Waking up early has been highly recommended by some of history’s greatest thinkers and leaders, going back even thousands of years. Why is that? For many of us, the thought of getting up any earlier than we absolutely have to, much less before the sun rises, sounds like torture. Even one extra hit on the snooze button can feel like heaven. Surely it can’t just be all the old sages were natural-born morning-lovers.
There’s got to be something to the adage the early bird gets the worm, right? Otherwise, how could it have stood the test of so much time? That’s what I’d like to look at in this post today. Is it just hype, or is there something truly special about the practice of waking up early?
Those of you who’ve been following my blog the past few weeks know I’ve been sharing a series called 6 Little Things. It’s a collection of six simple practices I’m currently cultivating that are creating big, positive shifts in my life. (For those of you who’ve just jumped on board with this post, you can check out the previous three at the following links: Mindful Eating, Mantra Practice, & Self-Confident Posture.) Waking up early to savor the sattvic hour is the fourth practice I’m exploring, and in fact, I’ve been doing it for almost two months now.
I’m here to tell you, the ancient sages were right! There’s definitely something special about waking before the sun rises.
What’s So Great About Waking Up Early?
It is well to be up before sunrise, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.Aristotle
I’m sure, like me, you’ve heard many sayings that speak to the benefits of waking up early. Most of them point to the obvious fact that starting your day early gives you more time in your day, which means you can get more accomplished. That in turn can lead to achieving more in your life, which can mean earning more money in your lifetime. It can also lead to having more time to spend with your family and friends and doing other things you enjoy.
Plus, waking up early engenders a greater sense of spaciousness in your day, because you have more time to fit in all the things you need to do. This can translate to feeling less rushed and stressed. And less stress, over time, is good for your health. Basically, what it boils down to is, an extra hour or two in each day means, overall, you just plain have more time to LIVE.
But That’s Not Why I’m Waking Up Early
Having more time to LIVE is valuable in and of itself. But, it’s not what inspired my practice of waking up early. And while I’m seeing the benefits I just mentioned, they’re not the ones I’m most excited to share with you. They’re not the ones that are intrinsically motivating me to stick with this practice. My inspiration and motivation come instead from the yogic wisdom regarding the sattvic hour.
The sattvic hour is the early morning, when night is coming to an end and the morning dawn is just about to break. Traditionally, it’s the time between 4 and 6 a.m. While the ancient yogis did acknowledge the practical reasons most people cite for waking up early, the recommendation to rise for the sattvic hour goes much deeper than this.
That means, if you’re thinking you’re managing your to-do list just fine without the extra couple of hours, you still might want to read on. You could be missing out on something even more valuable by not waking up earlier.
The Magic of the Sattvic Hour
This is one of my favorite quotes regarding the sattvic hour. I’m not even sure Marcus Aurelius was aware of the term sattvic hour, but nevertheless, he understood its value. Waking up early for the sattvic hour gives you access to the magic that’s in the air at this time of day, and no other. When the sun is preparing to rise, and all of nature is preparing to greet it, there’s a palpable energy in the air. That energy is different from the energy of any other time – day or night. In fact, this is precisely why it’s referred to as the sattvic hour.
To understand this, you need to know what sattvic means. The yoga and ayurveda systems teach us about the gunas. These are the three kinds of qualitative energy that exist in nature – tamas, rajas, and sattva. Tamas is the energy of rest and restoration. When we’re winding down at the end of the day and sleeping, tamas is at work within us. Rajas, on the other hand, is the energy of movement and change. It flows through us most of the day as we go about accomplishing all we need to do.
Sattva is the energy of peace, purity, and harmony. It’s most activated when we’re doing calm, quiet activities that connect us in a spiritual way. Some examples include meditation, prayer, contemplation, and yoga.
Waking Up Early Aligns Sattvic Practices with the Sattvic Hour
While we can do these sattvic activities at any time of the day, the sattvic hours are considered to be the ideal time to do so. Why? Because the gunas don’t just move within us. They’re energies that flow through all of nature. When our environment’s infused with sattvic energy, it makes it easier for us to tap into it.
If you think about it, most of nature is active throughout the day, driven by rajasic energy. And then at night, everything rests, naturally drawn to sleep by tamasic energy. But those early morning hours, just before sunrise, hold a quality unlike any other time of day. If you’ve ever been awake for it, you probably know what I’m talking about. You can feel it in the air.
That time between 4 and 6 a.m. is the cusp between the stillness of sleep and the motion of life. It’s when the energy of awakening is beginning to stir, but not enough to ignite full-on activity. It’s when the air feels pregnant with the possibility of all that will come forth in the busy-ness of the day. Yet, the world remains quiet and still. There’s a pristine serenity to it that feels somehow sacred. And this is what I’m waking up early for. You just can’t get it at any other time of the day.
Do I Really Need Those Extra Hours in the Morning?
Over the years, I’ve managed to accomplish quite a lot without having to wake up at this hour. I could continue to do so and survive just fine. I could even thrive in many ways. But, what I’m focusing on with my 6 Little Things series is finding greater joy and contentment in my life, not the big life goals. I’m focusing on improving the quality of my life by tweaking a few little things here and there.
By starting each day with meditation and quiet time that’s naturally aligned with the energy of the sattvic hour, I’m finding my whole day rolls out with far more grace and ease. By the time the day gets into full swing, I’ve already given myself the gift of a spiritual practice. And that means everything else I do is inspired and guided by it.
