Is it true that we should all be yoga-ing every single day, or is a weekly yoga class enough?
That all depends on what your definition of yoga is and what you want to get from your yoga practice.
Many people think of yoga as pulling on tight leggings, getting on a yoga mat and doing some stretching. Maybe they do it at home, or in a class at a yoga studio. Either way, those movements on the mat are what they consider yoga to be. And these people are right. That is a type of yoga and one way of practicing. In the yoga community, we call that type of physical yoga practice as practicing yoga asanas. (Learn more about asana and The 8 Limbs of Yoga.)
How often you might want to practice asanas really depends on your personal goals. If you are using your physical yoga practice as a way of releasing tight muscles, improving your body-mind connection or enhancing an existing training regiment, practicing yoga once or twice per week will make a positive impact on your overall well-being. In addition to the physical benefits, you’re likely to gain some of the mental and emotional benefits as well.
If your intention is to practice more challenging asanas or continue to increase your flexibility then a more regular practice is needed. Practicing three to four times per week will accelerate your progress. In fact, some traditional Ashtanga yogis recommend six days per week of physical asana practice. If you plan to follow this advice, definitely build up to it gradually by steadily increasing your frequency of practice at a rate that feels good to you. This will give your body and mind a chance to adjust to your new routine and will help prevent injuries.
However, this misses an often overlooked truth about yoga. Yoga is much more than the physical asanas. It is a mental, emotional and spiritual discipline that includes everything from meditation, pranayama and your behavior off the mat in addition to asana practice. (Learn more about The Practice of Pranayama and Trusting the Practice of Meditation.) Once you start exploring yoga deeply, it becomes more difficult to compartmentalize it as something that happens only on your yoga mat. Yoga is a way of life, some would even say that yoga is life.
Having said that, I believe that no one reason to start yoga is “better” than any other. I don't mind if people come to my yoga classes to heal their back pain, relieve stress or because they want to do challenging asanas. The beauty of yoga is that whatever reason we show up for, it works its magic on us. If you’re attending class for the physical practice, the mindfulness aspect will enhance your physical experience. Many people are surprised when they feel an emotional connection to the asana practice. You could be in class to learn arm balances and discover that before your feet can leave the ground you need to face fear, self-doubt or frustration.
When I first began practicing yoga, my goal was to regain flexibility after an injury I had sustained through over-exercising. I didn’t consider myself to be the slightest bit spiritual and I didn’t think yoga would be challenging enough to hold my interest for long. But yoga has a way of presenting the lessons and supporting the development that you need right in the moment. It gets under your skin and gives you more than you asked for.
It’s this quality which makes the question of how often you should practice somewhat meaningless. Once you get into yoga, you’ll find yourself practicing it all the time, often without intending to. From automatically adjusting your posture as you sit at the computer, to noticing your impulse to anger when someone disagrees with you and taking a deep breath instead. It’s all yoga and it’s all valuable. Trust the process and know that the more you practice the many forms of yoga, the more yoga will give you what you need.