The winter months are behind us now. The days are growing longer and warmer. Winters have a quiet feeling, while nature rests. But spring inspires us to get moving again. There is increased energy in the longer hours of daylight. And we start to think about summer’s activities with our homes, families, and friends.
Every year, the lengthening days inspire me. I wonder if can I get up earlier and make better use of that extra time and energy. One of my motivations is the Brahmamuhūrta—but what’s that?
Brahmamuhūrta: The Time of Brahma
Brahmamuhūrta is a big Sanskrit word, but we can break it down into manageable parts. Brahma is the traditional Hindu god of creation. Hinduism recognizes countless gods—the names given to the various forms or activities of God, or Divine Consciousness. Let’s not get confused or put off by these names or images. It’s their energy and activities that we want to consider. In this case—the energy of creation. It’s happening around us all the time. Each day is a new creation.
Muhūrta is a period of time: 48 minutes. Brahma muhūrta is two of these time periods, therefore 96 minutes. To simplify, we can think of it as one and one-half hours.
The Best Time for Spiritual Practices
Traditionally, yogis consider one Brahma muhūrta before sunrise as the most auspicious time for meditation, prayer, and other spiritual practices. It’s the golden hour. The mind is most quiet just before the day begins. And, of course, a still mind is a boon to our meditation practice.
Yogic sages affirm the importance of rising before the sun. That’s because there is more natural energy inherent at the start of the day. We experience more physical strength, better mental clarity, and a more uplifting attitude.
I’ve always been impressed by stories of yogis rising very early to begin their spiritual practices. My Guru practiced during this time, as did his. Gurudev tells us, “Wake up well before dawn; the radiance you acquire from meditation at this time will remain with you throughout the day.”
Sarada Devi rose daily at 3:00 a.m. for her practices. The rest of her day was spent serving her husband, Ramakrishna and his many visitors. Even Jesus Christ, in the midst of his pressing mission, used the early morning for prayer.
“Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, he went out and departed to a solitary place; and there he prayed.” Mark 1:35
Benefits of Earlier Meditations
In “The Benefits of Meditation“ I outlined many of meditation’s advantages. These benefits are yours, whether you meditate early, late, or during the day. Even if your meditation practice doesn’t feel like meditation, you still benefit. If the only time you can practice is during the middle of the day, thoughts racing through your mind, you still profit from the practice.
But I’ve discovered additional gifts of predawn practices. The most notable is the lack of distractions. The phone doesn’t ring. Our noisy neighborhood garbage collector hasn’t yet begun his work. It’s too early to walk the dog, and even the birds aren’t singing. It’s dark and quiet. The earlier I start my practice, the fewer distractions there are.
Just before and after I meditate, I also study yogic scriptures. These texts are often terse and deep. Studying early and in conjunction with meditation helps the wisdom of these books take root in my mind. I remember them throughout the day because I read with more focus.
The effects of early meditations seem to last longer throughout the day. An early meditation practice gives me more clarity. I can stay focused longer and make better decisions. Also, it’s easier to increase the length of my meditation time during the Brahma muhūrta. Nature’s energy hasn’t yet drawn me into the day.
What About Night Owls?
I admit to being a morning person. I love the quiet, early darkness. But what about night owls—people who swear by the evening hours? They think more clearly and get more done in the evenings. Night owls can benefit from the latest research on our biological clocks.
Dr. Michael Breus, a sleep specialist, uses the latest research on the human circadian rhythm. In his book The Power of When, he suggests the best timing for many activities based on four chronotypes. Understanding your natural rhythm can help you find the best time for your meditation practice.
Can night owls hope to make use of ideal times to meditate? Although it’s best to meditate before sunrise, the energy of sunset is also very effective. Additionally, the most ideal approach is a consistent schedule. Whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, consistency in your practice will produce the best results.
How I Trained Myself for Early Rising
When I first heard the inspiring stories of yogis meditating at 3:00 a.m., I was determined to follow their examples. But setting my alarm clock for that time wasn’t effective. If I hadn’t slept enough, I couldn’t awaken for meditation. Even if I managed to get up and sit, I fell asleep almost instantly.
I needed more sleep. That required going to bed earlier. Since it’s not practical to retire by 7:00 p.m., meditating at 3:00 a.m. wasn’t possible.
Still determined, I resolved to rise as early as possible. I trained myself through tiny increments to awaken earlier until I found the timing that fit my daily schedule and physical needs. It took time and effort, but it was worth it. I now have a solid, satisfying meditation schedule.
