If you’ve been thinking about getting into QiGong the combined discipline of gentle exercise and meditation to better manage Qi (or “life energy”) in your body, then you may be wondering when’s the best time to set aside time for practice.
What is the best time of the day to do QiGong? The best time to do QiGong is whatever time suits you the most. While there are advantages for QiGong in the morning, the afternoon can be just as good if it fits around your schedule. If possible, avoid QiGong just before bed because you might fall asleep halfway, or it leaves you full of energy unable to sleep.
Let’s look at what the science says about practice times so that you can create the best possible schedule for yourself!
The Best Time To Do QiGong – According To Practitioners And Teachers
First, let’s take a look at the advice provided by those who practice QiGong. Not so that we can prove them right or wrong but to provide a balanced outlook.
The general advice seems to be “do it when you feel like” though there were some people who said you ought not to do the physical exercise within about 90 minutes after eating and you shouldn’t meditate until at least 3 hours after eating.
The rest recommend that you do the practice at a time of the day that suits you. They say that whenever you see the most benefit from your QiGong is when you should slot it into the day.
Can You Do QiGong At Night?
Yes, in fact, the practitioners of QiGong say that many people find the nighttime to be a great time to do QiGong because it helps to get them to sleep later on. Others, however, reported that they simply can’t do QiGong at night because it leaves them feeling wide awake and full of energy.
This is a matter of preference, if QiGong helps you get a good night’s sleep it’s a great time to do your practice, if, on the other hand, it leaves you with insomnia – you should probably choose another time of day to get your practice in.
The best way to find out is to experiment for yourself.
The Best Time To Do Exercise – According To Science
Let’s take a look at some scientific advice for the best time to exercise (one part of QiGong) and when it’s the best time to meditate (the other part of QiGong).
The Morning Workout
Many people swear by a good workout in the morning. Firstly, it means it’s done with before you have to get going with the rest of the day, this is really useful for people who have a busy schedule as it means that they know they’ve got their exercise done and don’t need to worry about accommodating it when things get more hectic.
There’s also something to be said for the fact that completing any exercise regime gives you a sense of accomplishment. Being able to tick something off your “to do” list first thing when you awake means that you can feel good about yourself.
You should also find that the endorphins generated from exercise make you feel good as you go about your day – endorphins are nature’s natural happy pill. Many also report feeling energized for the rest of the day.
It also means your schedule stays clear in the evenings. Many people who like to chill out with a book or go out with friends when they’re done with the day just don’t want to do exercise after the day is done, they want it out of the way as fast as possible.
What Does The Science Say?
Firstly there is a lot of science that supports the benefits of endorphin production. Grossman called them the “opiates for the masses” and demonstrated that they are, indeed, nature’s happy chemicals. Harber et al, determined that exercise does, indeed, produce these endorphins and that they have a very similar effect to opiates on the overall body.
They cause “immediate mood change” and can possibly alter your perception of pain. That sounds pretty good to us.
In addition to that an interesting study, “Neural Response to Pictures of Food After Exercise in Normal-Weight and Obese Women” by Hanlon et al found that there was another benefit to exercise early in the day, at least for women.
In their study they found that exercise made it easier for women to resist snacks and other food substances during the course of the day. That meant not only did these women burn calories while they exercised (the standard assumed benefit of exercise) but that they also took in fewer calories throughout the day. That meant that early morning exercise had a much bigger impact on weight loss than had been expected.
Not everyone needs to lose weight but given that more and more Americans are carrying a few extra pounds, this might be a very good argument in favor of a morning workout as opposed to one later on in the day.
What we don’t know, however, is the specific impact of QiGong practice. This is a very gentle form of exercise and it might not create strong effects in terms of endorphins or calorie resistance – that’s something that each individual practitioner would need to examine for themselves.
It may also be true that you can get better sleep at night with a morning workout. This paper on PubMed suggests that if you want to sleep well, you should get your exercise over and done with at about 7 a.m.!
Finally, if the guys were feeling left out on the weight loss front, they shouldn’t. Gonzalez at al. found that men who exercise in the mornings burn nearly 20% more calories all day long! That’s a huge benefit to early day exercise!
The Afternoon/Evening Workout
Now what about those of us that don’t feel like leaping out of bed at the crack of dawn and throwing ourselves into a physical workout? Will our QiGong practice fail to deliver any benefits? Or is there a case for working out later on in the day?
