The practice of yoga has always been synonymous with nature, the movements of the sun and moon and the passing times of the day. Whilst the Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations) sequence is traditionally practised at sunrise and more restorative practices at the end of the day, there are times when you may need to turn inward, tune into how you feel, and consider how the time of day might change how you practice.
Keep reading to discover how to optimise your practice depending upon the time of day.
Upon waking, the mind is in a sort of transient state, in between the dream world and the world of to-do lists. The first things to fill our minds each day are an indication of where we’re directing most of our thoughts and energy. Practising a brief morning meditation or set a clear intention for the day ahead can be useful for focusing and uncluttering the mind before facing the day.
After this, morning yoga practices are all about hitting the ‘reset’ button, releasing toxins that have built up overnight, and getting the circulation, blood, lymph and breath moving again. Pranayama practices like Kappalabhati or Bhastrika breath can be energising and sinus-clearing, whilst Nadi Shodana (alternate nostril breathing) is an effective way to balance the mind and cultivate a state of relaxed focus. Energising practices such as Surya Namaskar, or something you enjoy that feels rhythmic, with the space to change postures or movements depending upon how you feel are also a nice way to begin the day.
Within the world of Ayurveda, mid-morning is considered a Kapha time of day, governed by the qualities of heaviness, lethargy, earth and water. A longer yoga practice that requires a little endurance and stamina is well supported at this time of day, and you’re likely to lean towards slower paced sequences. Be aware of getting stuck in a rut when it comes to practising at this time of day however, as Kapha-type energy can have a habit of setting people in their ways and making them resistant to change. Try something new, experiment with something you’re interested in learning more about or change the environment you’re practising in.
According to yogic texts, digestion is one of the fundamental keys to health and wellbeing. We can eat as many greens as we like, and sip super-food juices all day, but they won’t help at all if our digestive system can’t use the nutrients. Anything resembling a twist or backbend, and something that activates the core can help ‘fire up’ digestion before lunch, which means there’s more chance of benefiting from the vitamins and minerals in your food.
Surya Bhedana or ‘right channel activation’ refers to breathing in and out of the right nostril to activate the pingala nadi, the subtle channel running through the body linked to digestion, action, fire and transformation, helping enhance digestive power. The practice of being present and aware is important to cultivate at lunchtime too, especially when many of us are grab-and-go eaters, desk diners, or skip lunch altogether. Practise pausing and breathing slowly into the stomach before eating, really taking your time and using all the senses.
That ‘mid-afternoon slump’ you might sometimes feel is there for a reason - it's actually quite natural for us to rest and re-set post lunch, and many cultures still nap or take a siesta in the afternoon. Studies show our circadian rhythms take a natural dip in the afternoon and that taking regular naps actually increases brainpower, physical agility and wellbeing more effectively than just getting a night’s sleep!
If napping isn’t an option, Yoga Nidra could be even more effective, helping the body deeply relax and restore, and the mind to move into a different state, allowing the rest of the afternoon to be met with more vigour, focus, enthusiasm and energy.
Especially if you’ve been stuck at a desk all day, the evening might be your prime time for a movement-based yoga practice, creating a useful marker between work time and leisure time. Anything that you truly enjoy, that gently engages the mind and requires focus, but doesn’t feel like ‘work’ would be a beneficial practice – especially if you feel your working day is full of stiffness, rules and rigidity.
This is an important time of day to really consider how you feel, instead of doing the same practice out of habit. Are you exhausted from rushing around all day? Perhaps a slow and soothing Hatha or Yin yoga class would relax you. Have you been sitting still all day or are you feeling frustrated? Try a Vinyasa or Mixed Movement class to release built-up energy.
Relaxing Pranayama practices like slow, abdominal breathing can help prepare the mind for bed, as well as Chandra Bhedana or ‘left channel activation’, which works to activate the more lunar, feminine qualities of calmness and coolness. Focusing on the breath in a relaxing and calming way can do wonders for settling the nervous system and winding down from a busy day. Try a Yoga Nidra practice or restorative yoga, to further comfort the body and deeply relax the mind.
Whilst these guidelines may be helpful in figuring out which practices suit certain times of day, it’s essentially you who knows best. You are your own best teacher. Tuning into your intuition and feeling into how you are from moment to moment can help you navigate your way towards a beneficial and nourishing practice, no matter what time of day it is.