The Breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open,
Don't go back to sleep.
Most of us tend to enjoy the warmer, sunnier months of the year a bit (or a lot) more than wintertime...or, more specifically, we struggle in the months after the holidays, when the hope and optimism that comes with Spring seems eons away, and there is little daylight to get the chance to soak up our vitamin D. But for me, there is at least one great thing about the autumn and winter months: it's super easy to wake before sunrise and enjoy the mystical process of a new day beginning.
If you know me even a little bit, then chances are you already know about sadhana. In sanskrit, the meaning is basically 'regular daily practice.' In Kundalini Yoga the word sadhana takes on more meaning, 'daily practice which begins approximately 2.5 hours before sunrise.' The idea of waking 2.5 hours before the sun rises can be quite daunting in our very time-regulated, responsibility-regulated western culture--especially for those of us who live further from the equator, and the sun rises at 4:00 in the morning during the summer months!
So is a daily ritual or awareness practice in the wee hours of the morning really that important to our well being?
And why is committing to a regular daily practice, especially before the sunrise, such a popular idea across religions and cultures?
Rumi sums it up exquisitely:
"What nine months does for the embryo
Forty early mornings will do
for your growing awareness."
There is an internal wakefulness that occurs and lingers throughout the day, when we arise before our sun. This is especially true if we can allow ourselves to have some time to be still and witness the current of energy that pulses in the mounting minutes before dawn. It feels almost as if the night and the previous day are vacuumed up by this special ambrosial current and our cells get a vibrational massage, initiating us into a new day. It has been said that when you wake before the sun, you stay awake all day. In other words it's easier to stay in a state of self-awareness, and to make conscious choices that influence your well being throughout the day. It doesn't take much (however, 2.5 hours feels amazing). It can just be 5 or 10 minutes of quiet prayer, meditation, mantra singing, or even a walk in nature with conscious choice to remain present with the sensations and experience of the walk.
But let's get more into the physical needs met, and benefits of a regular predawn practice...
From a scientific understanding, our minds and bodies experience imbalance, injury, chronic pain and chronic illness if our bodies are not able to acquire sufficient time in parasympathetic 'rest and repair' mode. The sympathetic system (fight or flight) is designed to support our most primal instinctual needs: immediate and acute threats. For example, an angry grizzly bear is coming towards our camp! The hypothalamus signals to our master gland (the pituitary gland) that there is a threat, and the pituitary initiates the adrenal-cortical system which signals the body to pump us full of 30 different hormones that will support us in an appropriate way to deal with the bear. Muscles tense, blood pressure increases, pupils dilate, glucose levels sky rocket, our brains shut down the ability to singularly focus, and bring our attention to the big picture so we can continue to assess our threat. It is an incredible system. However, if the threat we feel is a mental threat or worry, felt while we are sitting at our desk, all of these hormones have no way to be used up in the moment.
In this era, it is not very common to experience the acute threats to our lives that our ancient ancestors did, but it is quite common to experience chronic 'threats,' which can come in the forms of over stimulation from external stimuli, worry over our root chakra needs (safety and sustenance), and the increasingly unpredictable and warming weather patterns, just to name a few. (Yes, it is scientific fact that as global temperatures rise, so rise humanity's levels of anxiety, agitation and violence.) These chronic stressors create a weakened immune system, and are directly linked to the significant rise in autoimmune diseases and disorders.
So how do we make sure our parasympathetic system is able to do its job and 'repair us' day to day?
We must calm the nervous system enough that it can inhibit the hormones released during stress, and give itself a chance to rest. There are several ways to calm our nervous system, however the most effective ways seem to be related to prayer, meditation and yoga, and have had thousands of years of testing and positive results. Practice of compassionate mindfulness/awareness can certainly alleviate a build up of stress; as we consciously bring more awareness to our own internal dialogue each day and moment by moment, we can stop ourselves mid worry, take a few deep breaths, and create some space for our system to calm. Stimulating our vegas nerve, which runs from deep in the brain all the way to our intestines, is an incredibly effective way to bring our bodies into rest. Kundalini Yoga is designed specifically to stimulate the vegas nerve and bring relief of the symptoms of chronic stress. Another ancient practice which brings us into a deep state of healing and repair is Yoga Nidra. This is something everyone can easily do. It simply involves lying still through a guided breathing exercise as you consciously relax all parts of your body, keeping the mind relaxed and yet still alert. Nidra means 'sleep' in sanskrit. Yoga Nidra is an awakened sleep. Or a sleep that occurs while maintaining relaxed awareness. There are multiple pre-recorded tracks of Yoga Nidra available for home practice. Yoga Nidra practiced for the 30 minutes before sunrise is a phenomenal way to begin the day in a state of relaxation and joy. I did it this morning and I swear the world is rose colored today.
