Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

Cultivating a Morning Yoga Practice

If you are not interested in a morning yoga practice, or you don’t see the benefit for it in your life, go ahead and stop reading here. If you are interested or can understand the benefit of it, keep reading.

Truth is simple.  “Complicated” is the realm of a mind that is not understood. “Complicated” is an addiction. It fills up the empty spaces in life. “Complicated” gives a sense of importance.  Special-ness. Different-ness. “Complication” gives purpose. I am not going to complicate this.

Here it is. The simple, uncomplicated way to cultivate a morning yoga practice. You ready? Get up.

In many ways, getting up, is the ultimate yoga practice. Like our asana practice, getting up forces us to come face to face with our lifestyle, our thoughts, our relationships and our choices.  The thoughts that come to our minds when we make plans the night before and when we actually attempt to get up in the morning are extraordinarily revealing.  Questioning these thoughts is an amazing yoga practice all on its own.

The getting up is not really the problem. All the stuff we did previous to the getting up is the problem.  Next getting enough rest, stressful thoughts, over scheduled life, taking on too many responsibilities, not thinking we are important enough to make time for, eating too late, drinking late at night and just making a decision to not get up are the real reasons we can’t get up.  To get up, we have to look at our lifestyle. Yes, there are exceptions like young children and jobs with early starts or late starts.  Not talking about that.  I am talking about the conscious choice to not get up.

The way we approach our practice can also be the reason why we don’t get up.  Who wants to wake up to a practice that is a fight, a struggle, something to be conquered, something that causes pain, belittles us and makes us feel bad about ourselves? To get up, we have to take a look at the negativity that we create on our mats.  How can you reframe the practice to be something you look forward to? Remember being so excited for Christmas, vacation or other events in your life that you wake up way before you even need to? Are you excited for yoga workshops? How can you bring that to your practice?

Maybe excitement is asking too much. How about being woken up with purpose? Why is it doable to get up for a job? Probably because of the paycheck. Can you find the pay off for doing your yoga practice? More importantly, do you believe it?  It does not matter if Sharath said it. Doesn’t matter if the Yoga Sutras says it. Doesn’t matter if all your yoga friends say it. Do you fully and completely know, not believe, but know what your practice is doing for you? Can you use that to get up?

My favorite way, to get up in the morning, is discipline. I just get up. I don’t think. I don’t hesitate. I get up. 90% of the time, if I don’t get up in the morning, it is because I hesitated.  I started playing with the cat. I snuggled back under the covers. I started day dreaming. I closed my eyes again. Now, I am sleep again. Game over.

Honestly, this is everything in my life.  If there is a task that needs to be done, It has to be at the top of my list or I won’t do it. I can’t give myself time to think about it or it won’t get done.  Seriously, I would probably just eat, sleep and watch Netflix all day. That would be fine if it lit me up but it doesn’t. Doing things actually lights me up. However, if I am am not careful, my ego starts saying, “What if you fail?” “What if it doesn’t work?” “Why even do it? You are safe here. You have nothing to prove. Stay safe.”  I can’t give those thoughts time to take root. So I get up and get things done. Discipline works for me. Once, I get up and start doing the things, I am so happy that I did.  When I am done practicing yoga, I never think, “I should have stayed in bed.” On the way to yoga, during the first Sun Salute or two, maybe. When I am done, I feel great.


So, the keys to getting up are:

-Take a look at your lifestyle and slowly change the things that make it hard to get up in the morning.

-Change your approach to the practice so you are excited about waking up.

-Wake up for a purpose that you believe in.

-Be disciplined.

If you don’t get up, don’t beat yourself up BUT take full responsibility for it. Take responsibility for it and then practice inquiry. Be honest with yourself as to why you didn’t get up. Without honesty, there is no change.

“I was tired,” Why? What can you change in your life so you get enough rest?

“I couldn’t face it.” Why? What patterns are you setting in your practice that make you not want to get on your mat?

“I didn’t want too. I didn’t feel like it.” Why? Why is your practice not a priority to you?

Getting up is an extreme act of discipline/tapas.  Back in the day, some yogis would hold one arm up until it withered as an act of discipline/tapas and to break attachment to the body. For many modern yogis, getting up in the morning is their withered arm.

The second book of the Yoga Sutras is on yoga practice. The first verse lists the 3 biggest components of a yoga practice. They are discipline, study and surrender.  Patanjali just comes right out the gate with these because they are so important.  Some commentaries say that these are the preliminary steps to yoga.  Like, you cannot even get on the path without these. They are the job requirements. Like,  if you can’t study, be disciplined and surrender, don’t send in your resume.

