when should you practice?
When Should You Practice? How Timing Can Change Your Yoga
At Highland Yoga, you may have heard a teacher say that your practice can look totally different from one day to the next, but did you know that the time of day might change your practice? Whether you’re a regular at 6:15pm Buckhead Vinyasa power flow or you mix it up with a weekend Warm Deep Stretch and Restore class at Grant Park or Virginia Highlands, you might have noticed that your body responds differently to each class.
Your body experiences physiological changes during a 24-hour cycle that contribute to your physical functions and energy levels. These variations can change what your practice looks and feels like, and recognizing how your mind and body respond may help you tune into what works best for you to help you get the most out of your time on the mat.
Whether you have a consistent time for practice, or fit a class in whenever your schedule allows, you may be happy to learn that there are benefits to both morning and evening practices. Both can be beneficial and provide you with an opportunity to learn more about yourself in a meaningful way.
Some yoga practitioners suggest that the morning is the optimal time to flow. In the morning, there’s an energetic shift from night to day that nurtures some yogis’ practice - think of it like riding an energetic wave. A similar shift happens in the evening, but many believe that a morning practice better prepares the body and mind for the day ahead.
From a physiological standpoint, during the night, the synovial fluid that exists to nourish the cartilage and lubricate the joints the becomes stagnant; bodily functions slow down, and stiffness can set in. By practicing early in the morning, it’s possible to alleviate stiffness and aches by circulating blood flow and getting the synovial fluid moving.
Since your body has spent the night resting and digesting, a morning practice can also help jump-start your metabolism because cortisol and growth hormones are higher. Starting the day with physical activity provides a boost to the metabolism that can impact how your body continues to function throughout the day. If possible, it’s recommended to practice on an empty stomach to optimize the effects of practice on your energy levels and digestion.
Another huge benefit to a morning practice is the effect yoga has on the nervous system. One of the many benefits of yoga is the regulation of the nervous system, which impacts the stress-response system of the body. Before you even head off into the day, you’re giving your mind and body a chance to breathe, which will reduce anxiety and stress and increase peace of mind and inner connectedness. You might consider starting your day with incorporating yoga into your morning routine. Making space for your practice in the morning before the day gets rolling is especially helpful if your goals are to cultivate mental, emotional, or spiritual practice.
If you struggle to get moving in the morning, that’s okay! Your body will take longer to warm up than in the evening - that’s totally normal. To help prepare you for a morning practice, take a longer warm up, and work in Sun Salutations to build heat and energy in the body. You might even incorporate a few backbends into your morning practice, which can be super energizing - better than a cup of coffee!
Afternoon and Evening
If you’re not a morning person, or your schedule doesn’t allow it, you might find that an afternoon or evening practice works better for you, and that’s great! You may even notice some differences in your physical body and practice between the morning and evening.
After a day of moving and feeding your body, your energy levels are vastly different. Your muscles are warm, you have higher blood sugar levels, and you might feel like you have greater strength, flexibility, and balance. Suddenly handstands feel much less daunting and you have no trouble balancing in standing postures.
These factors might contribute to a more energized practice, and if your goals are tied to more physical aspects of the practice, you might find that the afternoon or evening are better suited for you.
Practicing later in the day may also help release tension or pain built up throughout the day. There’s also a possibility that you will sleep better if you end your day with yoga - though the pace and postures may affect your evening energy levels. For example, if you are practicing in the afternoon hours before dinner and bedtime, you might exert more energy and notice you fall asleep feeling calm and relaxed; however, if you practice with the same vigor right before bed, you might feel overly energized and have a hard time falling asleep.
While backbends and inversions between 1pm - 4pm might help you get over the afternoon slump, you might want to focus on restorative forward folds and detoxifying twists later in the evening and allowing yourself a longer Savasana to calm your nervous system.
The Bottom Line
When you practice will depend on your schedule and your specific needs. If you have a flexible schedule, consider practicing at different times to explore how your body responds. If your schedule is more rigid, try to notice how focusing on different postures changes your practice (for example, if you practice at 6:15pm every day, explore different variations of supported bridge, bridge, and wheel and observe how your body, energy levels, and mind respond.)
It’s not recommended to practice immediately after eating, but other than that there’s no bad time! Focus on your goals, make observations about what works best for you, and start to nurture your practice by aligning when and how you practice with those goals.