This is probably the question I get asked the most at the studio: “How often do I need to do yoga in order to see benefits?”
Now, while I always give a diplomatic answer of “well, any yoga is better than no yoga”, which is most certainly true, let’s get real here.
Most people are drawn to yoga to become more flexible. The vast majority of our members want to alleviate stiffness caused by a lifetime of neglecting their flexibility. We are all conscious of the need to build strength, improve our cardiovascular fitness and burn calories, so we make time for activities like the gym, running, football and other sports, but flexibility training for most of us is at best, a quick few-second-long stretch at the end of a workout or a match.
And then, somewhere down the line, we realise we’re unable to put our shoes on without having to sit down, or we develop a bad back or a sporting injury and yoga is recommended to increase our suppleness or simply for rehabilitation, so we take our first class.
It’s no surprise that the average age of members at the yoga studio is 35-55, because it’s later on in life, after years of pounding treadmills and sitting hunched over laptops, that we begin to experience problems. And, in these cases, yoga can be an absolute game changer, but here’s the hard truth, a class a week may not cut it. Here’s 5 reasons why:
1. You need to get the balance right
If you’re going to the gym three of four times a week, but are coming to yoga just once, improvements to your flexibility will be slow. Every time you run or cycle you are tightening your muscles. If you do that three times a week but you only stretch them once a week, it’s easy to see how your flexibility will forever be compromised.
2. You need to retrain your body and that takes time and effort
We move our bodies in habitual ways all day, every day. For most of us, we sit – working, driving, eating, relaxing and then, if we favour cycling for fitness for example, we continue to sit. Which means on a daily basis we are using the same muscles time and time again. The only daily activity we do which isn’t sitting is walking. And then, if we run, again we are using the same muscles and moving in the same way just at a quicker pace.
A yoga class is one of the only workouts that requires you to use all muscles. It forces you to move your body in a way that you don’t in every day life. Using under-utilised muscles is hard as they’re weak. It takes time to develop your body to the point whereby the shapes you make in a yoga class (think backbends) are as easy as the ones you spend countless hours performing every day (think hunching over a desk). I once had a conversation with a guy who said he found doing reverse tabletop really hard and he couldn’t understand why as he was strong and fit. I politely pointed out that that pose required flexibility and strength in muscles that he was neglecting on a daily basis simply due to his lifestyle – e.g. strong glutes and open hip flexors, chest and shoulders. A reverse tabletop is literally the counter pose to sitting at a desk all day and if all you ever do is sit and hunch (and his passion was also cycling) and you never train your body in reverse tabletop, why would you be able to do it?
3. Seeing progress is a motivator
We are all motivated by achievement. So if we are going to invest time in something, we want to feel that we are getting better at it. If you only do yoga once a week, your progress will be slow and accordingly you may lose motivation. Taking classes more frequently will enable you to progress at a faster pace which will boost your motivation.
4. It takes time to build a habit
There are a number of studies out there that talk about how often you have to do something for it to become a habit. Once something is a habit it becomes part of your every day rather than something you have to motivate yourself to do. So, you tell yourself that you just do yoga once a week on a Tuesday. Then Tuesday rolls around and something comes up at work, or one of your kids is sick and you can’t make class. You miss class that week and the habit is broken. If you were regularly coming two or more times a week, the odd missed session wouldn’t break the habit.
Your yoga workout should be the workout you prioritise above all others
While I would never tell you to give up the gym or to stop running, the reality is your yoga workout is the one workout you should prioritise over all others as it’s the one your body really needs. Yoga is the only workout that directly addresses the mental and physical problems created by the lives we lead today. It improves your balance (which becomes increasingly important as we age), it develops your strength (in a super safe, low-impact way as the only resistance you use is your own body weight), it improves your mental focus and your ability to concentrate, it reduces your stress and anxiety, it takes your joints through a full range of movement and keeps them healthy, it can heal (and prevent a bad back), it changes your brain chemistry (for the good) and makes you feel happier and more content, I could go on but hopefully you get the point.
So no more excuses. Let’s make it to yoga today!