Starting the day with a morning practice—be it yoga, meditation, journaling, (insert activity of preference)—is a wonderful way to create and connect to a positive focus for the day. Morning practice celebrates the birth of the sun and the potential that the day holds; it provides a bit of quiet, reflective space to be with before the day’s busyness begins. As we transition into Autumn and the colder months ahead, establishing a ritual in the morning may bring a little brightness to your day, even as the sun continues to rise later and later.
This week we featured the Morning Practice Series, with classes and content that captures the beauty and benefit of rising early to do your spiritual practice. On the podcast, Clara shared some of the reasons we practice in the morning, what’s included in her morning yoga intensives, and the poses and pranayama to do earlier.
The Spiritual History of a Morning Practice
A lot of meditation, yoga, and spiritual practices generally happen between 4-6 AM. It’s said that the veil between what can be seen and what cannot be seen, so that which is divine or spiritual, the veil is very thin in the early morning. So we practice in the morning to connect to the spiritual, or the Divine.
The other reason we practice in the morning is that the events in our day do not bog us down. We’re generally more clear-headed and able to concentrate on the practice and feel the experience in a more embodied way.
The other thing I love about practicing in the morning is when everyone else is still sleeping; the world is quiet, and we connect to that quiet time. As the sun begins to rise, it’s like we’re connecting to the day’s potential.
In terms of the Hatha Yoga tradition, we do Surya Namaskars first thing in the morning. “Surya” means sun, and “Namaskar” means the day. With Surya Namaskars, we recognize and honor the start of a new day. As the sun rises, we take Surya Namaskars to celebrate the cycle and the beginning of the day. One of my teacher friends says that the sun represents the Divine and the light and possibility in the world, but it also reflects the ball of light inside us.
The sun is the key or seed that lives inside us that connects us to the divine and provides inspiration.
A yin yoga class featuring six poses opens the heart and upper back, brings ease to the morning or gently unwinds the day. Each pose is supported by props, allowing the body to relax and stretch the deep connective tissues between the muscles to provide better circulation and support to the joints. Chest, shoulder, back, and side waist opening allow spaciousness around the heart to breathe with more ease. As you linger in each pose, elongate your exhales to deepen your state of calm.
Beneficial Poses for a Morning Practice
Generally, you want to do more back bending in the morning because you’re trying to stimulate yourself to wake up, and backbends stimulate the adrenals. Backbending is very energizing, so if you do backbends in the evening, you want to be mindful of how close it is to bedtime. If you do backbends in the evening practice, add a longer cooldown to allow the body time to settle and ground.
The other reason I include a lot of back bending in the morning is to open the shoulders and chest. Especially for those who work at desks, drive, or rock children all day, opening the chest in the morning to stretch all the muscles across the front of the chest feels excellent.
In terms of morning pranayama practices, I would offer Kapalbhati, otherwise known as skull shining breath. Kapalbhati is very stimulating and excitatory; it generates heat, enhances circulation and digestion, and improves the function of the liver and kidneys.
Introduction to Clara’s Morning Intensives
I’ve been teaching my morning intensives for about fourteen years. The morning intensives have changed over time, but it’s essentially a two-hour practice in the early morning, from 6-8AM, for five days. I include mantra, meditation, and the asana practice to create a well-rounded experience. I also anchor each of the intensives with a book and provide journaling questions for students to chew on post-practice.
Leaving students with a journaling question provides the opportunity to write and reflect. It takes the practice one step deeper into the philosophical component of yoga practice. Most people come to yoga for the asana, but we (hopefully) begin to ask more significant questions as we do more yoga. The idea with the journaling questions is to get people to go beyond the physical and dig a little deeper into how they feel. Why am I here? What is divinity? How do I connect to other people?
I love building together, and we don’t get the same progression and feedback in a drop-in studio class. The intensive is a way to drop-in to the physical practice and learn philosophy. The week’s theme builds around the book I’ve chosen, so it’s fun to discuss how each morning went and bits from the book we enjoyed and wish to discuss.
Launching the morning intensives, I wanted to build more community; it’s an opportunity to be together and learn together and build community.
The Four Pillars of Indian Philosophy
All Indian philosophy is based on these four aspects of life Kama, Artha, Dharma, and Moksha, to provide the basis for existing in harmony. These are an example of philosophical prompts I bring up in the morning intensives.
Kama represents pleasure, how you find pleasure in life, and what brings you joy.
Artha is how you make money, wealth, and live in the material world.
Dharma is how you contribute to your community and what you bring to humanity, such as artwork.
Moksha is spiritual liberation, which is what we celebrate in the practice of yoga.
Clara’s Key Learnings Leading an Online YTT
I gave everybody offline homework to do, to go out into the world, and interact with nature or people. I wanted to provide less screen time to counter all the time we spent on Zoom; it’s asking a lot to be online like that all day long. I wanted to be mindful of how much screen time we were having together because we’re not sure of the long term effects of what all the screentime is doing in terms of anxiety and depression. I made the days together a lot shorter and provided more reading and interactive homework that asked students to write poems, call a friend, and dance to their favorite music.
The biggest piece that I would give in terms of training is to be okay with the silence. Because you ask a question and sometimes it takes up to a few minutes before someone responds. I liked how there was a pause before anyone spoke, like hitting the ‘unmute’ button on Zoom made each of us think; it added an extra step before speaking. I appreciated that piece, and I would invite everyone to get comfortable with those moments of silence, the pause before the next person hits ‘unmute’ to speak. I also highly recommend using Zoom’s breakout because it allows people to talk and interact more than in the larger group.
When we talk to each other, we’re more invested in what we’re learning; the more we talk, the more we engage within the content and connect with the concepts.