The benefits of including yoga in your evening routine
An evening practice near the end of your day can reap multiple benefits for both the mind and body. Some of these are listed below, in no particular order.
1. Reduces Stress
The evening is my favorite time of day. The bugs start to sing, the sun begins to set, and the aromatic smells of kitchens nearby linger in the streets. It is that time of day when most of us are preparing to settle down for the night. For me, it is my favorite time of day to practice. Just between cooking dinner and eating it. No one needs me, everything is done and all I need to do is practice, bathe, eat, clean up, and snuggle down into bed with a good book.
It is the time of day when our nervous systems, perhaps still running off high cortisol levels, look to negate the stress of the day by switching on the parasympathetic nervous system. This is often colloquially referred to as our rest-and-digest response.
Therefore, a well-rounded yoga class will look to ease muscle tensions built up throughout the day and will include easy poses, or restorative poses, to help do just that.
2. Improves Sleep
One thing we probably all are hankering after is better sleep. This could mean different things to different people but generally refers to getting enough sleep or more restful sleep. Sometimes I’ve been lying in bed for hours flickering between anxious wakeful states and dreams fraught with tension. Other times I’ve slept deeply and soundly for six hours, waking up full of beans.
What I am aiming for, though, as I’m sure many of us are, is a seven to eight-hour good night’s rest. And an evening yoga practice can help with that.
This does not mean exhausting yourself through repeated and lengthy asana (yoga pose) classes. Instead, it means bringing your focus to the present moment through mindful breathing as you move, sit, and meditate on the mat. A well-rounded evening yoga class will include asana, breathing techniques, and meditation to help the mind switch off and allow the body to relax. This is what puts us in a parasympathetic nervous state and increases our chances of improving our sleep quality.
3. Increases Flexibility
Flexibility never has been nor never will be the prerequisite to or goal of any true yoga class. More likely, it is a happy side effect to a practice that sustains you on so many levels beyond being able to slide down into the splits at your next school reunion.
That said, improved flexibility benefits us on many levels. To improve our flexibility, we need to improve our stability. Yoga asanas do both. Maintaining our mobility as we age helps to prevent avoidable injuries. What bends doesn’t break.
Additionally, an evening yoga practice means that through the activities of the day, our muscles are already fairly warm. This makes common yoga poses such as forward folds and sequences like sun salutations far more pleasant than those we do first thing in the morning.
Evening yoga benefits include the skill of tuning in to how the body feels after a stressful day. Do I have lower back pain? If so, have a folded blanket nearby for corpse pose (savasana) and for sitting on during forward folds. Stiff shoulders? Maybe I choose an asana class focused on opening up the upper body.
4. Aids digestion
I will likely never be one to recommend yoga for weight loss. Weight acceptance? Yes. However, I am still unconvinced of the direct correlation between practicing yoga and weight loss. I actually started yoga (or rather, asana) as a means to lose weight. Over time, I noticed I was becoming far more accepting of and loving toward my body and all its lumps and bumps. So, this section is not going to be advocating yoga as a weight loss regime.
To do that would be doing a massive disservice to the vast, deep, and rich culture that is yoga.
However, when practiced on an empty stomach (or 2-4 hours after eating), it will speed up your metabolism and aid gastrointestinal functions such as digestion.
I recommend that beautiful time spot between preparing and eating dinner. That way, you have the energy needed to get dinner together, and something to look forward to after your practice.
5. Frees up your morning
Practicing yoga first thing has not always felt that great for me. If you suffer from lower blood pressure in the mornings, you might know what I mean. Sluggish and agitated on the mat regardless of how many sun salutations you’ve done. You might be someone who has an unavoidably busy morning, and the thought of adding in even ten minutes of yoga makes you want to crawl back in to bed and pull the covers over your head.
The beauty of an evening yoga routine is that it frees up your morning and quashes those creeping feelings of guilt. It will set you up for a good night’s sleep leaving you refreshed and ready for the next day.