What’s the deal with sunrise yoga, scientifically?
When we tell people that we go to yoga at 7 a.m., their first response is usually “why?” Eventually we decided to find out: Is it actually beneficial to drag ourselves out of bed two hours earlier than usual to focus on breathing and do some downward dogs?
The consensus from exercise scientists is that exercise is most beneficial in the afternoon, between the hours of 2-6 p.m. During this period of time muscle strength, hand-eye coordination and lung function all peak due to circadian rhythms – the body’s regulation of certain activities at certain times of the day. Additionally, body temperatures are higher in the afternoon, helping the muscles to relax and be more flexible so that injuries are less likely to occur.
So why yoga at 7 a.m.?
Even though afternoon workouts might better aligned with our biological clocks, there are many benefits to morning exercise. A study at Appalachian State University found that those who exercise early in the morning benefit from a drop in blood pressure that continues throughout the day and into the night, thus resulting in better sleep. It has also been proven that those who exercise in the morning are more likely to make it a habit, possibly because so many things come up during the day that make carving out time for exercise seem like a colossal task.
However, whether sunrise yoga aligns with your circadian rhythm depends on a lot of factors, including what time of year it is. While everyone’s circadian rhythm is a little different, our bodies naturally want to be awake when it is light out and asleep when it is dark out. More specifically, in the dark, your body has more melatonin, a hormone that helps you sleep, and less cortisol, the hormone that gives you energy. Waking up at 6:20 a.m. to get to a 7 a.m. class can cause hormones to work abnormally if it’s dark outside. Therefore in June, when the sun rises around 5:15 a.m. on the longest day of the year, “sunrise” yoga might be a better option than in December, when the sun rises two hours later.
Yet, some of the benefits of sunrise yoga may not be worth it if you are losing sleep to get there. A chronic lack of sleep can cause serious issues including heart problems, diabetes or even a stroke. More commonly though, losing sleep impairs alertness, memory, concentration and reasoning skills.
Ultimately, many experts agree that exercise at any time is better than no exercise, so find the time that works best for you.
According to Donna Stiles, who teaches the sunrise yoga class at SPAC, the time of day for yoga is irrelevant: As long as you are “persistent and consistent on your mat, [you will] enjoy the benefits of yoga."
“I think it’s beneficial no matter what time of day you practice," Stiles said. "It’s a good way to start the day, of course, and it’s a good way to end the day. It’s just individual – everyone’s different: there are morning people and there are evening people so it’s just a personal choice."
Stiles teaches a sunrise yoga class at SPAC at 7 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. A calendar of all of the fitness classes offered at NU can be found here.