Basically, my days feel more meaningful, more beautiful, and just overall lighter, which is the essence of sattva. The other stuff – the extra time to organize and complete my to-do list, to enjoy time with family and friends, and to not feel rushed from morning to night – that’s icing on the cake.
How To Get Into the Habit of Waking Up Early
This, of course, can be the tricky part. Especially if you’re not already a morning person. We’re all different when it comes to sleep patterns. Some of us need more than others, and some of us naturally feel more energized in the morning or the night time. However, if you really want to wake up early for the sattvic hour, you can do it. It just takes some intention and some consistent effort to get yourself into a new routine.
It might interest you to know the long-held belief that we all need 7-8 hours of sleep isn’t as true as we once thought it to be. A recent neuroscience study found the ideal number of hours for sleep can vary significantly from person to person. In this study, it actually ranged from 5-8 hours. It seems determining your ideal amount of sleep is more a matter of listening to your own body and brain. How much sleep does it take for you to feel rested and able to function well?
So, if waking for the sattvic hour means you might get an hour less sleep, it doesn’t automatically mean you’ll function less optimally. The first step toward waking up earlier is paying attention to what your body and your brain tells you about how much sleep you really do need. Because first and foremost, you don’t want to skimp on sleep!
A Few Adjustments Can Help
Once you know how much sleep you truly need, you can determine what time you should go to sleep at night in order to wake up in time for the sattvic hour. You’ll want to consider how long it typically takes for you to really wake up in the morning too. By this I mean, how long does it take for you to clear the grogginess and be alert enough to do a spiritual practice like meditation, yoga, or prayer?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t spring out of bed ready to do these kinds of practices. I need about twenty minutes to wash my face, brush my teeth, feed the cats, and get a pot of coffee going. All that stimulation and movement, which includes walking up stairs, gets the blood flowing enough for me to meditate. If you’re the same, schedule in that extra time when figuring out what time you’ll get to bed and wake up.
Next, you’ll want to be realistic about your nighttime routine. If you’re going to go to bed earlier than usual, will you be able to fall asleep? You don’t want to spend that extra time tossing in bed or letting your mind wander into worries, plans, etc. Calming practices can help prepare your body and brain for sleep. Some examples include:
- Restorative Yoga Sequence
- Reading a book (no bluelight)
- Taking a warm bath
- Listening to a guided relaxation
- Drinking a cup of chamomile tea
- Relaxation Breathing (In to the count of 4, hold to the count of 7, exhale to the count of 8)
The good news is, once you’ve gone to sleep and woken up earlier than usual several times, your system will adjust. The new schedule will start to feel more natural.
Tips to Help You Wake Up
Lastly, do something in the morning to help wake up your body and your mind. It’s not recommended to drink coffee before meditating or doing yoga, because it can make you jittery and stimulate rajas. However, I know some people need that cup of joe first thing in the morning. If that’s true for you, just try to limit it as much as possible prior to your sattvic practice.
Other options for waking yourself up that won’t interfere with sattvic energy include:
- Washing your face with cold water
- Doing some stretches, especially ones that lengthen, open, and twist your spine
- Taking a short walk
- Energizing Breathing
- Drinking a glass of water
- Smelling some energizing essential oils (spearmint, peppermint, orange, lemon, bergamot)
What to Do With Your Sattvic Hour
Another thing to consider when you’re figuring out how early you want to wake up is what sattvic practice you want to do. And how long it will take for you to do it. If you’re wanting to do a full hour-long yoga practice, you’ll obviously need to wake up earlier than if you just want a 20-minute meditation.
There are a variety of sattvic practices to choose from. The intention of a sattvic practice is to connect with your spiritual self. That means, whatever helps you feel that connection works. As mentioned previously, meditation, yoga, prayer, and contemplation are all sattvic activities. Contemplation can include journaling, as well as simply sitting with your thoughts. It can also mean reading a spiritual book, such as the Bible, the Baghavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras, or any other sacred text. If you’re doing a devotional study or practice, the sattvic hour is a perfect time to do it.
You can also take a walk in nature, or sit outside witnessing the sounds and sights of the natural world awakening. You can do Tai Chi, Qi Gong, or a walking meditation. For some, creating art is a spiritual practice. A focus on gratitude or setting intentions for the day can also work. It’s really up to you. Whatever helps you feel connected spiritually, this time of quiet stillness in the morning can enrich it.
The beauty of the sattvic hour is that all of nature aligns with and supports your desire to connect spiritually. Likewise, your own internal energies are perfectly synchronized to this goal. Once you’ve started the busy-ness of your day, rajas is stimulated. You’ve got an abundance of kinetic energy that makes it challenging to sit still and appreciate silence. It becomes much harder to meditate, to pray with clarity of heart & mind, to reflect with deeper insight, etc. And at the end of your day, once tamas kicks in, you’re more tired, less alert. Your whole system is telling you it’s time to start shutting down.
But the sattvic hour…well, it was made for these practices. Give it a try. See how it feels. Notice how different you feel all throughout your day having started it this way. And how it feels to do your sattvic practices at this ideal time of day. Just be sure to give the practice enough time to get past any initial adjustments you’ve made, to your routine as well as to your internal clock. I hope you find it elevates the quality of your life as much as it has mine.
Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. And be sure to check back next week for my 5th installment of this 6 Little Things series. Next up, we’ll be looking at the powerful practice of intention-setting. This one I’ve been doing the longest, and I can’t say enough good things about it!
Have a beautiful, peaceful week!