In the folk song Across the Great Divide, Nancy Griffith sings, “The finest hour I have seen/is the one that comes between/the edge of night and the break of day/it’s when the darkness rolls away.” In Sanskrit, this time of day is called Brahma Muhurta, which means “the time of pure Consciousness,” or Amrit Bela, the nectar of life.
The hour and a half before sunrise to the time when the sun comes over the horizon is considered to be an ideal time of day for spiritual practice, a time when we are most able to achieve the state of samadhi, or spiritual bliss. It is actually recommended in both Ayurveda and Yoga to wake every day before dawn, not only to stay in close alignment with the earth’s cycles and achieve the good health and vitality this makes possible, but also for spiritual experience of being awake and present for the moment when darkness transitions to light.
Acharya Shunya writes, in Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom, “With every sunrise (Mother Nature) sends us… reminders to not only wake up, but truly awaken to the truth of our connection with Nature. The golden radiance that spreads across the vast skies and lights up the horizon is meant to touch us as well as enlighten our consciousness. The divine radiance is meant to come in through our eyes, warm our lonely hearts, and illuminate our isolated minds.”
In Dhanwantari: A Complete Guide to the Ayurvedic Life, Harish Johari writes, “With the first stirring of the dawn…comes a great surge of energy on the planet…. The first and most important step in harmonizing individual being (is) rising at least forty-five minutes before dawn… to be prepared and awake for this suffusion of energy…. Throughout history, all religions in all parts of the world have stressed the importance of rising before dawn and greeting the new day refreshed and receptive….”
In The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies, Vasant Lad writes, “It is beneficial to wake up before the sun rises. At this time of morning, pure qualities are lively in nature, which can bring freshness to the doors of perception and peace of mind.”
The early morning is also considered to be a liminal time in the Celtic tradition, a transitional moment when we are most closely attuned to the spiritual realm. This time of day is sometimes called the magic hour. According to Mara Freeman, in Kindling the Celtic Spirit, each day has threshold points between night and day, dawn and dusk…. These in-between times (are) when the seen and unseen worlds collide.”
Several years ago, I began to make a practice of rising before the dawn to greet the Brahma Muhurta. This has been one of the most important steps I’ve taken to establish greater sense of connectedness to the natural world. In 2014, I went on a solitary retreat for ten days to a cabin with no electricity on a lake in Nova Scotia and while I was there established a routine of rising before the sun and taking a rowboat out on a lake to watch the sun come up, my only companions the birds singing their morning songs and the beavers just beginning to stir in their lodges. I always returned from these trips feeling calm and wide awake, in the deepest sense of the word.
I continued this practice of rising before dawn when I returned to the city, and spent the Brahma Muhurta chanting, practicing yoga, meditating, cleaning the yoga studio I belong to, or watching the sunrise. And I discovered through this practice that even in an urban environment, the early morning is a time of stillness, but a stillness charged with quiet, powerful energy. This early morning energy imbues me with a sense of being deeply and keenly alive, especially when I remember to greet the dawn with the awe, wonder, and reverence it deserves.
In her song Rising Greatness, Alela Diane sings, “there’s white gold in the static/relentless and charged with magic.” That’s how I would describe the energy of early morning hours before the sun rises, the Brahma Muhurta.
Desai, Yogi Shanti. Yoga: Holistic Practice Manual. Ocean City, New Jersey: Yoga Retreat, 1988.
Freeman, Mara. Kindling the Celtic Spirit. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2001.
Johari, Harish. Dhanwantari: A Complete Guide to Ayurvedic Life. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press, 1998.
Lad, Vasant. The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies. New York: Harmony Books, 1998