Is Morning the Best Time to Practice Yoga? A Scientific Review
I love the idea of yoga first thing in the morning. There’s something romantic about waking up your body in time with the rise of the sun.
In reality, I’m really not a morning person. What some may call an invigorating morning yoga practice, I might call a semi-lucid series of physical events. I’m pretty useless till I’ve had my coffee.
Everyone's different though, and there are as many variables as there are minutes in the day. It's important to take stock of how you feel and how you work best, in order to decide which time is best for you to practice.
A morning practice is often touted as the optimum time for yoga. Your body and mind are fresh from your nights rest, and it’s the perfect opportunity to start your day on your terms.
The scientist in me has always wanted to develop the perfect routine. I know a daily yoga practice fits in there somewhere. In an ideal world, we'd all just practice whenever we feel like it, but life gets in the way. So to establish a regular practice, we generally have to pick a time and work it into our routine.
So, is morning the best time to practice yoga?
Fresh Bodies and Empty Stomachs
A yoga practice first thing in the morning – especially after a good nights sleep – comes with all sorts of physical advantages. Having spent the night repairing tissues and eliminating toxins, the body is rejuvenated and primed for action.
Plus, there's a good chance of waking up in a fasted state. This comes with its own advantages, as Kreg Weiss, yoga teacher and kinesiologist explains: "Moving into a Yoga practice with an empty stomach allows one to tap more quickly into energy stores (muscles, liver and body fat)".
This means the body can devote all its energy to the practice.
Stoke the Metabolic Fire
So many of us rely on our morning cup of coffee to kick start our metabolism – and with that first deep stomach gurgle, we can be satisfied we’ve woken the sleeping beast.
It’s the jump-start approach, and it’s not ideal.
A better way to start your metabolic engine is with an invigorating yoga practice.
The benefits of an early workout are well documented, and yoga is no different. Yoga's unique movements come with additional unique benefits: forward bends rush oxygenated blood to the brain, and twists are great for wringing out your organs and get those guts moving.
There's also something to be said for aligning our circadian rhythm with the rise of the sun. "Light is the most potent agent to synchronise your internal body clock that regulates circadian rhythms, which in turn also regulate energy balance," says Dr Phyllis Zee, Professor of Neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Refresh Mobility and Shake off Stiffness
There's a reason a big stretch in the morning feels so good. Through the night, our bodies become stiff and tight, as our bodily activity declines.
It's so often the case that we jump out of bed, into the shower, and before we know it, we’ve assumed the position at our desk where we’ll stay all day. So all those aches and pains are left unattended to, and they linger and compound until they turn into something you can't ignore.
Taking the time to loosen up our joints each morning does wonders for their health and longevity. Frankly it feels amazing too – I definitely feel the difference through the day.
Win the Morning, Win the Day
Tim Ferriss, master lifehacker and productivity specialist, recommends an early mindfulness practice and a workout to win the morning. Fortunately for us, yoga ticks both boxes.
"So meditation, or mindfulness practice, it's really about, to me, decreasing emotional reactivity so you can proactively create your day and create your life; versus, just being a walking reflex that sometimes screws up,"
Taking ownership of our time right from the offset and using it to connect and prepare ourselves –that’s how we win the day.
Start the Day on a High
We all know the feeling. That "yoga glow" that we carry with us after a yoga practice, especially after classes.
Initially it has a lot to do with a flood of endorphins and neurotransmitters, in a similar modality to a "runners high", an accepted but not fully understood phenomenon. But I find that a yoga high permeates my entire day, so I believe there's more to it than simple biochemistry.
The "spiritual bliss" shall we say, is difficult to express in writing without diving deep into yogic philosophy, but I think a yoga practitioner of any level knows exactly what it feels like. Cultivating this feeling, especially at the beginning of your day, is a powerful step towards happiness.
Make it a Habit
For most people, mornings are the most habitual time of the day. We’re tired and not yet fully awake, so we follow patterns that we can accomplish without committing too much brain power. Which is a good thing, decision fatigue is real, and habits are the perfect tool to offset it.
We all do it.
Do you eat the same cereal each morning? Make your coffee the same way?
It's the reason Mark Zuckerberg – CEO of Facebook – puts on the same outfit for work each day. So that he has "to make as few decisions as possible" besides the ones that matter to him.
If we’re thinking of incorporating a positive daily practice, lets say… a yoga practice – it would make sense to do it during this time, when we're naturally more open to forming habits. And with studies finding the most consistent exercisers are those who make it a habit, it seems like the logical step.
Having a routine can reap benefits for our practice too. It's entirely possible to train our bodies to perform at a particular time of the day. As your body adjusts to having a practice at the same time each day, you may find that you:
Besides, we’ve all got to wake up at some point, and it doesn’t matter what we're doing in the day, we can always get up a little earlier to practice. We can be sure that this time will be free of distractions, whereas the same can't be said about the evening.
We’re not all early risers or morning people.
We can take steps to make our mornings as fresh as possible, but we’re not all wired to pop out of bed all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I know how hard it can be to concentrate when you’re all bleary eyed and half-asleep.
I’ve definitely fallen asleep again in savasana a few times.
If it’s something you really struggle with, sometimes it’s better to play to your strengths and practice on the evenings when you have more energy. There’s no shame in deciding a morning practice isn’t for you. You won’t get the most benefit from your practice if you’re expending all your focus on staying awake.
Muscles and joints are often cold and stiff after a night of inactivity. Not exactly conducive to a yoga practice, but luckily it’s only temporary. Unless you live in England, where we’re always cold and stiff.
It's Subject to Seasonal Change
Speaking of England, it gets real cold and dark here in winter. Completing my sun salutations just as the Sun comes up sounds lovely, but it ain't gonna happen. Not only does the Sun not come up till I’m at work, but the temperature in my living room is not conducive to life, let alone yoga.
That's not to say a morning practice isn't possible under those circumstances, it'll just need some preparation and warm clothes.
Tips for a Solid Morning Practice
So many of the shortcomings of a morning practice can be countered through preparation, be that physical or mental. Here's a few tips to keep you on track and ready to practice when you wake:
Sun salutations are a great way to generate heat in the body and their repetitive nature means they don’t take too much cognitive power to perform. A great way to start your practice when you’re mind isn’t fully alert.
I like to spend my first 5-10 minutes gently moving around, doing whatever feels good. I watched Yoga With Adrienne's morning yoga video a long time ago, and her phrase of "No yoga robots here" always stuck with me.
Don't feel the need to jump into a sequenced vinyasa sequence, or even sun salutations before you're ready. If you need to take five minutes to wiggle your fingers and toes – so be it.
There's a great deal of science-backed reasons to practice yoga in the morning.
Sunrise is also considered to be one of the best times to practice according to yogic theory. Sadhguru, Indian yogi and mystic says "During the sandhya Kalas, around sunrise and sunset, everything is in a state of flux. If you practice at that time, your ability to transcend limitations is better because your life energies are in a state of flux."
So, is morning the best time to practice yoga?
If it works for you.
Ultimately the most important thing is to simply get on your mat each and every day. Routine helps a bunch to achieving that, but sometimes you just need discipline to see it through.
Personally I commit to a daily morning practice, but it’s not a long one. It’s just enough to wake me up, loosen my body and prime me for the day. My real practices are on the evening, when I can make it to classes or just take the time to work on something in particular. This works for me, as I get the benefits of a daily practice, without having to commit to a long session in the morning or evening.
Find what works for you, and enjoy your practice.