As an addendum to my series on tips for new yoga students (see the full series here), I thought I’d comment on not just the technical aspects of finding a yoga class and what to bring to it, but how often to practice. Last week in my teacher training session, J mentioned that this question, “How often should I do yoga?”, is one of the most frequent questions he gets. The answer, of course, is different for every person (much to the dismay of J’s questioners, who all wanted a specific answer!).
How often should you practice yoga? It mostly depends on what you hope to get from your yoga practice, and on your other commitments and responsibilities as well. If you want to make real changes in your physical health or in your spirituality, you should practice as often as possible. Physically, yoga can have real benefits on the body, such as increased strength, flexibility, and stamina, but you have to practice regularly to reap those benefits. Similarly, if you’re using yoga as a part of your spiritual practice, perhaps with meditation, you should also try to practice as often as possible – you’re training your mind to be calmer and more focused, the same way you’re training your body to be more flexible, and the results will only come with continued practice and work.
If you really want to make progress with yoga, you’ll find a way to practice yoga every day – with daily practice you’ll see results much more quickly. For those of us with busy schedules (for example, me, and pretty much everyone else), this can be really hard to do. If you want to make yoga a part of your life, it’s important to make room in your day to do it; on the flip side, practicing yoga all the time and letting your other obligations slide is no good either. Personally, I don’t try to force myself into a full hour-long yoga practice every day (although it would be wonderful if I could – when I do practice yoga more frequently, I feel stronger and more energetic). Instead, I try to balance my yoga practice with the rest of my life. Some days I can fit in a big practice, some days I manage 25 minutes, some days I do a few quick sun salutations, and other days I’m proud I can squeeze in a five-minute meditation. What’s important is deciding to stick with it and then making some room for yoga somewhere!
In the past, when I was practicing yoga more casually, I attended vinyasa yoga classes twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for a good two years. During that time I definitely did notice that my flexibility and strength were improving, as was my technical ability to do the physical poses. Twice or three times a week seems like it could probably be a good compromise for beginning yoga students. Then, later on, you might choose to deepen your practice.
If you’re truly busy (and I’ve been there this year!), you want to try to get to yoga class once a week. Say to yourself, “Monday! Monday is yoga night!”, and then build a little wall around Mondays in your schedule. Make it a big defensive wall with a moat, even. If you’re that swamped, you need that little sliver of time to yourself, and if you don’t defend it, nobody will and you’ll lose it. Set your alarm to remind you to practice, schedule the time in Outlook and set up email reminders so you’ll leave the house on time – whatever you need to do to make it happen. Remember that this is for yourself, to keep you healthy so you can keep on giving to all the people you love. At this point, maybe yoga becomes less a fitness thing than a sanity thing, or a social “the one night I see my friends” thing, and that’s okay. Just keep it going, and keep it regular. If you have that sliver of regular practice in your life, it will be easier to expand that into a larger practice later on when things calm down.
The last answer, the answer that people don’t want to hear, is that if you don’t keep a regular practice, you won’t make progress with yoga. Period. It’s just like lifting weights or kicking soccer balls or practicing ballet dancing or even going to Bible study: if you want to make progress, to deepen your skill and knowledge, you have to practice. Maybe right now your life is so hectic that you can’t think about a regular yoga practice; maybe you’re moving to a new city and now isn’t the time for you. Heck, since starting to practice yoga eight years ago, I’ve moved six times, and three of those moves were interstate. I feel you. But if it’s important to you, find the time. Make the time for yourself. The longer you let your practice go, the harder it will be to pick it back up and get back into a regular rhythm.
When you ask, “How often should I do yoga?”, the answer should be, “As often as is practical for you.” Think through your commitments and your schedule and find a time that you can dedicate to your yoga practice, and then stick with it!
Here’s another yoga teacher’s viewpoint on how often to practice.