HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU DO YOGA?
Once a week or daily? Some thoughts to help you plan your practice.
How often do YOU practise yoga? Once per week, daily, only occasionally, when it fits the schedule? Don't worry, I'm not going to blame you for being lazybones! However, there are a few things you should consider when planning your schedule in order to get the most out of your yoga practice.
"How often should I practise?" is a common question when a new student signs up for a class. While we often hear or read that daily practice is best and essential for good results, I believe the answer is not that simple. First, we need to ask:
What is your status quo in terms of health and fitness?
What do you want to achieve with the help of yoga?
What do you expect - what do you think is yoga?
How much time are you able to invest?
The Status Quo – Where are you now?
You wouldn’t expect an overweight man who is totally new to running to do five to ten kilometres every single day, right? The same is for yoga.
Some people who make their way to our yoga classes arrive with significant health conditions: back pain and joint problems are quite common, but we also have students who suffer from anxiety, depression or chronic fatigue. For some of them, even a very gentle yoga practice of 60-75 minutes is a massive challenge, and despite all benefits they may need a full week to recover before they are able to give it another go.
Other people are quite fit and healthy, but due to other activities (work or sports) they are physically imbalanced and show a lack of spinal mobility, tight shoulders or restricted movement in the hips. For them, a weekly yoga class is nice, but to really improve their issues they should aim for three or four sessions per week plus short sets at home on days when they are not attending a group class.
Where on the scale are you? If you have never done yoga before or if you have some sort of health condition I would recommend starting on the rather gentle side and check your body’s feedback during and after the session. Once you feel ready for more - which may take months! - you may add another session to your week and perhaps increase intensity. This leads us to the next question:
The Goal – What do you want to achieve through yoga?
In general, we all do yoga to improve our health and wellbeing. Although numerous students stumble into a yoga class more out of curiosity, there are usually underlying wishes or visions which make them try a session.
When talking to a new student it often turns out that they would like to get rid of back or neck pain or want to de-stress. Others are after more flexibility, be it just because they want to be able to touch their toes and do their shoelaces properly, or because they realise that their tight hamstrings make it difficult to progress in athletics or make them prone to injuries.
All are valid reasons, and yoga can assist you along the way - as long as you commit to a regular practice. If you are not quite certain why you do yoga, or why you consider starting yoga, it can help to write down what you want to achieve, and keep that piece of paper as a reminder for yourself - this can help you to stay on track. There is no right or wrong. If you only attend a class once a month to catch up with a friend, that’s fine, too, but do it!
Expectations – What do you think is yoga?
Many people think of yoga as a system of body postures (asanas) that help improve flexibility and mobility, because this is what you usually see in magazines and on social media. Yes, the practice of yoga includes postures and movements, but this is only part of the story. And, yoga does not equal yoga!
While the physical aspect of yoga is what most people start with, you should be aware that there are great differences in what’s on offer. Some yoga styles such as Restorative yoga or Yin yoga are extremely slow paced, focusing on releasing tension and nurturing the nervous system. Other styles are fast and/or practised in hot rooms in order to raise your heart rate and promote detoxification through sweating.
Either way, the physical practice is only one part of the yoga system. Depending on the style or tradition you follow, after a while of regular practice you may discover the benefits of conscious breathing, intentional resting, meditation and a positive mindset. You may also notice greater body- and self-awareness and get a better understanding of what is happening in your environment. Suddenly, the practice is not longer bound to the mat in the yoga room but is seeping into your day-to-day life!
Time – How much time are you able and willing to invest?
When it comes to attending classes, we need to acknowledge that one day only has 24 hours, and a week has no more than seven days. Work and family require their time, and so does sleep (yes – don’t cut your sleep short!). The rest depends on what we prioritise.
Singing in the choir fills you with joy and is a chance for you to socialise with friends? Keep going! You are doing some further education after hours in order to raise your chances to get a better job? Yes, do so – only keep in mind that your brain needs some resting time in-between to digest what you have learned, and your body is grateful for some movement after several hours at the desk. You are an active person who plays sports, but you are prone to injuries and/or feel exhausted after the training sessions? Perhaps you should scale down here and replace one or two training sessions with slow, mindful yoga and meditation. The art is to find the best possible balance within your commitments.
From my own experience I can say that a regular yoga practice – on the mat – can help you become better and make better choices in all areas of life. So, don’t make your yoga sessions the first thing to go when time is scarce. A rule of thumb is:
When you think you don’t have the time is when you need it the most!
Consistency is the key!
Clearly, there is no one-fits-all approach. How much yoga is best for you depends on many individual factors. I don’t think it’s necessary to attend classes daily – unless you want to, and your body and schedule allow it. After all, the group classes at the studio are only one way to practise yoga. They are the foundations where you learn and explore different techniques, and they are your anchors that keep you on track. The one thing you must keep in mind is:
Going back to our runner, if he only trains occasionally, with several months between his runs, he will start from scratch each time and potentially never really enjoy it as he can’t see any progress.
Through consistency – be it once a month or every day - your yoga practice on the mat eventually turns into “applied yoga”: You begin to use the concepts and tools of yoga in a different context outside the yoga room – at work when you use breathing techniques to clear your mind, at home when you sit down with a cup of tea before bedtime and reflect your day, discovering that there is a lot you can be grateful for, or when practising mindful movement while performing soccer drills.
When you’ve come to that point, you finally do yoga daily!