21 tips for dragging your sleepy butt out of bed to practice yoga in the mornings

Sleepy Puppy

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There’s been a fair amount of ruminations lately about that unique time before and around dawn, and I wonder if it has something to do with the equinox and the changing of seasons. Just this morning, Mysore SF posted this Rumi poem on its Facebook page:

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

A friend of mine in Ohio noted her reflections on finally getting back to the mat today. And the AY: A2 blog recently posted “How to get up for yoga, again,” an update to the shala’s popular 2011 post, “How to wake up for yoga.” Earlier in September, Claudia Yoga posted “7 morning habits for a great yoga practice,” which includes how she deals with social media — what can be a beast lurking in the wee hours of the morning.

I thought about practicing at home in the mornings for years but didn’t manage to actually start trying in earnest until 2011 (“How to wake up for yoga,” along with support and encouragement from my teacher, helped me tremendously). The first months were the hardest, and just this August, I started in on my second year of practicing Ashtanga yoga six days a week. During this relatively short amount of time, I’ve felt tremendous benefits from practicing early in the morning (and I’ve felt the difference between practicing in the morning versus the evening).

So I too have been thinking a lot about how to bridge that gap of getting up early, because I wonder what it would have taken Rose circa 2009 — the one who slept around 2 a.m. every night and didn’t ever think she had the chops to change — to be able to start (starting, for me, was the hardest part).

Below are 21 tips for starting. They’re a mix of things I learned the hard way, advice I received from my teacher and tips from other practitioners.

Will they work for you? Only experimentation will tell.

Sunrise
Don’t expect a yummy physical practice . . .
Because I had practiced for years in the evenings, I had to recalibrate my expectations about how a practice physically feels. I had to accept that when I practice in the morning, my body is cold and stiff. A pretty cool thing happened over the course of a few short months, however: I started minding less and less. The “I’m a natural evening practitioner” mantra I had chanted for so many years had been a myth that I created, bought into, and perpetuated by making others believe it as well. That detachment from needing my body to feel supple led to a greater sense of equanimity with the body I happened to have for that practice, and that ability to find equanimity started extending to other things. In becoming more detached from desiring that yummy factor I was accustomed to from the physical practice, I was working through a process that also helped me clean out my emotional closets.

. . . but acquire a taste for a delicious inner practice.
I fell in love with this description of pratyhara from the Insideowl blog when I first read it:

Sense withdrawal is not the self-denial we post-Puritans can misunderstand it to be, but a ripening ecstasy of reversing the ever-seeking senses to the inside. Imagine you had two ear trumpets, and two eye searchlights, and so on, so that you could suck your perception inside your bodymind and delight in the yoga of your subtle and subtler selves.

If you can tap into the warm, bright and stimulating carnival of your inner spaces, the room around you may start to matter less to you. Turning your gaze inward won’t happen overnight, but you can help the process along by not staying fixated on the external. Easier said than done, I know, which is why there are 19 more tips to go.

Trumpet

Unless you live in a truly tropical climate, invest in a space heater if you are practicing at home.
This simple device will save you! I got one of those tall ones that can oscillate if needed, and it cost about $70. It was $70 of the best dollars I spent in 2011.

If you practice at home on carpet, invest in a LifeBoard.
This gives you one less reason to resist practicing at home (because, let’s face it, unless you have a beautiful yoga room at home, it’s so much nicer to practice at a dedicated yoga studio).

Determine a Plan B for the snooze button — and commit to it the night before.
We all love our mats, but we love our beds too. The problem is that a bed — and particularly the pillows on a bed — transform overnight: everything gets softer, plusher and more inviting. So not only do you have to find an alternative to hitting the snooze button, you have to commit to it before you go to bed. Your Plan B might be that when the alarm goes off, you will jump in the shower before you give yourself the chance to hit snooze and fall back into your super comfortable bed.

Start hydrating the night before your practice.

