Every Monday I wake up at 5 AM to teach an online yoga class from 6-7 AM. My phone sings me awake with a tone called “sunny” that brings me to consciousness with ethereal and cheerful sounds. If I haven’t slept well due to FOMA (fear of missing alarm), it feels more like an annoying reminder set by me of the past to leave my cozy bed.

To the surprise of no one, it’s easier to rise early in the summer months when daylight and warm air are waiting to welcome me to the day. In the winter, I feel like the only person awake for miles in a dark and cold house, and so more willpower (and clothing layers, brrr) are needed to get me out of bed.

The early morning hours aren’t for everyone, nor do I subscribe to the belief that early-risers are better than non-early risers. So why practice so early? It’s believed that asana is best practiced in the morning when the stomach is empty and when the mind is most calm. The more logistical reason: is: people need to get to work. And wouldn’t you know it, my classes attract a very consistent group of people with 8-to-5 schedules (or maybe they just like getting up early – I should ask!) who show up then to practice at 6 AM.

The early morning crew is the real reason I get out of bed. Their diligence to rise early to prioritize their physical and mental health inspires me. And for one day a week, I join the ranks of those who start their day (and the workweeks) with pre-sunrise contemplative physical practice. If this were my daily routine, I might feel differently. To the yoga teachers who go to bed and rise early five days a week to prioritize your and your students’ workday practices: thank you. Y’all know who you are.

My friend, who teaches the Wednesday 6-7 AM class, and I agree perhaps that a silver lining of social distancing is that this class has gone from in-person to virtual-only. The studio owners decided to eliminate the in-person option for now because of the pandemic and we’re not mad about our pre-6-AM commute being paused for now. We joke that this means we could teach this class from our beds, propped by pillows galore in pajamas and glasses, calling our posture names through orthodontic retainers. I still have yet to do this and likely never will, but the freedom of knowing I could is intoxicating enough.

So why wake up an hour before? For the glorious quiet solo time of course! I love having this precious hour to myself even if it means going to bed on Sundays at a time that makes me feel like I’m in my 90s. And if I need a little extra sleep, a 5 AM wake up still lets me hit snooze and not be rushed. This assumes that I’m actually asleep; sometimes my sleep is fitful between Sunday to Monday, my mind laced with anticipatory panicked one-liners like: “Did I sleep through my alarm?” Every time the answer is no. But this past Monday, my worst sub-conscious fears came true: I slept in and missed my class.

Most Mondays mornings: I walk softly to the bathroom handle nature’s business, boil some water for tea, eat a dried prune, change from my pajamas to yoga clothes, steep a cup of double spice Stash chai tea, write in my journal, and read before opening up the Zoom room.

This past Monday morning: feeling very rested in that sub-conscious semi-awake state, my brain murmured: “It’s dark out, but we feel rested! But the alarm hasn’t gone off, so let’s stay cozied up here in our cocoon a little longer”. I got curious and peeked at my iPad. Low and behold: it was 6:22 AM. My worst yoga teacher fear came true. I slept through my class. I inhaled sharply, planted my bare feet on the cold hardwood floor, and walked myself and the iPad to the kitchen table. I stared at my device thinking: “What happened? How did I sleep through my alarm? Maybe I should go open the Zoom room just in case…” No one was there of course.

My worst yoga teaching fear came true

My worst fear as a yoga teacher came true: I missed my early-morning class. I texted the studio owners, two women who I hold in high esteem, a string of stream of consciousness messages that went something like this:

“I missed my class. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what happened.” 

“Now I see what happened. My iPhone is away for repairs, so I used my iPad alarm which was set to work on “weekends” not “weekdays”. I didn’t notice until now.” 

“I’ll write an email to apologize to the people registered. Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do.” 

I sent an apology email to all of them and explained what happened. Vowed to not repeat that mistake again.

And you know what? Everybody was so kind. Their understanding was such a gift. I am the luckiest to be surrounded by people who love me even when I make a mistake early in the morning.

The yoga is working: here’s how I know

After 11 years of yoga and almost one of meditation, I can tell that these contemplative practices are working their magic on me because:

1. I didn’t berate and beat myself up or go into a shame spiral for making a mistake. No histrionics, no excessive apologizing in an attempt to prove how badly I felt. Part of me said: “This is the part where we have to freak out and feel bad, right?” And I told that part of me “No, there’s another more effective way.” Showing myself kindness rewired old thought patterns and saved me a ton of mental and physical energy.

2. I used simple straight forward language: “I’m sorry. Here’s what happened. I won’t let this particular mistake happen again. Now I know better, so I’ll do better. I respect you and your time, but I’m sorry my actions didn’t reflect that this morning.”  I didn’t get caught up in long explanations and excessive details, saving me and my readers time and energy.

3. I only spent one hour from the time I woke up to the time I sent the email to the participants and studio owners focused on this issue. After an hour when everything that could be done was finished, I checked in and discovered a part of me that was FOMA-harmed and still worried. I told her: “Dear one, we made a mistake and owned up to it. Enough now. We’ve done all we can. It’s time to meditate and move on with our day.” And I did. Okay, I also checked my email in hopes that they replied. They did. And lucky me, their replies were kind and understanding.

The goal of yoga: ride the waves

The waves of life bring us highs and lows and everything in between. By practicing yoga and meditation, I’ve been able to better observe the “Chitta vrittis” or the fluctuations of the heart and mind without getting caught up in the stories and drama of them.

I’m by no means a perfect practitioner and I never will be. I’m human. But I hope that with continued practice, I can keep noticing what is with equanimity and not get caught up in destructive storylines that insist on singling me out as flawed and unworthy. This is ultimately what gets me to my mat and cushion every day to practice yoga and meditation: to live a more calm and peaceful life in my mind and body. And to share my time with compassionate and kind people.