How to wake up for yoga.

by Angela

After a little while, you will figure out your best sleep hygiene, and the getting-up-in-the-morning program will run itself. But at first, I do understand that it can be a challenge to re-teach the body to wake up fresh. Because we’re going against the social stream by getting up early to practice, establishing this pattern might take some focus and discipline, if not a few tricks. If you fall down some days, ok. Just keep at it. This will get easier in a few weeks.

There really are techniques for making it easy. On the other hand, if you wanted to do the pure-willpower method , the strategy would begin with taking in as much sugar, and as little water, as you can during the day. Drink at least three cups of coffee (one of them after 3pm); eat a large dinner involving heavy, dense, inflammatory foods; drink some alcohol. Watch television, engage in some arguments if you can find them, and use the internet until late at night. Spend a lot of time with people who have either a lot of negative, heavy emotion (tamasic) or an unfocused, fast-moving mind (rajasic). In the morning, try to watch Fox News, write emails to make sure the verbal wheels started spinning, and start planning the work day with extra attention to envisioning difficult colleagues or situations. While doing this, leave the lights low, consume Advil, move slowly, and keep the body cold. Tell yourself that this is hard and feels bad. Then (this is the most important part), ask yourself what you feel like doing. Between getting back in the warm bed and going out to do yoga, what would give more immediate pleasure? Yes! Bed wins! If there is someone who actually makes it to yoga practice in this scenario, she is either a hero or completely out of touch with her body. I’m not sure which is more problematic.

Maybe this will surprise you: ashtanga is big in northern Japan. And across Canada, the north Atlantic, Scandinavia, Russia. People in the cold, dark north love to practice morning Mysore in the fall and winter. Last year, I contacted daily practitioners from all these places for advice about how to adjust to dramatic seasonal changes. They offered dozens of techniques, and we tried them out. Those now entering their second year are still fine-tuning this morning practice stuff, but they’ve settled on a few really good techniques.

Here’s what they suggest. Some of this is direct, and some is paraphrased. (1) Scale way back on coffee and don’t drink any caffeine after 2pm. If you are addicted to it, this might be your time to face it and detoxify. (2) I had to get rid of the “not a morning person” myth. That’s just a story the ego tells itself. Being a “night person” might point to adrenal fatigue that can be healed though practice. (3) Eat a big breakfast, medium lunch, and really small dinner. Experiment a few times with skipping dinner. Just try it. Note what your sleep is like and how you feel in the morning. (4) Get a sunshine lamp and put it on a timer to go off at the same time as your alarm. If you sleep with someone who can’t stand it, just put it outside the room and get under that light to go through some part of your morning routine. (5) Forget about drinking alcohol during the week. (6) Eating sugar makes it really hard to get up in the morning. (7) Know that coming to practice will raise your core body temperature and keep you warm all day. (8). Be accountable to someone in the group – promise each other you’ll both be there.

This all sounds helpful. From personal experience, I would add: Get under bright lights. Jump around and shake the body a bit first thing, to get the circulation running (truth be told, I often have a one-woman blues-rock dance party at 4am). It’s nice to take a hot shower on winter mornings, letting the water fall on your entire spine and crown of the head. I do a few breathing practices first thing every day, and on cold mornings add some other kriyas and somewhat different breathing during the surya namaskara. Some of this is in the “House Specialties” document at practice, and some I can just share in person if there’s a good time. But it doesn’t do anyone a favor to talk about traditional practice on the internet. This is oral tradition best exchanged person-to-person.

With “how to?” questions in practice, I look for a balance of dedicated practice and radical acceptance, which is my shorthand for Abhyasa and Vairagya.

This pair of values comes up in Patanjali’s sutras 1.12-1.16. Some commentators say that either Abhyasa or Vairagya should be primary: that one or the other is most important. This is like Christians debating the relative importance of grace and works, or German philosophers debating about will and spirit, or tender teenagers trying to decide whether they find more meaning in what they do with their lives or who they are as people. There is usually a school of All Action! and a competing school of All Being! Hello. Ashtanga yoga is a school of not-two. Samkhya; Tantra; what’s the problem? 99% practice, 1% theory.

In a practical, embodied way, the practice sets us up to do (1) practice and (2) acceptance all of the time. Like this. It’s getting late in the evening, so I can feel that tomorrow’s asana practice is already starting. How I go to sleep is the last major determinant of how I get up. So I’m going to extract myself somewhat painfully from the laptop now and power it down. In the kitchen, there’s an oatmeal-choclate chip cookie that part of me wants eat while watching last night’s Steven Colbert, but what I’ll actually do is let habit draw me sort of inexorably upstairs to sit and do some breathwork. Setting things out for the morning, there is usually some spontaneous excitement and gratitude for both sleep and morning practice, and that will make cookies and Colbert seem boring. Both sleep and (tomorrow) practice will do themselves once I get into position… but I do have to get there. Falling asleep, I’ll notice if there’s a tendency to reel off into discursive, fantasy, or emotionally negative headspace, and choose some higher quality feelings or thoughts instead. If the neighbor is making tons of noise, or I have a headache, or Zelda Spoonbender (the cat) is licking my nose like usual, I’ll see about just rolling with that. And then pretty soon, sleep is here…

Good night, everyone. Sleep well, and see you on the mat.