Spring’s Promising Opportunity
All nature is affected by the time changes of the seasons. When the days shorten, our energy decreases. It’s natural to slow down and rejuvenate. Then Brahma muhūrta is later, by the clock, and we can meditate later if we wish.
But when spring arrives, the sun begins to rise earlier and set later. Our energy increases. Then we have a chance to overcome the sloth that crept in during the winter.
Now is your opportunity to adopt the Brahma muhūrta as your meditation time. Set your alarm to wake up five minutes earlier each week. When summer is here, you’ll already be enjoying the many benefits of the golden hour of meditation.
Chityānanda has been a disciple of Svāmī Gurupremānanda Sarasvatī since 1975. She teaches meditation and yoga as a spiritual path in Santa Cruz, California.
Thank you for the suggestion to adjust the wake time on my alarm incrementally each day. When I have forced myself to wake earlier in the past, the early onset of fatigue in the afternoon made it difficult to complete my tasks for the day. I got discouraged and backslid to my later wake time as a result. This incremental strategy should help me adjust better.
It’s nice to hear from you Richard. Another great help to early rising is going to bed earlier. That sometimes requires more effort than waking earlier, but it’s worth the effort. Also remember, it takes time and patience to change habits. Just keep at it, and I know you’ll succeed! Namaste.
Thank you for the wonderful article.
At the moment, I’ve been tucking myself in bed at 8 PM and waking up at 4:30 AM. But I’m still sleep deprived and cannot meditate properly. I am so perplexed with my situation.
For the past 5 months, I was training myself to wake up at 5 AM and I was doing that almost consistently. But it has really been a struggle – I would wake up sleep deprived frequently. Furthermore, in an effort to get myself ready (bathing, dressing up, e.t.c) prior to Brahma Murat, I pushed myself to wake up at 4:30 AM. But all my attempts to do so have led to failure — Either I couldn’t get myself out of bed or my concentration-less meditation was indicative of my sleep deprived condition.
There are two factors at play for me:
1. I have an overly active mind and falling asleep at nights has always been a challenge for me. It takes me hours to fall asleep sometimes. (although a consistent sleep cycle has helped, it still takes me a good 45 minutes to 1.5 hours to fall asleep).
2. Coupling with my issue # 1 above, how early can I possibly sleep to get enough rest? If we take into account my sleeping disorder and if I’m trying to get 8 hours of good sleep per night, then my bedtime would be 7 PM in order to wake up at 4:30 AM! That’s 9.5 hours in bed. At this point, we can say I’m sleeping my life away!
So now, if you put my job into the mix, it means I have very little or no time to give to my family at nights or to any other goals I may have. At this point, it would strictly be the meditation and yoga, the job, and the cycle repeats.
And what’s worse is the feeling that I am accomplishing nothing. I really cannot get enlightened by a one hour meditation session everyday. And that’s all the time I can put into it given that I must work and provide for my family, and take care of other responsibilities. I am not married so the responsibilities will only increase in the future. I’m just not seeing a light at the end of this tunnel at the moment.
I’d love to hear from you on all this.
Hello Brij, and thank you for visiting Quiet Karma. I’m happy to know that this article has prompted you to connect. Let me say that I certainly sympathize with your problem. It was no easy task for me to align with the early morning hours. It took me years.
My first thought in reading your note was, Where is this person? If you’re in the northern hemisphere, like me, your days are shortening. This is not the time to attempt earlier wake-up times. As the days shorten, you need more sleep. Consider being less demanding and more gentle with yourself about aligning with Nature. Restart an earlier wake-up attempt in the spring.
You mention an over-active mind and difficulty getting to sleep. Have you heard of the term sleep hygiene? A regular nighttime routine is very helpful. All the activities of your last hour before retiring make a difference. Avoid screen time, heavy exercise, and excess mental activity. Also, don’t forget caffeine’s affect on sleep. If you imbibe coffee, tea, or even chocolate, they can affect your sleep. Try to avoid them for at least 8 hours before you go to bed. Caffeine stays in your system for a long time! I’m not a sleep expert, but these two books are excellent and have made a difference in my understanding of sleep needs.
The Power of When…by Michael Breus PhD
Why We Sleep…by Matthew Walker PhD
Finally, regarding your meditation practice. Do not stress about falling asleep while meditating. Just persist. In time, your body and mind will accept the routine and be more cooperative. Keep a consistent practice and have a little faith. Yoga masters and scriptures promise that we’re all heading towards enlightenment. There are only two requirements: 1) a human body—and you’ve got that! and 2) an intense desire for liberation.
