5 benefits of an evening yoga practice before dinner

Evening yoga benefits are numerous. An evening yoga practice can be a hugely beneficial addition to your evening routine. It will bring a plethora of benefits, including improved sleep, reduced stress, and improved physical flexibility.

The best thing is, it doesn’t have to be a long practice full of invigorating poses for you to get the full benefits.

This post outlines five top benefits of an evening yoga routine. It also includes a couple of things that any yoga beginner should be aware of when starting an evening practice at home.

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What is the best time of day to practice yoga?

It, by now, is widely known that there are numerous and lasting benefits of yoga. It is an ancient practice that has withstood the test of time. However, there are some yoga traditions that could be adapted to modern contexts. In order for us to maintain a consistent practice to reap said benefits, we need to critically analyze the teachings of the ancient yogis so as to avoid falling into the trap of blind dogma. 

I am not suggesting we negate the wisdom of ancient yogis entirely. Not at all. Instead, we take the teachings, respect their wisdom, and mindfully adapt them to our present context. 

One way to do that is to consider the concept of the best time to practice yoga. 

The original texts state that early morning (I mean really early morning – 3:40 a.m.) is the most auspicious time to practice yoga. For the majority of people, this just isn’t feasible in today’s contexts. So, we have to adapt. An evening practice is one way to experience the physical and mental benefits of a well-rounded yoga practice without having to set the alarm for 3 a.m. Let’s take a brief look at each of these benefits.

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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.

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Some things to keep in mind

Evening yoga benefits abound, but some precautions exist too. Two things to keep in mind when practicing yoga in the evening are the types of asana you practice and awareness of your own energy levels each day.

1. Stimulating poses

Several yoga postures (like back bends) work to switch on the sympathetic nervous system and are therefore more apt for a morning practice. To reap the above evening yoga benefits, opt for a class that focuses on resting poses, that has a long corpse pose (savasana) and other restorative of supine poses (like supta baddha konasana). Focus on deep breathing to switch on the parasympathetic nervous system, optimizing your chance for decent sleep.

2. Energy levels

Align the practice with your energy levels. Yoga is here to support you, not punish you. Our ego is tricky in that it will lead us to believe that a practice full of gentle yoga poses or restorative yoga poses is not productive.

However, at the end of the day, especially a busy day, this might be just what you need before you have dinner and settle into your bedtime routine. If you’re particularly fatigued, avoid anything too vigorous and opt for a twenty-minute restorative class instead.

The main takeaways

Maintaining a regular practice is key, regardless of how many minutes of yoga you do on (or off) the mat. To get the most out of the plethora of evening yoga benefits, focus on classes that have a restorative pose or two (or three), some calming breathing practices, and some gentle asanas that encourage mindful breathing. That way you will, over time, notice the positive effects on your sleep, stress levels, digestive functions, and flexibility. 

A nightly yoga practice is a surefire way to ensure quality sleep, but start slow at first and build up to it.

Until next week, much love,