by Kate Saal
This would be a very short post if the answer were merely “every day”.
It depends on what you mean by the question. Do you mean?
- How often should I take a yoga class?
- How often should I do the physical practice of yoga to get a benefit from it?
- If I practice more, will I “get better” faster?
- What is the least amount of time I can practice and still get a physical benefit?
- Why do you keep talking about the “physical practice?”
Is your head spinning yet?
Let’s start out with how many times a week you can safely practice yoga? (Here’s the gentle reminder that despite often being confused for one, in fact, I am not a doctor—please always consult your doctor before undertaking any physical activity.)
You know your body best. However, as a general rule of thumb, a healthy practice for vinyasa yoga is usually around 3-5 times a week. This gives you adequate time for rest. Rest is crucial to recover, get stronger and maintain your health. [Speaking of rest, it is okay to take an entire week off from time to time. You might find you come back feeling stronger on many levels.] Are there people who can practice 6 or 7 days a week without an issue? Absolutely. There are also people who practice twice a day. And this begs the question…
What is your purpose for practicing yoga?
If it’s to burn a few extra calories or get physically stronger then running and lifting weights are viable options. Many people come to practice to “get a workout”. And that’s a start. The physical benefits are merely fringe benefits. You get them like the extra lip balm I got when I recently bought a bottle of sunscreen. Rather than work that is focused outward, though, we are doing inward work. A workin.
People do get injured practicing yoga. It happens all of the time. Repetitive strain injury (RSI), (with other fun names like repetitive stress injury, cumulative trauma disorder and overuse syndrome to name a few,) can happen when you do repetitive tasks, like chaturanga over and over and over. The treatment for RSI is typically rest and/or strengthening exercises. Why do I bring this up? Because if you expect to “go hard”, “give it 110%” and do the “no pain, no gain” thing by practicing in a strenuous manner every day then expect to take a few months off every now and then for injury.
How about if you are able to only practice once a week? Yes you will benefit from such a practice, though the effect may not be the same. Doing too little can be the same as doing too much. The key is to find an amount of practice that feels balanced for you. Balance is critical, as is consistency. To get started, it’s helpful to make a commitment to practice regularly (3-5 times weekly) for a certain amount of weeks (4-6) and then re-evaluate. This gets you into the habit and lets you get stronger physically.
How long does it take to see results? I often say in class, give it 10 or 12—years. What? Yes you’ll start to see benefits almost immediately. Some experience a feeling of peace and relaxation after their first class…but this practice takes time. I have seen people completely change their body in a year. The work of the soul, the atman, takes a little longer. Expect to put some effort into this for a period of time.
Though yoga is known as a physical practice in the West, it was originally intended to connect you to your mind, body and spirit. This practice of being conscious and awake can help you live a richer and more fulfilling life.
The physical practice is the “way inside”; it’s the way we become present and bring awareness. There are many other ways in, such as meditation, chanting and mantra. The important point is get inside and become an observer of you. This will help you uncover and connect with your true and authentic self.
Once you get start to feel the benefits of a regular practice it is easy to forget what it was like before. A friend of mine recently came back to class after being gone for 6 weeks for work. She mentioned that she was surprised she had begun to feel depressed again. She forgot the calm her yoga practice afforded her.
To practice yoga, ultimately, is to move it beyond the four walls of a yoga studio, whether in Sacramento or elsewhere. To do justice to the practice means we live it—by showing up, connecting with others, offering a smile, a kind word, and sometimes by our presence alone. To practice is to be loving, compassionate and kind. Yoga, then, is something we practice all of the time.
For how long? For me, my practice is like eating and sleeping. It is something I do for my health and happiness, true, but also for my community and for the people I love. I practice to feel connected with everything and everyone and to feel the bigger love that is all around us. It is something I will do for the rest of my life.