The above advice is general and anyone can benefit from it. If you’d like a little more personal support, I think we should talk outside the format of Quiet Karma’s comments section. Feel free to contact me personally through the contact form on the site. Namaste.
Thank you so much for all the advice above.
I have to admit I am doing some things wrong when it comes to sleep hygiene. I usually do some body weight exercises in the evening around 1.5 hours before bedtime. I’m having trouble squeezing it anywhere else in my day. The mornings fly by quickly with the little bit of meditation and yoga that I do. So then the only other time to accommodate it is evenings. My phone also stays with me all the way until bedtime.
Now, in terms of what I do right – For the most part, I’ve completely eliminated dinner. My two main meals are breakfast and lunch. And then maybe something light in the afternoon/evening if required. I also don’t have chocolates or anything with caffeine so that’s not an issue.
Thank you so much for the Book suggestions. I will have to make a commitment to reading them.
I also wanted to share with you that my meditation was inspired by Bhante Gunaratana’s “Mindfulness in Plain English”. You may have heard of it? He is a Buddhist monk.
I read his book around 1.5 years ago and have ever since striving to incorporate meditation into my life.
Also, I will keep in mind your advice to not worry about being sleepy during meditation and focus on just sticking to the routine of daily meditation.
Welcome back, Brij. Perhaps you can change something in your evening program that will help you settle into better sleep. The human body requires food and sleep. Knowing this, we must do the best we can to provide for it. The body is our vehicle to higher knowledge; neglecting it takes us further from our goal. Also, our needs change with time and life situations. So changes in our routines and diet are common. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up!
Regarding the book recommendations: I listened to “Why we sleep” as an audio book. I think it motivated me to work harder at making sure I was never sleep deprived again. It was a pleasant listen. “The Power of When” helped me realize what my natural body rhythms are. I was able to make some positive adjustments and align better with my biological clock. These are the reasons that I recommended them to you. I don’t think either needs a cover-to-cover reading to help you. Perhaps your local library carries them?
I have read very little material on Buddhism. It’s become very popular since I discovered yoga as my spiritual path, and I appreciate that so many people have adopted mindfulness meditation through the Buddha’s teachings. I believe that all paths (except the more modern inventions) are valid. My goal on Quiet Karma is to provide advice that can be applied to all paths.
I wish you the very best on your journey!
I’m sure I have come across the word, Bramhamuhurta before, but I never bothered to look up it’s meaning – very informative. I have been taking naps lately, so have been arising around 5am lately. I told my wife, that I meditate while lying in bed, she said, not good, I replied, that our friend Rob says he meditates in a prone position, so it must be ok. – right?
I appreciate your question, Tosh. It’s often asked by meditators. Here’s what my Guru taught me long ago: when we are in the prone position, lying down, our physical and mental systems send a signal to the brain that it’s time to sleep. So we are much more likely to sleep that meditate. That said, there are times when sitting in a meditative posture is just not possible. If we’re sick or injured, sitting may worsen the condition. We might be in pain, which is a huge meditation distraction. So, lying down is necessary. Remember: It’s better to meditate in the worst conditions than to not meditate at all. Always try to meditate in a seated posture; but if that just doesn’t work, then by all means, continue your practice in the prone position. Namaste.
I was going to make a similar comment to John, but since he has already made the point I won’t.
“The gifts of predawn practices are the lack of distractions.”
It seems that we all agree on that point, Jasper. Thank you for chiming in. Namaste.
Yes, the “additional gifts of predawn practice” is right on, especially when you live in the city. Very much appreciated lesson.
Thank you, John. By mentioning the city, you remind us that meditation can be done anywhere. Baba Muktananda demonstrated that intense spiritual practices could be done in the worst of environments. His example wipes out any excuses that we might come up with. Determination and discipline should be our motto! Namaste.
I am glad to have the root meanings of Brahma Muhurutha, thank you. I remember my grandGuru said some phases of his meditation were so deep and subtle that the slightest noise, even a cough or whisper, were intolerable. Clearly, the pre-dawn hours are precious for their quiet and solitude. May all your readers enjoy enviable success in their meditations ?♀️
The key is to go to bed early, which requires a complete change in lifestyle from the norm. I had the good fortune to grow up on a dairy farm, where the lifestyle is early to bed, crazy-early to rise. Now, the best ways I have found are to stop eating by 4pm and to have some type of worldly commitment (job, task, service) that starts by 6 a.m. Thanks for opening this discussion.