CoconutAshtangis should be well-hydrated anyway, but I found that I had to make a special effort to hydrate at night in order to start a consistent morning practice. (The reason being that one of the big deterrents for me in going from practicing in the evening to practicing in the morning is that I usually wake up feeling totally parched.) What has worked for me: drinking a juice-box-sized coconut water before bed, drinking another one when I wake up, and generally consuming more liquids throughout the day.

On that note, start thinking in terms of your practice starting the night before.
After a year of practicing six days a week and mostly in the morning — but not super early morning — I realized that to get my practice to the next level, I would need to start waking up earlier. Otherwise, I would forever be confined to less-than-full-primary-series practices. In terms of time, the gap between 6:45 a.m. to 5:45 a.m. isn’t huge, but experientially, it felt as insurmountable as trying to leap across an ocean. The advice from my teacher, Angela Jamison, to start thinking in terms of your practice starting the night before was instrumental in taking that leap. Key to that was thinking about my digestive patterns. Because of my schedule, I normally eat dinner pretty late — sometimes as late as 9:30 or 10 p.m. What has been working for me to wake up in that magical pre-dawn space is to eat no later than 8:30 p.m., and to eat a light dinner (“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper” has been a good guideline for me). Experiment, figure out what works best for you digestively, and roll with that as your schedule.

Consume sleepiness . . . 
I drink a little fennel tea before bed, and it’s been lovely. Maybe herbal melatonin is your preferred boost of ZZZs? Perhaps it’s skullcap? (I can’t speak to the latter two, but see the comments found here.)

. . . instead of consuming alcohol.
Wines constantly I know, I know. But it’s just really quite hard to train yourself to wake up super early if you drink the night before, even if it’s a glass of your preferred pinot noir with dinner. Perhaps try it out for a couple of weeks and see if you feel a difference?

Set up everything — and I mean everything — the night before.
If your mornings are typically rushed affairs like mine are, even 5 or 10 minutes can make a big difference. I set out my clothes ahead of time and I set up the coffee pot so that all I have to do is hit start when I get up (see coffee tip below). This prevents an opening to start procrastinating in the morning.

Consider a few sips of coffee before practice.
Pattabhi Jois is known for saying, “no coffee, no prana.” I resisted the idea of drinking coffee before practice because I didn’t want to depend on it and because I didn’t have time to make coffee before practice. But now that I’m waking up earlier, I’ve found lately that a few sips has helped me feel warmer and move with a little more oomph. Coffee can dehydrate me, though, so that’s another reason why it’s so important to start hydrating the night before. And by all means, if you can do this without coffee, go for it. But since we’re discussing ways to help get a practice up and running, I think it’s worth a consideration.

Think about whether you need some rituals to set your space . . .
A few practitioners I know have morning rituals that include different things — for instance, lighting a candle, burning incense, or dedicating that morning’s practice to someone. For some, it’s reading. Claudia Azula says that for her, “Good yoga literature helps me get inspired in the morning . . .” Good literature would totally derail my morning — I would never get to work on time. Thinking about rituals is a good reminder that so much of this stuff is personal — and if it works for you, roll with it! If it doesn’t, drop it.

.. . . and also think about what you should avoid doing in the morning.
No social media before breakfastUnless I know my work day will absolutely blow up if I don’t address an email right when I get up, I don’t allow myself to get within 10 feet of either of my email inboxes, my Twitter feed or my Facebook page, because if I do, I’ve just lost 20 – 30 minutes of my morning. I force myself to stay clear from the types of distractions that are delivered through mobile devices and laptops because it makes for a less anxiety-ridden practice if I am not worrying about all the work-related things I will need to think about beginning in two hours.

Take a hot shower before practice.
On super cold days when your mettle is still being strengthened, a hot shower can be the perfect external support. Just don’t stay too long and give yourself another space to procrastinate in. 😉

Ramp it up if you have to.
If you are ready to start practicing six days a week right off the bat, awesome! For most of us, it’s hard to go from a sporadic practice to practicing six mornings a week at home, in the cold and dark. Consider committing to practicing three mornings a week at first. Commit, and don’t veer. Enjoy the four days off you have, and do what you need to do to get on the mat those three days. Over the time, the practice might just naturally coax you into practicing additional days a week . . .

