Anytime people ask me about my daily yoga practice, the conversation inevitably moves toward one burning question:
How do you train yourself to wake up early for yoga?
Often, this question is asked by night owls (like my husband) and those who wake up early in the morning but need some time asking their brains can function.
Why bother waking up early for yoga? Because it is the filter through which we see our entire day. Everything seems more intense/stressful/challenging when we are not centered. So it is ideal to get centered first, then tackle the day. Additionally, because most of us lead very full lives, the early morning hours are often the easiest place to carve out some alone time. It is actually my favorite time of day to practice. I’m not worried about my phone ringing, meeting a work deadline, or tending to my family. Because nobody needs me, I am free to focus solely on myself. How refreshing!
This time of day is so important for its auspicious stillness, it is called “the holy hour” or The Creator’s hour (Bramha Muhurta in Sanskrit) and is historically recognized as the ideal time for yoga and meditation in many spiritual traditions.
I’m sure this sounds great to you, but you might be wondering how in the world you can make this happen when you are not used to such a schedule? Here are 5 easy tips to help you get on your mat to begin your day.
Tip 1. 5 minutes at a time
This one is simple. Set your alarm for 5 minutes earlier each day for practice. This means you might only have time for 1 sun salute. Just do it anyway! If it turns into more, great. If not, the change won’t feel impossible because it is such a small shift each day. Plus, we all can carve out 5 minutes more each day to make this happen. Most of us spend at least that much time mindlessly checking our email and social media pages. This is a better use of those 5 minutes, I promise! Again, if you are an overachiever and wake up doing your full practice on day one, great. But your goal is 5 minutes. Start small and let it grow.
Tip 2. Set a non-practice related goal for the morning.
When the alarm goes off, tell yourself you are just going to get up, brush your teeth, and that’s it. Or have a cup of coffee. Or take a shower. Why? Waking up and envisioning yourself doing a 90 minute physical practice will seem difficult if you are not used to it. The night before, decide on one milestone which you are COMMITTED to achieving no matter what. Once you are awake and moving, go from there.
Tip 3. Have a cut off time for food the night before.
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, affectionately known as Guruji, often told students to fast for 12 hours before practice. Please note, I am not a doctor and you will have to decide if this is helpful for you or not. It is worth noting that if you are practicing at 7am and finish your dinner at 7pm the night before, you will be sleeping for most of those 12 hours. This was a game changer for me. It enabled me to find lightness in my bandhas (energy locks) in a way I hadn’t before. While studying Ayurveda, I later found out the digestive system has its cleansing cycles between 10pm-3am. Going to bed with a full belly can impede this natural detox process and lead us to wake up feeling sluggish. Your body needs time to process and cleanse while asleep. Just because you are not working away on your iPhone during that time doesn’t mean it isn’t vital to your existence.
Note: If you are a late night eater I recommend taking the “5 minutes per day” approach. Slowly let yourself adapt to a new normal. Change doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Tip 4. Make your mornings idiot proof!
Make like a 3rd grader and lay out EVERYTHING you will need the night before. Put out your clothes and shoes, prepare your morning coffee or tea, and even pack your lunch so you can go right to work. I even lay out my shower towels the night before. During the winter months I leave my car keys on my night stand so I can preheat the car. This way, the alarm goes off and you don’t have to sort yourself out while groggy.
Tip 5. Give yourself TIME to get used to it.
Don’t assume you can’t do it if the first attempt is hard. Your body will naturally find a rhythm and get used to an earlier bedtime, but not in one day. I spent four years teaching a daily Mysore program from 6-9am while doing my own yoga practice at 4:30am. I was scared to try practicing that early because it sounded insane, but a friend reminded me I couldn’t hate something I had never even tried. Point taken! So I tried it and I loved it, but it took me a solid two weeks to get used to a new schedule and experiment with adjustments in the rest of my day. Give yourself some breathing room and some time. Don’t rush it.
Bonus Tip: Check your mindset!
Start with a small practice and let it grow. Think of a seedling growing in your garden. You don’t walk by a seedling and squash it because it isn’t fully grown yet, do you? Approach your early morning practice the same way. Let it grow and blossom, remembering it will grow faster if you nurture it with the rest of your habits.
Note: If you are a shift worker or night worker and can’t manage an early practice, don’t judge yourself. Any practice is better than none. Do it and be consistent, but don’t judge it for not being perfect. If you are someone who did early practice and fell away from it, don’t judge yourself! Know you can return to it when you are ready.
How do you know when you are ready? Click here for my recent video on becoming ready for change.