Why is it important to calm the nervous system before sunrise, though?
Calming the nervous system at any time of day is beneficial. In fact, a practice of 'presence' (or mindful meditation) throughout the day can profoundly help us by giving us pockets of space to be aware of our own mental and physical reactivity to stressful stimuli. By maintaining awareness, we invite the opportunity to feel and discharge our responses as they comes rather than feeling the stress accumulate in our system.
Now, imagine the physical effect on our bodies if the very first thing we do each day is to engage with ourselves in a way that induces our parasympathetic nervous system? It's like rebooting a computer. A fresh start.
On top of all this, our bodies are designed to release certain hormones at different parts of the day, which have an effect on how we experience the day. There is a magnetic emanation from the earth in the ambrosial hours before sunrise which is a different pulse than at other times of day...and the wave shortens/intensifies just before dawn, climaxing at sunrise. This specific 'short wave' frequency, also known as 'solar wind' stimulates the pineal gland if we are alert and meditative (or sun gazing). Our pineal gland then triggers the pituitary gland, and the two begin vibrating in unison. In response to this, somatotropin (or the human growth hormone) secretes; it is responsible for cell regeneration and reproduction. In addition to this, serotonin and melatonin secrete when the pineal gland is active.
So there is an actual energy transfer, and initiation, from earth and sun to living beings on earth during this sacred time. People who rise before the sun experience more energy throughout their day, and have a much easier time staying in a state of awareness and calm.
I'm overwhelmed, I don't like big commitments, I don't want to meditate, I am too busy... Is there something else can I easily do to be able to relax more in my day so that my body and mind can rest and heal?
Sure, there is always a way!
Eckhart Tolle tells a great story in his book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose about two ducks he observed one day. They were swimming on a pond a little too close to each other, so that they were each threatened by the other. They battled it out for a moment and then went their separate ways, both still agitated. Then, in his separate corner of the pond, each started vigorously flapping his wings for several moments before calmly settling back to the water, free of agitation.
Be the duck. Shake yourself out (literally) whenever you notice a physical or mental stressful state is building in you...
Try any of these, or all of these:
If you can, wake before the sun. Don't set your alarm-- just tell yourself you're open to it. And see what happens.
If you find yourself awake naturally in the early morning, smile to yourself and get yourself up. Keep the lights on low or not on at all--you can light a candle or let in the moonlight.
Have a cold shower, or just rinse your face, arms, hands, neck, top of head and feet with cold water. This can be done with your hands a the kitchen sink with just a little water--no need to get complicated.
Take several moments to stretch your body out in all directions.
Bounce gently on your toes, as if you were on a trampoline.
Shake your body! Begin gently, and then with gradually increasing vigor, until you seem like you're being electrocuted. Let yourself laugh at the ridiculousness of this, and how good it feels. (Remember you are a duck on a pond releasing your 'fight or flight' symptoms.) This is also a great one to do just before bed, or any time of day when you've been idle or you've caught yourself worrying. It breaks things up and nearly always makes you laugh, or triggers a relieving sound from your mouth.
Take several deep, long, full breaths in and out, or do a minute of kapalabhati
Practice Sat Kriya for 3 minutes, rest for 3 minutes. (Tune in first.)
Go outside and smudge yourself with sage, palo santo, birch bark, cedar, or bear root (or open a window if you do it inside, so that whatever is being cleansed of you can escape the room).
SUNRISE CEREMONY: Take a little walk to a place where you can observe the rising sun, or the first moments of your day, and quietly witness nature waking up. You can pray silently or out loud for your day, for your loved ones, for the planet, and for your own ability to continue to dedicate time for yourself and your own healing/relaxation. Dedicate yourself or your life to something bigger than you and your thoughts. To Love or God or Gratitude or Light... whatever feels authentic for you...
Or just stand and witness the sunrise, gazing into the light of the sun (it's healthy and safe to stare at the sun for about an hour after sunrise/before sunset)
End whatever rituals or practices you choose to do with a moment of gratitude for this day, and for your growing awareness.
Watch yourself becoming more aware of your thoughts about yourself and life throughout your day. Notice stressful thoughts, and then kindly redirect your awareness to fully embracing the present moment with the faith that each moment will take care of itself.