Well, the first case, obviously is that you can sleep in later. You may also find that you enjoy your day better with something to look forward to at the end of the day.
While there may be an “all day buzz” from the morning’s endorphin release, there’s going to be an all evening buzz from working out in the afternoon. There’s no specific relationship to when you exercise and endorphin release. It happens every time that you work out!
What Does The Science Say?
The paper “Different Effects of Heat Exposure Upon Exercise Performance in the Morning and Afternoon” by S Racinais suggests that there is an optimal time of day to get the highest level of physical performance in an exercise routine and he says it’s not the morning.
Your internal temperature increases as you go through the day and it peaks at about 4-6 p.m. as you hit your peak core temperature, your muscles, your enzymes and everything else in your body hit peak performance level. It’s rather like warming up an engine before going flat out.
It’s also thought that we uptake oxygen at the highest rate when we work out in the evening, which, theoretically, ought to mean that we can better use the resources available to our bodies during a workout.
Also, there’s an odd contradiction with the sleep theory from morning exercise, there is a study that shows that some people who exercise in the evening get better sleep than those who work out in the morning! Perhaps this is a real difference between “early birds” and “night owls”.
Thus, the science on exercise really supports the advice from QiGong practitioners when it comes to when to practice – “do it when it works best for you”.
The Best Time To Meditate – According To Science
Let’s turn to Psychology Today, which has helpfully broken down the four times of day that science recommends you meditate at and then the one time that it doesn’t.
Keep in mind here that unlike the recommendations on exercise which are fully backed with real scientific studies – these recommendations come from health professionals and are only substantiated by their experiences.
This is important for you to know because it means that you may find that some of these recommendations don’t work for you – if that’s the case, you can feel free to ignore them. That’s the joy of a practical approach to QiGong, you have total control over your practice.
First Thing In The Day: Regular Meditation
Laura Macuilka says that there’s a good reason to aim to regularly meditate in the mornings. It’s preparation for the day as a whole and allows you to determine the “feel of a day” by starting out on your best foot.
She says that it’s best to get your meditation done before you eat breakfast. This tallies with the recommendation of QiGong practitioners not to mediate just after eating. While she emphasizes the value of a long period of meditation, she also notes that beginners might be best off grabbing a few minutes of peace because even that’s better than nothing.
It can be a good idea to work up to long periods of meditation – it’s more challenging, than most people think it will be, to empty your mind and pay attention.
When You’re Stressed: When You Need It
The stress management specialist, Stacey Shipman, says that there’s never a bad time to meditate when you’re stressed. The moment that you start to feel like life is slipping away from you or that there don’t seem to be enough hours in the day – you should grab a chance to meditate.
This might seem silly – how will you get more time by spending some time meditating? But in reality, calming down and clearing your head will help you put the pressures into perspective and give you a way forward.
Lunch Hour: Daily Meditation Or Just Because You Want To
Stacey also recommend that you slip in some regular meditation at lunch times. This can help you maximize the benefits of meditation throughout the working day. It helps remove any stress you picked up during the morning and allows you to give your muscles a little room to breathe.
End Of The Day: Daily Practice
Laura, also likes to mediate at the end of each day on an ongoing basis. She says this helps to delineate the boundaries between the working day and the rest of your life. Work-life balance comes through knowing when work stops and life starts, right?
It also helps you stop taking work home with you in your head. Not the physical work but what Maureen said at the water cooler or the way Rob was disrespectful to you in front of the rest of the team but in a way that you didn’t feel you could complain about. In short, it stops things from eating away at your mental wellbeing.
Just Before Bed: A Bad Idea
So, the only time that the folks at Psychology Today don’t recommend meditating is just before you go to sleep. If you fall straight to sleep then you’re not meditating and the line between sleeping and relaxing your mind becomes blurred.
It may, initially, lead to better sleep but over time, you won’t get much benefit from meditating because it will just be sleeping.
The Best Time To Do QiGong – According To Science
There you have it. The best time to do QiGong according to the available science is “when you feel like it”! As that’s what the QiGong teachers say too, it appears that, happily, modern and ancient wisdom are in harmony!
The best time to do QiGong according to science as you can see tends to marry with the advice given by QiGong practitioners – do it at the time of day that best suits you. That’s going to be different for different people and that’s completely OK.
However, you shouldn’t meditate just before you go to sleep, meditating before you sleep can leave the body confused about how it should react to meditation and you start to sleep more often and meditate less and less, while this can be quite nice – it defeats the purpose of QiGong.