Here’s Why Early Morning is the Best Time to Do Pranayama
The pros and cons of doing pranayama at different times of the day.
By VINEET KAUL and HANNAH SCHMIDT | Published on September 09, 2022
There are some questions we hear time and again. What’s the best time of the day to do pranayama? Is it better to do pranayama at morning, noon, or night? Does time matter, and why so? The answer to such a nuanced question varies based on the context.
In the yoga tradition, early morning is the ideal time of the day to practice. Time is an important factor but not the only thing that influences the effectiveness of your practice. There are other prerequisites like an empty stomach, a peaceful environment, mental calmness, etc.
Let’s preface this post with a caveat. Don’t confuse pranayama with breathing exercises. These two terms are often used interchangeably, which causes confusion. Breathing exercises can be done on their own at any time of the day. Each technique has its benefits and dos and don’ts.
They are done to achieve different goals like reducing anxiety, releasing anger, calming the mind, or stimulating the body. There is a spiritual component to pranayama, which separates it from non-yoga breathing techniques.
That said, let's discuss why early morning is the best time of the day for pranayama.
Best Time (of the Day) to Do Pranayama
Yoga experts agree that early morning is the best time to do pranayama. Your mind is calm, your meal is digested, your stomach is empty, and there are no distractions. The atmospheric energy is auspicious and bustling with Vata (air and ether), which amplifies the benefits of your practice.
However, in theory, you can do pranayama any time of the day on an empty stomach. An empty stomach means there are only four times during the day you can do pranayama, namely -
We’ll discuss early morning in the next section, let’s look at the other three options for now.
Pranayama at Noon (Before Lunch)
You can do pranayama at noon if you wake up late or are intermittent fasting. Be sure not to eat before practice, and do it in a cool spot with good ventilation. You can also eat an early, light breakfast to make room for your practice. But the Ayurveda Gods may disapprove of this idea.
Ayurveda, yoga’s sister science, is ancient Indic knowledge about health and wellbeing. While it may not be apparent, the two disciplines are complimentary ideas. According to Ayurveda, breakfast should be an elaborate affair, your biggest meal of the day.
Pranayama in the Evening (Before Dinner)
Late afternoon or dusk is a great time to practice pranayama and yoga if you are fasting. Like dawn, dusk is also considered auspicious in ancient Indic texts. Yoga asana at 5 pm followed by pranayama and meditation would be the ideal routine.
As for Ayurveda’s two cents on the subject, 2 pm to 6 pm is Vata time. Air and ether, remember? The atmospheric energy supports mental activities like meditation. Ayurveda texts also say you should eat dinner before sunset as the digestive fire dwindles when the sun goes down.
Pranayama at night (Before Bed)
You can do pranayama before sleeping if you have a light dinner and wait 3 hours for the food to digest. Bedtime pranayama practices can help with sleep disorders and improve sleep quality. But in this context, it's more of a wind-down-practice rather than a spiritual undertaking.
According to Ayurveda, your digestion gets sluggish as the day progresses. That's because your digestive fire is synced to the Sun. It peaks at noon and peters out to a soft simmer by night. That's good because the Sun is linked to activity cycles and the Moon is linked to rest.
In a yogic diet, you would eat a very light meal for dinner, something like khichdi or soup before 7 pm. You hit the sack at 10 and practice calming, cooling pranayama exercises at night. These forms of pranayama activate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest cycle).
Left Nostril Breathing, Bee Breathing, and Alternate Nostril Breathing are great choices. Don't attempt Bhastrika, Surya Bhedana, or other heating/energizing pranayama before sleeping. They stimulate the activity cycle (sympathetic nervous system), making it difficult to fall asleep.
Six (Solid) Reasons To Do Pranayama Early Morning
Its Bhrahma Muhurta, baby!
This one is for the yoga nerds. Brahma muhurta is a Sanskrit term for a 48-minute period that begins 96 minutes before sunrise. It's super auspicious, and there are many passages in ancient texts about it.
Since the time of sunrise isn’t fixed, Brahma muhurta isn't fixed either. It varies slightly each day and with the change in seasons. So, if the sun rises at 7, this period starts at 5: 24 am and ends by 5: 12 am. But what’s the deal with yoga and Brahma muhurta, you may ask.
“In Indic Culture, there is a favorable change in atmospheric energy when the sun crosses the horizon. This shift happens during Brahma muhurta,” says Vineet Kaul. “According to ancient texts, the energy amplifies the benefits of any spiritual or religious practice,” he adds.
