Coton, my yoga instructor, is off to Miami to further her studies. Her mom has taken over her classes. My private class is at 6:30, and when I arrived this morning Coton’s mom was already stretching, but looking sleepy. “I’m not used to being awake at this hour,” she admitted.
I felt only the smallest twinge of guilt for disturbing her routine. It was her choice, of course, to take on my class. Moreover, I had the sense that she would learn to like it. Coton was a latish riser when she first agreed to mentor me in that 6:30 to 7:00 slot. Within weeks, she adjusted to it and eventually thrived on it.
Coton’s mom was even faster. By the end of the first class, she understood what is so wonderful about starting your day early.
“This is a wonderful time of day to practice yoga! You can gradually wake up your body and mind as it gets light outside.”
“You wake at the same time as the earth does.”
“Exactly,” she said. “Driving here this morning was sort of spooky. It was still dark, and so quiet. I felt like I was traveling in space. But it was easy, almost effortless. The traffic lights were blinking so I didn’t have to make any stops. And there were only a handful of people around – two young men walking to work and a few early morning joggers.”
“It’s a different world,” I said. “The world of the early risers.”
“It felt eerie. And when I got here this morning, I felt tired, even though I’d slept enough. But now I feel great.”
“And the sun is up and the birds are chirping.”
Coton’s mom is my age, but she looks 15 years younger. She believes that practicing yoga every day has kept her young by flushing her system with oxygen. I’m a big believer in oxygen too. A combination of Pilates and yoga cured my chronic, acute 10-year lower-back problem. Shoulders too.
When I was a young man, I ignored my health because it was so good. In my thirties and forties, I neglected the ailments that come with pain, masking them with drugs or attempting to fix them surgically. None of that worked. Now, in my fifties, I’ve graduated to a more natural way of taking care of myself. And it has made me feel younger.
From the studies I’ve read, I think it’s fair to say that there are four primary factors that contribute to the disintegration of the body:
1. poor nutrition
2. lack of movement
3. stress and depression
4. consuming toxins
Think, for a moment about an infant. Mother’s milk provides it with the perfect diet. Instinct has it moving ceaselessly, even while sleeping. And stressful situations (hunger, discomfort) are relieved immediately, usually as a result of crying.
Infants are healthy because their environment and their habits are 90% natural. As we get older, we part from the natural path, first by eating manufactured and chemically poisoned foods, then by exposing ourselves to all sorts of atmospheric pollution, and eventually (and it is becoming sooner and sooner) by reducing the amount of moving we do.
The typical American teenager is a fat (if not obese), sedentary organism that spends most of its time ingesting toxins. No wonder we are crippled and in pain and dying as adults. The wonder is that we are living as long as we are!
The secret to good living, I’m beginning to understand, is to align our lives as much as possible with time-honored tradition and omnipresent nature. It’s natural, for instance, to wake up around dawn. It’s natural, too, to go to sleep an hour or two after dark.
Every time I write on this topic, I get a flurry of letters protesting this (ETR’s) position: that you will be healthier, wealthier, and happier if you are early to bed and early to rise. “I am a late-night person,” they say. “That’s when I do my best work. If I had to wake up early, I’d get nothing done.”
That’s what Coton’s mom probably thought.
It is natural not only to wake up at dawn (or just before) but also to spend the first half-hour or so of your day gradually moving your body, stretching, twisting, breathing. That’s what yoga does for you. Pilates can do the same.
Six days a week at 6:30 a.m., I spend 30 minutes doing either Pilates or yoga. Since I’ve been following that routine, I haven’t had a single day of pain – not in my shoulders or my back or anywhere else.[Ed. Note. Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]