Don’t set unreasonable goals — and practice for however much time you have.
My teacher told me to get to the mat, and practice in the time I have — and it was the single most important thing for me to hear. At the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence this year, Nancy Gilgoff said during one panel discussion about practicing six days a week: “Sometimes your practice may be 15 minutes . . .” See the above tip: I truly believe that over time, the practice will naturally help you find a way to lengthen your time on the mat. In my first year of practice, when I was trying to buy a house, plan a wedding, teach yoga, blog and hold down a deadline-driven full-time job, there were days when I literally was running out of time. The way I gauged a practice was: Did I practice long enough to have to invest something of myself? And did I practice long enough to find a challenge? Practicing for 15 minutes can give you that — investing time that you would have rather been checking to-do items off your list, for instance. As for challenge — well damn, the hardest part of an early morning practice for me is often the sun salutations, when I might be questioning why I am doing this as I body seems to creak with every bend. The good news? It gets easier. It really does. :-)

Tell your friends and family about what you’re trying to do.
Hopefully, you have supportive friends and family members. Explain what you’re trying to do. They’re on your side, so if they know how important this is to you, they can start to help support your practice in ways large and small (it might be as simple as moving up the time of a dinner date so that you’re not sleeping so late).

Find a little group of yogis to help keep yourself accountable
You don’t have to start your own online Way-Before-Breakfast Club like a small group of us did back in August, but if you can find even a couple of yogis to start this journey with you, the camaraderie, support and feedback can be invaluable. You can keep yourself accountable with local yogis, or, if you can’t find any local yogis, we’re living during such an expansive and global world these days — find a couple yogis who live halfway around the world if that’s what ends up working best. Our group of a dozen currently has members from four countries.

Don’t lose sight of your what you’re doing this for . . .  
The other week, I overhead a little boy ask his father who had just finished practicing yoga, “Why do you do yoga?” His dad answered simply, “Because it makes me feel better.” You are trying to practice more consistently because yoga first and foremost makes you feel better, right?

. . . and have a little faith too.
This practice is so evidence-based. As an Ashtanga yoga practitioner, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to take anything on faith. Instead, you get to try something out and see for yourself how it feels. But I think it helps to have a little faith in the idea that the practice changes if you can find it consistently. (I think we can practice without attachment to a result while still practicing with faith in transformation.) The traditional Ashtanga method is designed in a very particular way, and the effects build — exponentially, it feels sometimes to me — over time. So this is a rare moment when I will say to take my word — and the word of I don’t know how many ashtangis all around the world — who have experienced the difference between practicing randomly all over the map versus practicing consistently six days a week. During those dark mornings when you’re sleepy and stumbling over your two left feet, when you’re cold and crabby and thinking you should just head back to bed, know that it is all worth it. And have faith that you are not alone: There are practitioners all over the world doing the exact same thing, probably feeling lots of the same things you’re feeling.

‘Alchemize your word.’
I love this phrase, and I think of this advice as the yogic translation of Nike’s “Just do it” edict for athletes. The Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor blog began the recent essay about how to wake up for yoga with the advice to “alchemize your word”:

What’s the value of your word? If you say you’re going to do something, is that an ironclad statement? Is it as good as a 50/50 bet? Is your word more like hot air? If you decide strongly that you are going to be a woman or man of your word, then you can use the golden quality of that word to hold yourself to your own intentions.

Here is the whole blog post, which, as I noted at the beginning of this blog post, is essentially part 2 to the 2011 post on how to wake up for yoga.

