Day or Night? Body and Mind Considerations for Scheduling Your Yoga Practice

28-Feb-2018

Day or Night?
Body and Mind Considerations for Scheduling Your Yoga Practice
By Sam Jacobs

Once you have answered the question: to yoga or not to yoga in the affirmative, the next consideration is when. Busy lives, hectic schedules, and the knocking of the unexpected on the door of your carefully cultivated calendar should tell you anytime you can make it to the mat is the right time. Your body and mind will reap the benefits of a practice no matter when you do it. That said, morning practices have different benefits than evening practices both physiologically and mentally. This doesn’t mean you can only choose one. Perhaps your schedule is varied. Consistency is the key to sustainability, however. According to one study, it takes about two months of repeated behavior for action to root in the body as habit. So, reach towards your ideal schedule, let life happen, and stay flexible. When you are considering when to practice, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind:

Morning Practice

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good Morning.
~Maya Angelou

Benefits of yoga and exercise in the morning are consistently proven through empirical and anecdotal evidence. If you are concerned about exercise for purely health-related benefits, studies have shown that up to 20% more calories are burned first thing in the morning, that the metabolism is boosted for the duration of the day, and appetite is tempered or even reduced. Morning exercise has also been found to lower blood pressure, a metric associated with the prevention of heart disease and diabetes. There is also tradition. Ashtanga yogis are often seen rising before the sun to practice at 6:30 in the morning, six days a week. The rigor and consistency of doing yoga at dawn are thought to encourage discipline (tapas) and deeper engagement with the physical and mental aspects of the practice. The world is still, the mind is still, and the yogi has a blank canvas upon which to craft the hours of his or her day. Practically, the morning might be time of day least likely visited by the unexpected, and where the fewest justifications (other than the snooze button) exist for skipping a session. Starting the day with yoga can encourage calm, mindfulness, and attention to the breath for all the waking hours that follow. Not to mention, sleep benefits have been associated with early morning exercise regimes.

Afternoon Practice

I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.
~Edna St. Vincent Millay

Studies suggest that most bodies living in the western world are at their most alert, and within peak performance states from approximately 2pm-6pm. This window is when flexibility, endurance, and strength are naturally at their highest capacities. There is less risk of injury and the body is primed to explore challenging postures or transitions. Yoga over the lunch hour or into the late afternoon and early evening might be just the infusion of endorphins needed to make it through the rest of the work day. If you have the flexibility at your workplace, schedule yourself “unavailable” during a favorite afternoon class a couple of times a week to minimize the chance of circumstance keeping you from the mat. Stash an extra set of yoga clothes at the office so there are no excuses. Prioritize yoga over happy hour. Make choices to make it to the mat if that is where you want to be.

Evening Practice

All day I've built 
a lifetime and now 
the sun sinks to 
undo it. 
The horizon bleeds 
and sucks its thumb. 
The little red thumb 
goes out of sight. 
And I wonder about 
this lifetime with myself, 
this dream I'm living.
~Anne Sexton

After a long day, sometimes there is nothing sweeter than an evening decompression session to let it wash away. Yoga in the evening can help eliminate the stress that built up throughout the day as well as encourage corrective strengthening and stretching to undo the ergonomically unsound situations the body experienced prior to making it to the mat. A word of caution regarding a vigorous evening practice: know yourself. While some studies suggest that rigorous exercise to the point of exhaustion may disrupt sleep cycles, this is not true of every body. Furthermore, savasana and/or meditation prior to sleep may actually encourage restfulness in a way that other forms of exercise do not. Later evening practices at many studios are choreographed with the end-of- day crowd in mind. Late night, consider a restorative, yin, or therapeutics class. Furthermore, many studios are less crowded in the evenings which might mean the venue you seek for practice is less chaotic.

Yoga before bed can be a satisfying way to reclaim and reprioritize yourself no matter what might have come before. The take away? Unique schedules and wonderfully diverse lifestyles make it impossible to be intelligently prescriptive about when the “best time” to do yoga might be. Any time can be the right time for yoga. Like any good practice: listen, meet yourself where you are, do it with honesty and integrity. Morning, noon, or night.
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