Should my nighttime practice consist of restorative poses only, or is it OK to do Sun Salutations in the evening?
— Nikola Descampe, Bangkok, Thailand
A nighttime practice helps us to slow down, focus inward, and transition from day to night. Unwinding and releasing the musculature through asanas can relieve the accrual of tension and the compression that gravity brings. The disks of the spine are rehydrated through the intentional stretching and twisting of various asanas. An evening practice could consist of Pranayama or restorative poses. It could also include a very quiet, intuitive posture flow where the breath guides and inspires you to move according to the "body's speaking." For example, you can let the breath help you define the feeling of a tight shoulder and then—just as you do in a spontaneous morning stretch lying in bed—explore various movements that feel good and affect the shoulder area, eventually releasing the stiffness. These moves can be classical asanas or simply innate movements.
The Sun Salutations, beautiful vinyasa sequences that can be done alone or as complements to a larger practice, are also appropriate poses to do before bed. Even though they are often used to energize and warm the body, they can be practiced in a way that relaxes and recharges the body instead of raising energy.
The 12-position Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar C), is a wonderful evening flow sequence. Practice Sun Salutations with Anjaneyasana (Crescent Moon Pose), stepping back into Plank and then Asthanga Pranam (Eight-Pointed Bow or Knees-Chest-Chin) and moving up into Bhujangasana (Cobra). The willowy sway of the opening standing back arch, the waterfall feeling of riding your breath into Uttanasana, the slow and elegant stretch into the lunges, and the snaking move into Bhujangasana can all be enjoyed in a languorous motion. This series of Sun Salutations, coupled with some long forward-folding gentle twists, and a half or full Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand), can be a wonderful end-of-the day or pre-bedtime repertoire.
So my answer is yes, it's fine to practice Sun Salutations in the evening. The outcome of our practice is predicated on how it is approached; the beauty of yoga is in its malleability.
Tracey Rich is a director of the White Lotus Foundation in Santa Barbara, California. Visit www.whitelotus.org.