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Over the years, I’ve survived numerous teacher trainings and retreats where strict “up with the larks, bed with the sun” schedules were non-negotiable. But my home practice has always been erratic, despite 15 years of attempting to establish a regular morning or evening yoga practice.
I tried to practice first thing in the mornings. “I’ll get up early on Monday and go to a Mysore class before work,” I’d tell myself, only for my weary fingers to hit snooze on the day with an unbecoming grunt. I tried setting up a regular early evening practice, but exhaustion from working late, a pang of ravenous hunger, or the resulting full stomach inevitably kept me from my mat.
Then a few months ago, I wrapped up a late night clay-sculpting project and opened my journal to do some creative writing. I’ve always liked to do my art at night—I find the uninterrupted tranquility draws out a flow state that I can never reach during the day. I wrote a stream of consciousness piece about these nocturnal qualities, which prompted the realization: I am a night owl. The subtle clock inside my body begs me to stay up late.
People who go to sleep and rise late are frowned upon by society—we’re painted as lazy, unproductive, or strange vampire-like creatures. But I, like millions of other people, blossom at bedtime. I flourish when working, writing, or creating at night. So I wondered: Could I try to establish a regular yoga practice then? Studios and gyms in London, New York, and many other cities are beginning to offer classes throughout the night, with many reporting great effects, particularly in terms of the consistency of their practice. So I challenged myself to practice yoga at midnight for the next 30 days. Here’s what I learned.
During my first week of midnight yoga, I discovered that with my body warm from the day, I could move deeper into postures than I could during other times. With the uninterrupted silence of the night highlighting my breath, the moon peeking through my window, and my scented candles puncturing the soothing darkness, I wondered why I had ever let tradition (or society’s productivity parade) dictate when I do my practice—especially when all the teachers I’ve spoken with advocate for finding what feels right for you. I completed 7 days in a row of hour-long practices between midnight and 1 a.m. and felt like I emanated light.
After a successful first week, I was keen to continue what I now felt would be a lifelong change. But on day—or should I say, night—9, as I lay in Savasana (Corpse Pose), a white lion emerged out of nowhere and leaped onto me with a ferocious roar, spraying noxious liquid all over me. OK, it was my cat, Bob. But he did pounce on me and vomit on my brand new mat. Lesson learned: Keep the doors closed and don’t buy that new cat food again.
Then—as it always does—life happened. I received a call about a job which would require me to go into an office for the next four days. This meant facing my personal nemesis, a 6 a.m. wake-up time. While pondering how this could work with my midnight yoga challenge, I received another call, this time from my mom. She begged me to take the four-hour train ride back to my hometown that weekend to help her clear out the house for some building work. When I told her about my challenge she told me that it, “sounds ridiculous.” Productive adults—like her—get up at 5 a.m. Suddenly, my week was full of travel and early mornings. I felt defeated and resigned myself to the fact that it was impossible to be a night owl in this society after all.
As I sat on the train to the office the next day, I felt sorely disappointed that I’d missed a day of my challenge to get an early night’s rest. Grasping my coffee as if it were my life blood, I opened my book, one of my favorites, Vanda Scaravelli’s Awakening the Spine. My eyes were drawn to the words:
A rigid mind is very sure, but often wrong. A flexible mind is generally unsure, but often right.”
I smiled. Obsessing over practicing at exactly midnight had put me in the same position I was in when I was pressuring myself to practice in the daytime. I needed to be flexible, to be kind to myself—that is the key to consistent practice. For the rest of the week, I practiced between 9 p.m. and midnight, with a rest day after my stint in London. Letting go of the rigidity allowed me to reap the benefits of yoga during a week when I needed it more than ever.
Weeks 3 and 4
Back home, and in my normal routine, I floated back into practicing in the dead of night most nights, allowing myself to alter this on two evenings, when I had plans. I was beginning to see overwhelmingly positive results from my midnight ritual and looked forward to every practice. I felt like I’d found the magic hour. After my practice, I would fall asleep quickly, rest soundly, and wake up refreshed.
My practice was benefiting from the regularity, too—my body felt strong and my mind at peace. I found that I couldn’t wait for the secret hour that was just mine. The meditation that followed my postures was deep and full of clarity, enabling me to focus more sharply than I’d ever managed in daylight hours.
My late-night takeaway
Midnight yoga isn’t right for everyone, but if you’re puzzled over when to fit your practice into your life, think about your circadian rhythm. Experiment until you find the time when your practice feels most in tune with your body’s clock. Working with mine—instead of against it—has given me a sense of oneness with the world, the same unity that is the soul of my yoga journey.