(Written sometime in 2011)
I used to not be a morning person (Gasp!). Better said, I had poorly aligned my daily rhythms with the natural cycles of sunrise and sunset. Nowadays, I don’t just wake up most mornings at 5 a.m., I wake up refreshed and inspired. This pattern didn’t happen overnight, but through much trial and error over many years. Recently, several students have asked me how to get up early enough to come to a sunrise yoga class, so I would like to offer what I have learned through this process. I hope this is useful for those of you who would like to get up at the break of day. For several years, I tried, rather unsuccessfully, to consistently wake with the sun. Then, three years ago, I began teaching early morning yoga classes and was compelled to rise early with regularity. I always woke up on time, but not always with inspiration or with even any desire to get myself out of bed. Some mornings, it felt like my sheets actually conspired with my blankets to pull me back into bed. Fortunately, after working with some very simple Ayurvedic practices, I now wake early consistently, and with energy and inspiration. The following is what I have learned through this process.
Why you might want to wake early:
- It works with, rather than against, the natural rhythms of sunrise and sunset, which are linked to the circadian rhythms that our bodies follow. Dr. John Douillard explains, “All of nature’s creatures, including human beings, operate according to daily diurnal or circadian rhythms – patterns of physiological functioning that repeat every 24 hours…In humans, specific biochemical patterns recur regularly and predictably, day after day. For example, cortisol, which is produced by the body and released into the bloodstream to help you deal with the stress of daily life, increases in the early morning hours and decreases in the evening. When you sleep, blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature drop, then rise again in the morning.” (77) By waking early, you are able to take advantage of your body’s chemistry, rather than find ways to overcome it.
- Waking early sets the tone for your day with intention. There are many ways to set the tone of your day such as through meditation, prayer, or spending time with loved ones. You may even like to start your day with a yoga practice. 🙂
- An early rise allows you to see the sun rise and enjoy natural beauty before there is a lot of activity and distraction outside. There are more than a few poems written about this beauty, so I don’t need to write about how awe-inspiring it is—experience the early hours of the day and you will see why they are almost magical.
How to wake early, feeling refreshed and inspired:
- Have a good reason. (See above.) Without sincere motivation, everything else on this list becomes harder to do. Conversely, with a good reason, everything else becomes easier to do, because you want to do it. There are an infinite number of reasons to wake early and you probably have your own reasons, the above are just a few more. Whatever your own personal motivations are, be clear and sincere about them.
- Go to bed early – sleep is important. “Early” most likely means before or around 10 p.m. Also, in the Ayurvedic system, it is good to go to bed early because, between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., your internal cleansing cycle works at its peak if you are not busy with something else. If you have trouble sleeping, try drinking a glass of warm milk an hour or two beforehand or enjoy a relaxing yoga practice in the evening.
- Don’t eat late. Try it and see if you feel more refreshed when you wake up. Dr. Vasant Lad writes, “Eating late at night will completely change the body chemistry; sleep will be disturbed and one will have unsettling dreams so that upon awakening one will not feel refreshed. If dinner is eaten by six o’clock, by nine the stomach will be empty and sleep will be sound.” (105)
- Make your first (or second) thought of the day worthwhile. For example, sometime before I get out of bed, I give thanks that I woke up again and get to experience another day.
- Have a routine. Knowing exactly what you are going to do once you get out of bed will give you more motivation to get up and get going.
A few books either cited above or that I find useful:
Douillard, John. Body, Mind and Sport: The Mind-Body Guide to Lifelong Fitness and Your Personal Best. New York, Harmony Books, 1994.
Lad, Vasant. Ayurveda: The Science of Self-Healing, A Practical Guide. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press, 2004.
Tiwari, Maya. The Path of Practice: A Woman’s Book of Ayurvedic Healing. New York: Ballantine Books, 2000.
See you at sunrise!