Thank you for joining the discussion, Elizabeth. I hadn’t considered the dairy farm lifestyle and its long-term effects. You were fortunate to have the experience of seeing life from an early bird perspective and know that such a schedule is not only possible, but it’s normal for some people. – As you mentioned, reducing your calorie intake late in the day might be helpful. On the other hand, some people experience that if they don’t have enough to eat late in the day, they are awakened by hunger during the night. It’s a personal calorie requirement that people need to experiment with. Namaste.
Thank you Svami C, this was a fun read. Waking up hours before the sun takes an uncomfortable amount of discipline at first. And it can take even more discipline when I stay up later than usual the night before just to hang out with some friends in a hot tub.
..wow that was oddly specific
But I agree with you. The serenity in the early hours is worth it.
Thank you for commenting and offering a personal perspective, Trevor. It’s quite true that late night entertainment affects our early morning practices. Better to plan ahead and have fun with friends earlier. Eventually your friends will catch on, and who knows–maybe they’ll want to meditate with you in the morning! Namaste.
I have found reading the writings of my Guru or scriptures to be very helpful as well. Thank you for the reminder to get up early before the distractions of the day. That is a very good idea.
Thank you for your comment, Tim. One of the values of community is that we can remind and nudge one another to stay on track! Namaste.
Good morning,this reminds me of Sarada Devi who out of modesty would go to the river for a bath at 3:00 am once finding an alligator waiting in the dark, the master on hearing this put an end to her early excursios. You don’t always get what you want.
5:am in the office, sounds like ancient Lakein getting an extra 2.5 hours.I love brahmamurta.
Yes, Tony. That’s a good reminder. Better to use those wee hours of the morning for meditation than walking around the neighborhood in the dark! Namaste.
Thanks for the reminder about reading scriptures before/after meditation. I will find some and place them by my meditation chair.
You’re most welcome, Richard. Let us know which books you choose for this purpose. You might just remind us of something we’ve long forgotten. Namaste.
How to wake up early:
0. Really want to!
1. Go to bed earlier. Still working on this, but it has made the most difference, after really wanting to. As you say, it’s hard to go to bed at 7pm. Eating earlier helps.
2. Don’t look at digital screens at least an hour before you want to sleep. The blue light keeps your brain awake even though you WANT to sleep. Still working on this too. It helps to have the computer turn itself off so I’m not tempted.
3. My internal clock wakes me up in the middle of the night anyway. I used to be upset that I woke up at 3am. Now I take it as a sign and get up to meditate. A win-win!
Thank you, Roxie! I think your point #0 is most important–you have to want it. Desire can make anything happen. These are good, logical suggestions. Some people still don’t know that the blue light of TV or computers affects our brain chemistry, making it more difficult to fall asleep. I’m also guessing that you might be the type of person who needs less sleep in general–what a great way to take advantage of the extra time that Nature has granted! Namaste.
Thank you for the article Svami C. Early to bed and early to rise has been an issue for me. It’s an issue because I like to rise early and have consistency, but sometimes music jobs keep me up very late. Unless there’s some magical solution, it’s something I must live with. Lately, I try not to take late gigs. The suffering artist Hahaha.
Dear Suffering Artist–I’m glad that you addressed an issue that others may also be concerned about. Not everyone’s schedule is consistent enough to practice meditation at the same time every single day. For example, two days a week I meet my exercise buddy for an early morning ocean row. Rarely can I wake up early enough to meditate before I leave. That means, for those two days, I plan ahead and know that I’ll be meditating at a different time. It’s not ideal but, like you, it’s the lifestyle choice that I make. What’s most important, however, is that we don’t skip our practice–we still commit to it, just at a different time. I don’t expect my practice to be as satisfying as that done before the rest of the world stirs, but I do have faith that the benefits still accrue. Good luck! SCS
Great Article, Svāmi Chityānanda. Very inspiring and worth that small effort to arise earlier to meditate. In photography we also talk about the golden hour/s, particularly as the sun sets. Is this true for yogic practices too? I realize the world is not as quiet when the sun sets, but there is still peace to be found as we transition from day to night?
Yes, James, that’s a good point. Yoga masters say that sunset is also an excellent time for meditation–as is noon, when the sun is at its highest. These are the best times “energetically” for meditation. But in our modern, and rather unnatural world, scheduling our activities around times that continually change (unless you live on the equator) is difficult. That’s why saints give us their best suggestion: meditate at the same time every day. Both inner and out vibrations are conducive with that discipline. Namaste.