight. While a physical practice during this transition time is deeply metaphoric, it also physically aligns our waking time with the sun cycle. Ask anyone with a third-shift job how important being awake with the sun and asleep with the moon is – or how difficult it is to reset that rhythm.
We practice sun salutations to honor the sun as the giver of life. An early morning practice, not only honors the sun, but aligns our inner sun with the natural rhythm of our world’s sun. A physical practice warms and wakens the body through the transition of night to day easing us into the waking cycle.
Conservation as Prescribed
As humans, we are allotted only a set amount of energy before we need to rest. Each thought we have expands a little bit of energy. As the day goes on, the more thoughts we have, the less energy we retain. This leads to something called decision fatigue. Ultimately, processing a choice takes energy. The more choices we have to make, the more energy we use. As the day goes on, we tend to make poorer – or rather more short-term beneficial – decisions.
For those of us with a strong dedicated consistent practice, you can skip to the next one. For those of us that don’t, we decide whether we’re going to practice on a given day. The problem is, as the day goes on, our energy depletes, and we re-access that decision to practice. The more tired we feel during the day, the more times we will re-access, re-process, and – here’s the kicker – re-decide whether to practice. Even if you choose to practice each time you re-access, you’re still re-deciding. All this re-accessing, re-processing, and re-deciding takes energy… and by the end of the day, there’s a much larger chance that decision is going to be: Maybe tomorrow!
Choosing to practice yoga first thing in the morning frees up your mental energy to focus on other things throughout the day. Part of Raja yoga defined in the Yoga Sutras prescribes the Yama of conserving energy, so energy can be used on important things and not wasted on frivolous expenditures. It’s not a stretch to see your yoga practice as something that shouldn’t be deliberated at all. Following the sutras? That’s yoga.
Before the Grind
Once our brain gets into its routine, it takes much more work to get it back to a place of stillness. Students can take half a class trying to disengage the daily routine of tasks and to-dos. Not in the morning. Practice yoga early in the morning, before the daily grind kicks in, and the brain more easily settles into “practice mind.”
Just like our phones now suggest an app based on your location and time of day, our brain does a similar thing. If you’ve ever tried to create a new habit, you’re encouraged to practice it during the same time of day. This is the mind attaching the new habit to a known rhythm, the daily body “clock.”
When we combine these two things – practice before the mind begins to race and practice during the same time, place, or day – we’re helping trigger the conscious into it’s “yoga state” more easily.
Many teachers begin each class by creating an intention (or asking you to create your own). A few others will weave a lesson – an early morning practice allows us to keep that idea throughout your day. Practice yoga early in the morning lets you practice your Bhavana all day.
I know it’s hard to imagine getting up before the dawn to do your practice. However, the benefits far outweigh the discomfort of an early morning rise. You could always go to bed earlier so you get eight hours of sleep, which is ironically beneficial as well.
If you’re trying to cultivate a new or more consistent practice, I strongly encourage finding an early morning class and making it a ritual part of your yoga.
Wake Up With the Sun & Stu
I teach plenty of early morning classes. Check out my schedule for the most up-to-date options.