As a yoga teacher, I spend a lot of time talking about my own daily yoga practice. It comes up in many conversation with my students and also in my weekly live streams.
Inevitably, one question comes up whenever I tell anyone I do two hours of yoga each morning before I start my day…
How do you wake up early enough?
Typically, it will be the night owls asking this, or those who get up early but need some time to wake up properly before their brains can function.
Why bother waking up early for yoga?
Yoga is the filter through which we see our entire day. Everything seems more intense, stressful and challenging when we are not centered – yoga gives you that. The dream is to get centered first, and 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’s 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.
So you know why you should be getting up early and heading to your mat, but how do you do that when you’re not used to such a schedule? It’s like any exercise… you get there by training yourself to do it.
Here are my tips for setting yourself up to face the day the right way:
5 minutes at a time
Set your alarm for 5 minutes earlier each day. You might only have time for one sun salutation – do it anyway! If it turns into more, go with it!
The change won’t feel impossible because it’s such a small shift each day.
Before you start arguing, we can all 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.
If you’re 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.
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? Because 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.
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.
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.
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.
Make your mornings idiotproof.
Make like a third 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 go as far as to 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.
Give yourself time to get used to it.
Don’t assume you can’t do this just because 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. 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.
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.
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 whenever you can 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, I give you permission to forgive yourself. Know that you can return to it when you are ready.
How do you know when you are ready? Read my post on getting ready for change here.