If you’re a list type of person, here’s a summary:

  • Don’t expect a yummy physical practice . . .
  • . . . but acquire a taste for a delicious inner practice.
  • Unless you live in a truly tropical climate, invest in a space heater if you are practicing at home.
  • If you practice at home on carpet, invest in a LifeBoard.
  • Determine a Plan B for the snooze button — and commit to it the night before.
  • Start hydrating the night before your practice.
  • On that note, start thinking in terms of your practice starting the night before.
  • Consume sleepiness . . .
  • . . . instead of consuming alcohol.
  • Set up everything — and I mean everything — the night before.
  • Consider a few sips of coffee before practice.
  • Think about whether you need some rituals to set your space . . .
  • .. . . and also think about what you should avoid doing in the morning.
  • Take a hot shower before practice.
  • Ramp it up if you have to.
  • Don’t set unreasonable goals — and practice for however much time you have.
  • Tell your friends and family about what you’re trying to do.
  • Find a little group of yogis to help keep yourself accountable
  • Don’t lose sight of your what you’re doing this for . . .
  • . . . and have a little faith too.
  • ‘Alchemize your word.’

Happy practicing!

(Photo credit: Sleepy puppy by Nicole Kelly; Coconut and trumpet via Stock.Xchng)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Shut up and play the quiet

My concert buddy and I drove an hour west to the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, Mich. last night to watch Shut Up and Play the Hits, the new documentary about LCD Soundsystem’s final, epic (I think “epic” is the right word here) show at Madison Square Garden. It’s a superbly executed music documentary that includes snippets of a great interview of James Murphy led by Chuck Klosterman — thought-provoking and entertaining stuff.

While watching, I thought a little about how much my music tastes have changed. I used to only listen to bands that had the typical rock or pop construction of guitar chords, refrains, etc. Over time, though, I’ve been increasingly drawn to bands that don’t stick to the template — bands like LCD Soundsystem and, more recently, Caribou. These outfits create soundscapes, including lyrics when they’re needed and not including them when they’re not.

I’m a journalist by training, so words are the tools of my trade. But more and more and in different situations, the mantra of “less is more” (something my favorite journalism professor always stressed) has been sinking in. From filler lyrics to the thoughts that run on a loop in our heads, words can clutter so much of our external and internal spaces.

Over the past 11 months, as I’ve been working to deepen my Ashtanga yoga practice by committing to practicing six days a week, I’ve noticed I’m more able to tolerate stillness and quietness while working, running errands or doing stuff around the house. (A big exception is that I do already love quiet yoga rooms — the less chatter, the better.) I used to rely on having a TV on, or music playing, when at home. Basically, these days, I don’t feel the symptoms of withdrawal from chatter/sounds/white noise as frequently or intensely. And I wonder if part of my shifting music tastes is my ability to enjoy more space in my soundscapes. As strange as my description may sound, a track like “Bowls” feels like it has more room now to pulse and resonate.

Speaking of less is more on the monkey mind front: Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor’s Facebook page had this recommendation yesterday:

So if you’re looking for meditation | remixed, give this meditation app a try. I’ve been so swamped lately, but I’ll check out ReWire one of these days — along with another fascinating app called Brain Wave, which says it “uses sequences of binaural tones combined with soothing ambient nature sounds and atmospheric music to stimulate specific brainwave frequencies and induce different states of mind. Includes programs for sleep.” I don’t know anything about binaural tones, but my concert buddy just told me Pearl Jam had an album that used this technique — titled, appropriately enough, Binaural.

Side note: I found out today that LCD Soundsystem-affiliated Juan Maclean practices Ashtanga yoga, and travels to Mysore. You can find the whole interview here (you’ll have to scroll down — I didn’t see any anchors) and here’s an inspiring snippet:

How has yoga now improved your working life as a DJ?

“I practice six days a week no matter where I am or what I’ve done the night before. It has been enormously helpful in keeping my body functioning while maintaining an insane travel schedule. Sitting on planes has become a major job hazard. The yoga gets my blood flowing again, stretches out all those tightened muscles, relieves inflammation, and helps with jet lag.”

How has yoga changed you as a person?

“It’s a little embarrassing but I had a bad anger problem, I would get totally out of control. There were a couple of incidents that were well documented on the internet, much to the dismay of my mother, where I had physically assaulted people while DJing. Whether my actions were justified or not, beating someone up in the middle of a DJ set is completely ridiculous. Since practicing Ashtanga, I’ve calmed down immensely. It’s also made me a generally nicer person.”