Sounds brutal, huh? Brutally honest. Think about it.  To stay strong on the path of yoga, we have to study, be disciplined and surrender to the supreme teacher inside us all. Patanjali is saying that with study, discipline and surrender, your yoga practice will be successful. You will get up. You will do what needs to be done. You won’t give up. Getting on the mat is the most important step. The rest you can figure out. The rest your teacher can instruct you on.  The rest your practice will show you. You just have to get up.

The yogis were also realistic. The Yoga Sutras mentions many obstacles and pitfalls on the path of yoga.  Sometimes, we won’t get up. Its okay. We are not bad people when we don’t get up.



It is okay to rest. Don’t let it turn into quitting. Don’ t let it stop you in your tracks. Reconnect to why you are on the mat in the first place. Question your thoughts.

One last thing, be honest. One of my friends was talking about how one of her clients is always late. She has been late for every meeting for 3 or 4 years. Every time, the client comes in frazzled and with her hair on fire, apologizing profusely for being late. Than my friend has to soothe her and get her together so they can get on with it.  My friend said, “I wish she would just own it and stop apologizing. She knows she is going to be late. I know she is going to be late. Either own it and get over it or change.”

When we don’t own our stuff, it owns us. Be honest. After a while, you will know if not getting up is more than just a one off thing. It feels better for you, your family, your fellow students and your teachers when you are honest. Why spend years beating yourself up over not getting up for yoga?  When you explain to your fellow students and teachers where you been for the last month,  what feelings come up? If they are good, keep doing what you are doing. I know plenty of people who are totally cool with the occasional Ashtanga drop in. I was that person for a good while. I practiced at home so my teachers were down for it. I know many teachers who accept this and are happy to work with that student.  Not hating. If you get angry, defensive, shamed, sad, and upset, it is time for inquiry.  It is time to get real.

I went through a period where I knew I was not getting up early.  In my mind, I left corporate America so I would never have to get up early again.  When my fellow Ashtangis and teachers asked me, why I was not in class, I was honest. I told them, “I don’t want to get up early.”  I didn’t say, “it is not right for me.” ” I am too busy.” “I got a lot going on.”  “That is old left overs from a dying tradition.” I didn’t say those things because they were not true. I had made a choice. I owned it.  I do get up early now but that is a whole “nother”post.

As my friend said,”Either own it and get over it or change.” As Yoda says, “do or do not. There is no try”. Get up or don’t get up. If you want to get up, face all the choices you make in your life that keep it from happening. If you are not willing to do that, use discipline.  If you are not willing to do either of those, be honest and admit that you are not going to. Free yourself. Move on. When you are ready to get up early, yoga will be there.

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.


  • Cindy

    I find the getting up early is easy. Going to the shala before six is also not difficult. Doing the practice is wonderful. My real difficulties start at 8 AM

  • Jorge

    When I wake up in the morning I see how I feel and ask myself: ” Do I need more rest or not?”

    If I do, I won’t get up. If I don’t, I get up.

    There are days when I need more rest than others. I choose not to rationalize this. If I can’t make it to the shala because of work, then so be it.

  • Krystle

    I have very little trouble getting up. Trouble begins when I hit my mat. I find it very difficult to keep myself going in my home practice. It just doesn’t flow in the same way. Every asana is a struggle and a negotiation with myself to just do one more. Would love any advice anyone has on this particular struggle…. 🙂

  • Mimi

    I don’t know how I landed here, but i trust that it was supposed to happen. This was great! I needed to read this. I’ve always been good at owning my BS and didn’t make excuses for them. But owning it wasn’t making it better though. Excitement is what i think was missing. Great wake up call. thank you Shanna. Good stuff. Cheers to 2018

  • David

    I love this article……
    I started my morning 5 am practice about two months ago and have stuck to it pretty well, I have, I think, been putting it off for a number of years, I was not ready I guess, something changed and I feel now that I am absolutely ready.
    I have been seeking inspiration from the web throughout the day (to assist in said getting up process!) and came across your article this afternoon. When I got to the “You ready? Get up.” bit, I laughed out loud. 🙂 This article spoke to me more than any other article I have read, it is spot on!! In fact I felt so connected with it I decided to write this reply, which is something I have never done before on anything yoga related.

  • Lorn

    I wake up 30 mins before I actually have to get out of the bedroom. And even then, I don’t start my practice immediately. I normally do half an hour of light chores first, then do my practice. Is this alright? I just feel like its more comfortable for me that way and that my body needs a little more waking up before getting my practice. And I think it also helps to make your home yoga space look a little like a yoga space. My little space has my blocks, books and mat all together and I find that it helps to set the mood too 🙂

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