A frequent question from new Yoga students and experienced ones is, “How often should I practice Yoga?” A great question and an interesting one.
Everyone practices Yoga for a variety of reasons. News and research tell us that Yoga is helpful for back pain, cardiovascular health, stress and anxiety, and positive self-image just to name a few benefits (Huffington Post – The New Science of the Health Benefits of Yoga). The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali tell us that Yoga is “retraining the modifications of the mind.” To be clear – our contemporary understanding of yoga is primarily focused on the physical practice of asanas (postures), while the understanding conveyed by the Sutras (400 CE) was that Yoga was the attainment of a state of Samadhi, or unity with the universal truth or divine.
OK… So you are thinking, “Seriously, how often should I practice Yoga?” Well, it depends. In Sutras 1.21 – 1.22 Patanjali tells us that, “Those who pursue their practices with intensity of feeling, vigor, and firm conviction achieve concentration and the fruits thereof more quickly, compared to those of medium or lesser intensity. For those with intense practices and intense conviction, there are three more subdivisions of practice, those of mild intensity, medium intensity, and intense intensity.” (SwamiJ.com). Essentially, my understanding is that if one devotes much time, effort, and conviction to practicing, then the fruits of their efforts are close at hand. On the other hand, if one has little time and does practices with less intensity, but has a strong conviction then the fruits of their efforts are available and may take a little longer to attain.
For further clarity, one should understand that the practice of yoga is not limited to the asanas or physical postures, that in Raja Yoga (The one most recognized paths of yoga in the US) there are 8 limbs. These 8 limbs are:
1) Yamas – 5 moral restraints focused on out interactions with the world around us.
2) Niyamas – 5 observances focused on duties towards ourselves
3) Asana – Postures
4) Pranayama- Breath work / control
5) Pratyahara – With drawl of the senses
6) Dharana – Focused concentration
7) Dhyana – Meditative absorption
8) Samadhi – Bliss or enlightenment
Therefore, depending on the fruits that you hope to reap, you may choose to focus your efforts on any of the above. The important thing is that you do so with conviction, and with the greatest amount of effort and time that you have available.
We live in a prescriptive society where we are accustomed to being told how often to do things, how hard to do them, and how long. Think of FIT in exercise terms (Frequency, Intensity, Time). Yoga is not prescriptive, but an invitation for self-inquiry, and in my mind, that is what makes it so effective and powerful. As you embrace the practices of yoga (See the 8 limbs above), you will find that you become more and more aware of the subtle messages that your body, mind, and spirit are offering you. You will have the answers for “How often should I practice Yoga, and how should I practice Yoga.” As Yoga Teachers, we are available to shine a light and help dispel the shadows to help you along your path.
tivra samvega asannah. mridu madhya adhimatra tatah api visheshah. – Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1.21 – 1.22
Translation – “It [victory over mind] is close to those with intense desire. It is very close to those who are charged with the highest degree of intense desire, and even that intensity could be mild, intermediate, or supreme.”
~ Yoga International
At Posabilities we are proud to offer a variety of options for your path to health, well-being, and balance including Yoga, Yoga Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Thai Yoga Massage! If you have any questions about any of these services, please do not hesitate to contact us!
By Katey Hawes, MS, PT, C-IAYT, E-RYT500, owner and founder of Posabilities, Inc. You may find her at Facebook.com/posabilities4u, Twitter @Posabilities4u, and Instagram.