You did it. You stepped foot in the yoga studio and took your first class. You feel great, but now you wonder — how often should you practice each week?
It's not just beginners who ponder the question; those with some yoga experience under their belt also want to know how much yoga to do to reap the real benefits.
Not surprisingly, the answer to the question depends on a variety of factors. You must consider your goals in practicing yoga, what a practice looks like to you and whether committing to a certain number of practices inspires or burdens you. Ultimately, you have to find the right answer for yourself — and even that right answer may change as you do.
What's Your Goal?
People come to yoga for a variety of reasons. For some, it's at the advice of a health care provider to help with back or body pain. For others, it's a recommendation from a mental health specialist to help ease anxiety or depression.
Certain yogis are intrigued by the spiritual teachings and the possibility that regular practice could help train the mind to trust and let go. You might also aspire to become strong and flexible enough to perform some of the awe-inspiring poses, such as King Dancer or Scorpion. You might seek yoga as an adjunct to other physical fitness training, whether you're an athlete or a weekend warrior. Maybe you just find yoga makes you feel good.
Once you understand your motivation for practice, you'll have a better idea as to how often you should practice weekly.
If you seek mental solace, a short daily practice to clear your mind and recite a few mantras that will help you ease anxiety might be the answer. For those who are already quite active with sports practice or other workouts, once or twice per week on "easy" training days might be enough. If you're a newbie who's come to yoga to heal a sore back, two to three times per week could be the proper prescription.
A yogi who wants to master complex postures and become immersed in the teachings of mantras, meditation and pranayama might commit to a longer daily practice to reinforce their commitment.
Are You a Planner?
Some avid yogis practice daily; they appreciate the discipline and ritual of the habit. Other people don't do as well with such a rigid routine. If you find that setting a daily practice plan only makes you more stressed out because you can't stick to it, then perhaps that's not the right approach for you.
You might find that some weeks you feel like going to yoga four times, and the next, life only allows you to get to two. That's OK, too. If you know that without a "plan," you'll likely never make it to the mat, you can set a challenging, but achievable three practices-per-week goal. Three practices are usually helpful in improving your flexibility and strength, but fit into most people's busy schedules.
What Does a Practice Look Like to You?
When you determine how often you're going to do yoga, also ask yourself what you mean by "doing" yoga. Are you talking about a 90-minute hot yoga class, a 60-minute vigorous vinyasa flow or 15 minutes of seated poses and meditation?
Any yoga is going to do you some good, but if just don't feel like it counts unless you're practicing an hour or longer at a vigorous, flowing pace, then you might not be able to commit to more than just two to three practices per week.
If you do aim to practice every day, a healthy yogi will vary the focus throughout the week. Some practices may be an active flow, others may be a calming restorative or Yin practice. One morning, your practice might consist of 10 minutes of simple Sun Salutations. The variation keeps your body healthy and helps you avoid burn out. Just like any exercise system that calls for a mix of challenging days, rest days and easy days, so should your yoga practice.
What Will Your Life Allow?
The beauty of yoga is that it welcomes anyone. It's not just for the flexible and active; people restricted by injury, infirmity or age can still join in. How often you practice may change with your life's journey.
For example, when you're young and agile, you might commit to a regular, vigorous practice five times per week. However, as family obligations, job duties and life circumstances take more prominence, you may reduce your regular practice to just twice per week.
As you get older, a surrendering restorative practice may replace your frequent rapid flows. And, if you're an athlete, you might find that you practice more often when you're in the off season, and cut back in the competitive season as sport-specific training takes precedence.