Early-Morning Yoga Not Required

Neal Pollack never grew used to early-morning classes. So he stopped, and started doing yoga whenever he wants, and it's just fine.
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Neal Pollack never grew used to early-morning classes. So he stopped, and started doing yoga whenever he wants, and it's just fine.

I got an email the other day from one of my trusted local yoga studios. Their master Ashtanga teacher was returning, they said, after a two-year hiatus, to begin a new program. Well, I thought, that sounds good, in the way I think that a trip to the dentist sounds good if I've gone more than six months without a cleaning.

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The studio's new Mysore program, the email continued, would begin at 6:30am, and run until 8. That's when I deleted. Enough with the morning yoga already.

In this case, at least, I speak from a place of knowledge. When I started my Ashtanga practice several years ago, I'd wake up way earlier than I wanted and haul myself and my mat four blocks to my teacher's apartment. There, she put me through the drill. My body grew stronger and more flexible and my samskara melted away. Then I'd go home and sit at my desk in the basement, my chin on my chest, and drool insensibly for hours. I was exhausted and beaten.

When I did my Ashtanga teacher training two summers ago, morning practice started at 7, or maybe 8. The other students complained that it was too late. For me, though, it was too early. Way too early. I spent a month limping around Boulder, bumping into trees. It wasn't the work that bothered me; I was perfectly willing to do whatever practice I needed to cleanse my body and mind. But why did I have to greet the sunrise to get there?

For a while in Los Angeles, I went to weekly Yoga Sutra study groups at a guy's apartment. He'd studied in Chennai with T.K.V. Desikachar, Krishnamacharya's son, so he knew his stuff. There was a little chanting and a little bit of lecture with whiteboard, and then we'd talk. At one point, the conversation went around the room and we all talked about how we were doing.

"I'm feeling really worn out," I said one week. "I've been getting up really early to do this Ashtanga practice, and ... "

"So don't do it," he said.

"What?" I said.

"If it's making you unhappy to practice yoga early in the morning, stop. Do it later in the day."

"But ... "

"There are no buts. Just stop."

This teacher kept trying to push me into individual therapy sessions, the thought of which made me uncomfortable, so I didn't see him much after that. But on the subject of morning yoga, by Odin's beard, he was right! "The point of yoga," he kept telling us, " is more unlimited joy for me." He didn't mean more for him. He meant for me, for you, for anyone, and he was right.

Yoga should make you happy. It should be the thing, or one of the things, you look forward to most in the day, a break from your troubles and burdens, not a supplement to them. Sometimes, you have to get up early to go to work or get your kids ready for school or take your mother to the doctor, or whatever. But if you don't like to rise at dawn, and don't have to, then why should yoga, of all things, drag you out of bed and make you miserable?

These days, I practice at 10:30 or 11. Sometimes I practice at 2 or 3pm, and sometimes in the evening. Days go by when I don't practice at all. Regardless of the time, though, I almost always wake up looking forward to my yoga practice. That, in itself, is a wonderful gift.