By Shameem Akhtar
Waking up at dawn for yoga practice bestows a bouquet of blessings on your body, mind and spirit.
Most people think yoga is a set of exercises, to be dispensed with in 30 minutes daily. Actually, yoga is a way of life. So, not surprisingly, a lot of those who actually do not practice yogic poses may well be leading a yogi's life! And those who do a quick set of asanas with haste may well not be practicing yoga at all!
Confused? Yoga is actually about a focused attitude. So, even though superstars like Shah Rukh Khan or Amitabh Bachchan say they can never imagine sitting still and meditating, their exemplary focus on their careers and their ability to sweat at their jobs make them true yogis. Best of all is their ability to make do with very little sleep and wake up at 4 a.m. to face the day with verve and passion. How you wake up to face the day and when you wake up could mark you out to be a yogi better than your practice of therapeutic poses. Even if you do practice them, it will help to remember it is your attitude that truly unlocks the key to health. In yoga, attitude is all.
The enthusiasm with which you start your day is also reflective of this attitude. That is why most yoga practitioners can wake up much before the crack of dawn, at 4 or 4.30 a.m. without an alarm clock to act as an uneasy and loud reminder. This way there is no excuse you can whip up to say you had no time for your sadhana or practice, whether it be meditation, breathing practice or your asanas. This gives you a comfortable two hours to be with yourself, to engage in practices which will keep your body and mind healthy.
This timing between 4.30 to 6.30 a.m. is the best time to do your sadhana. Our ancients called it the brahmamuhurta - the hour of creation. Most religions also prescribe this timing. To wake up at this time is not some hard tapas that needs to be suffered for higher glory. Biology suggests that this is the best time for such activity. The body's circadian rhythm has reached a perfect gradient for such activity.
The 'action' hormone ACTH is beginning to flow, readying for physical activity. There is a light surge of other hormones from other glands, like the adrenals and sex glands. The blood pressure, after dipping in the night during deep sleep, is beginning to rise. But it is rising up rather slowly, slowly enough to encourage such movement. Later in the day, it will rise very high, adding to the burden of such activity on the body. The lung's airways are clogged, so pranayama or breathing practices at this time rouse the lungs thoroughly, keeping you energetic throughout the day. Also, the stored fat from the liver is released, thus helping you manage your weight too. When you exercise later in the day the energy from what you eat gets used up - this only makes you eat more while your stored fat remains unutilised. During brahmamuhurta your mind is also uncluttered, and therefore ripe for meditation. Also, there is less distraction in terms of noise so you can meditate in quiet and peace.
In fact, those who feel the need to sleep on beyond 8 a.m. actually wake up feeling sluggish and face the world reluctantly and feel lethargic the rest of the day too. Not surprising, since the body has begun to dip into its second phase of sleep. And with its wake-up mechanism messed up, our body remains in that confused and dull state for the rest of the day.
Most yoga practitioners can handle the initial reluctance to wake up so early with some basic practices. Some poses, like the druta utkatasana (full squat) not only give the body a powerful stretch, waking up every cell, blood vessel and nerve, but also provoke peristalsis - the digestive tract movement which makes elimination an easy task. Other 'wake-up' poses which can be used to face the day enthusiastically and which encourage peristalsis are navkasana (boat pose), marjariasana (cat stretch), yastikasana (stick pose), pawanmuktasana (energy-releasing pose), supta udarakarshanasana (lying abdominal twist).
Pranayama practices like kapalabhati or skull-cleansing, power the airways of the lungs so the blood begins to trot instead of drag through your blood vessels. This explains why this is another powerful way to become alert even when sleep assails you. Jal neti (or cleansing the nostril with water, using the neti pot) is another way of clearing up clogged sinuses and nostrils. It also balances the brain hemispheres, so your creative right brain is tempered with the logical left brain. This not only helps physiologically with pranayama practices but mentally prepares your mind for dhyana or meditation.
Other 'wake-up' practices include kapalarandhradhauti which are a set of skull cleansing massages for the face region. These movements warm up the sinuses (the cave-like hollows in the skull which can get clogged during respiratory ailments). These are usually clogged in the morning and the skull-cleansing massages help to decongest them. The light pressure on the jawline and the earlobe also trigger the acupressure points for peristalsis, so elimination is smooth.
Beginners may wonder how all this may be fitted into a busy routine. But once these become a habit you will not worry about the time. I mean, does anyone worry how long it takes to brush one's teeth? And having worried, does one dispense with it because one does not have the time? So, too with most cleansing, wake-up practices of yoga.
For lying abdominal twist, lie back. Place interlocked fingers under the head. Bring legs together, so they are touching. Fold at knees, bringing feet closer to buttocks. Inhale. Exhaling, press the knees to the floor on the right. Hold for a few seconds, breathing normally. Inhale, returning to starting position. Repeat on the other side. Do dynamically a few times, faster. Later, you may incorporate the movement of the head, too. When knees are pressed on the floor on the right, turn your head to look on the left. And vice versa.
This gives a full body stretch. Since the pose applies a powerful massage on the abdomen, it encourages peristalsis, relieving constipation and aiding weight loss by boosting metabolism. It also works out the spinal nerves.
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