In yoga theory, this particular energy is considered the best time to do pranayama and meditation. Ayurveda – yoga's sister science – agrees, and so does every other religious or spiritual tradition in the sub-continent. But the modern-day circadian rhythm may beg to differ.
Early Morning is perfect for me-time.
Pranayama is a slow build and demands a prerequisite amount of calm – within or around you. You can't do it with Jay-Z blaring in the background. After all, it's designed to link the body-breath-and mind and turn inward (called Pratyahara in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras).
“From app notifications to phone calls to the ringing doorbell, our days have distractions we can’t do away with,” says Hannah Schmidt. “Rise early to get me-time before roommates, kids, or family members can approach you during practice, thus reducing its efficiency.”
She’s right. Mornings are the best time for pranayama because there’s very little that can distract or interrupt your practice. But there are rare exceptions. If there is another time of the day when you find calm, that's great too. But that's assuming all other prerequisites are fulfilled.
The stomach is empty when you wake up.
An empty stomach is a prerequisite to doing pranayama breathing. If you’ve had a hearty sleep, your stomach has had at least 8 to 10 hours to digest the last meal.
If you do it during the day, wait for your meal to be digested. It is advised to wait for at least 3 hours after a meal to do pranayama, but 90 minutes is fine if you just had an apple. Worse yet, you cannot snack, which means more willpower.
But what’s the whoop about food and pranayama? An empty stomach matters for two reasons –
Digestion is a very prana-intensive process. Haven’t you noticed how sleepy or sluggish you get after a heavy meal? Simply put, your brain and stomach compete for attention, and digestion always wins.
Pranayama involves a lot of belly and diaphragmatic movement. The food is going to churn and make you feel uncomfortable. Moreover, a full tummy also restricts the breathing apparatus from achieving optimal expansion.
Again, 'early morning' make the cut, which is why it is the best time to do pranayama.
The bowels are primed to be emptied, too.
Everyone says it, do pranayama after going to the bathroom. It gets you wondering, what is the connection between empty bowels and doing pranayama. The answer is simple. Pranayama involves breathing in ways that activate your parasympathetic nervous system.
If you don’t follow, that means you will feel relaxed. Relaxation urges the bowels to do their thing. So, you’ll have to excuse yourself mid-practice if you didn’t do it before. It’s not advisable to do yoga breathing on the pot. As if you could sit cross-legged in the “act” to begin with.
Most healthy people have good bowel moment, which comes with the urge to 'let go' early in the morning. But don’t be harsh on yourself if you suffer from constipation. If (sh) it happens, it happens. And if you feel the urge mid-practice, just go and start again.
Asanas before pranayama (a.k.a Pose before Nose)
Constipation is a valid reason to skip the last step, but it won’t fly anymore. As you have noticed, yoga theory has a solid rationale for why things are done in a particular way and order. Don't trust me? Buy any book on pranayama.
They all say the same thing – asana first, followed by pranayama, and then meditation.
“Pranayama is about expanding life-energy currents in the body,” says Vineet Kaul. You won’t get much done if the flow is sluggish to begin with, right? Yoga poses prepare the body and get circulation going. They stimulate the mind and set the perfect stage for prana regulation.”
It wouldn’t bode well if you tried to wake up and jump right into slow, deep breathing. There’s a fine line between calm and sleepy. It’s hard to spot that line at 5 am. Early morning meditation can you sleep. Okay, maybe not you, but ask your Kapha dosha friend what we mean.
Practice daily, and at the same time, please.
Let’s get real. Are you serious about pranayama? Great, then you have to do it every day. Not only every day; but at the same time every day. Yeah, 6:00 am every day. 5:45 am is acceptable, and you can let down your guard and push it to 6:15 am every now and then.
This isn't a random idea fuelled by reverence for old-school discipline. We've got an internal clock. It likes to do the same thing at the same time. In fact, it'll get conditioned over time to do it better at the time, too. Still don’t trust me? There’s a ton of clinical research about it, too.
Quick Read | Article Summary
Always practice pranayama at the same time every day.
The best time to do pranayama is early morning after emptying the bowels.
Practice pranayama after yoga poses and before meditation.
You can do pranayama during the day but only on an empty stomach.
If you eat a full-sized meal, wait three hours for it to digest.
Do it at the same time every day to get the most out of your practice.