So cool to see a DJ who travels extensively make the traditional practice happen! Rock on, Maclean!

(Photo credit: Hierophant’s Facebook page)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Demystifying Ashtanga Yoga

This week, I’m excited to be starting a three-session workshop at Sanctuary Yoga. The workshop — which costs $30 and runs 5:15-6:15 p.m. for three consecutive Wednesdays — is designed for anyone who has been curious about Ashtanga yoga but has been either too intimidated or simply too busy to try it. Here’s the description:

This three-week introductory course provides a multilevel introduction to Ashtanga yoga. Each session will include a physical practice — designed to give you a taste of both the challenge and radiance of Ashtanga — and time to discuss historical roots and cultural growth. We’ll cover sun salutations, standing poses, key seated poses and transitions. Each student will leave with resources for continuing a personal yoga practice based on compassion for the body and mind.

Read more or register for Demystifying Ashtanga Yoga. If you have questions about the course, drop me a line at ashtangayogarose [at] gmail.com.

At the conclusion of that workshop, I’ll start teaching a weekly class at Sanctuary Yoga. That class, which begins Feb. 7, will run 7:30-8:45 p.m., and will be a led half primary series class.

A sanctuary for the body-mind-spirit connection

Sanctuary Yoga, located in Okemos just off Okemos Road (across from Ace Hardware and Douglas J), is a relatively new and lovely addition to the greater Lansing area’s expanding landscape of yoga studios. I look around not just this area, but the state of Michigan, and it’s very cool to see the traditional Ashtanga offerings that are increasingly available.

  • In Royal Oak, Matthew Darling’s established Ashtanga Michigan continues to pass on the lineage of this practice.
  • In Ann Arbor, after a few years of what I perceived to be an Ashtanga drought, Angela Jamison has founded AY: A2 and also teaches weekly at A2 Yoga. In a short amount of time — less than two years — she has reinvigorated the community’s Ashtanga practitioners by sharing her knowledge, offering individual attention, bringing in visiting scholars and holding affordable retreats to help students deepen their understanding of the practice.
Beyond the realm of authorized and certified teachers, there’s a steady current too:
  • New and established studios across the Lower Peninsula also seem to be increasing offering led classes. (I haven’t seen that trend in the Upper Peninsula yet — but if I’m wrong, and you know of Ashtanga offerings in the U.P., let me know!)
  • Closer to home, Hilltop Yoga has been offering led Ashtanga classes for years.

In short, day after day (except on moon days 😉 ), week after week, teachers across the state are demystifying this practice, one adjustment or verbal cue at a time.

Beth Baldwin Mackowiak, founder of Sanctuary Yoga, very generously welcomed me to her studio, which she founded last year, and let me set out how I wanted to teach Ashtanga here. So I pitched this workshop out of a spirit of wanting to do my little part to help more people taste this life-altering practice — and decide for themselves if it’s a practice they want to pursue. If they decide that the particular style of Ashtanga yoga is not for them, I hope that the workshop at least provides a foundation to experience the breath and feel how, when connected to movement, it can produce heat, provide a lightness, and calm the mind.

Please to meet you

I think one of the beauties of Ashtanga yoga is that once you strip away the factors that seem to keep people away — the idea that’s it’s too hard, that it’s not compassionate to the body, that only athletes and Type A personalities gravitate toward it — you discover the true awe of the method. I guess I’m aiming to demystify what the superficial aspects of the practice so that people can experience the true beauty of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga.

I love teaching basics and introductory yoga classes for beginners. The Introduction to Ashtanga Yoga  I taught until last month at Hilltop Yoga was consistently one of my favorite to teach. No two classes were ever the same, and it was fulfilling to see the spark that students sometimes had with their first connection to their bodies and their internal landscapes. (I would have loved to have continued teaching that class, but I struggled to find the right time on the schedule there to attract a consistent group each week.)

Do you remember your first yoga class? I still remember mine. It was love at first breath.

>>See the rest of my teaching schedule in the greater Lansing area. 

(Graphic info: Wordle based on the description of my new workshop beginning this week. Create your own.) 

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.