Fitness / Yoga

How Do I Start a Regular Yoga Practice?

All your questions about frequency, duration, and results of a steady yoga practice—answered.

If you’re ready to add yoga to your workout routine or deepen your yoga practice in general, you may wonder how much time you need to spend on your mat to experience the physical and mental benefits. Well, it depends. Studies show that a regular yoga practice can improve muscle strength, promote good posture, increase balance, and help flexibility. It can also boost your immune system and reduce your risk of symptoms related to chronic health conditions. But whether you practice once in a blue moon or every single day, here’s what a slew of experts suggest for both beginners and established yogis.

If I’m brand new to yoga, how many times a week should I aim to practice?

Practicing once or twice a week is the best place to start to incorporate yoga workouts into your life without getting overwhelmed or intimidated.

“There is no magic formula to how often you need to practice,” says yoga teacher Mary McCarthy. “Yoga is a personal practice and can be practiced on and off a yoga mat, but it is a good idea to try to go at least once a week as a beginner. You may want to start in a yoga studio or with an experienced yoga teacher. [He or she] can help guide you into the poses and make corrections, so you can avoid injuries. Practicing at home is also very beneficial, and many students take online classes or use a book.”

Janis Isaman, owner of a Calgary-based studio, says to use common sense. If you’re physically active, jumping into a daily yoga practice may be no big deal. If you’re brand new to working out or attempting to get back in shape, you may want to begin with a few times a week.

“I find that new students who practice yoga at least three times a week start to see changes in their body, in terms of strength and flexibility,” says yoga instructor Shawn Radcliffe. “But if you only have time for one class a week and can do it consistently, don’t get stressed about not doing more.”

Does it matter how long each yoga session is?

Isaman says there aren’t any rules about how long a yoga practice should be. Generally, though, studio options last anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes. That doesn’t mean you always have to practice that long, though. Doing a little bit of yoga every day is better than an hour once a month.

“I believe in frequency over duration as a way to rewire the body and the nervous system,” says Tiffany Cruikshank, registered yoga teacher and founder of Yoga Medicine. “You want to find a length that allows you time to drop into your practice and get the most out of it and … that you can fit into your schedule. That could be anything from 20 to 90 minutes.”

Lindsay McClelland, who teaches yoga at Revolution Studio in Houston, Texas, also recommends consistency because it helps create a sense of routine. And Radcliffe notes that beginners in particular may benefit from shorter sessions at first. They can focus on learning a couple poses at a time and stay motivated to stick with a yoga practice.

Julia McCann, a certified hatha yoga teacher in Virginia, adds that it depends on your goals. For example, longer sessions lead to more physical and mental endurance. And shorter, more frequent ones can help eliminate tension or pain in the body.

“Mixing two to three long classes with short yoga routines that you can do every day is a wonderful way to quickly learn and advance your yoga practice,” explains California-based yoga therapist and teacher Huma Gruaz. “If you fully focus on the session and keep the mind-body connection, you will be able to increase your flexibility, focus, and mental sharpness even after the shorter sessions.”

Is it safe to do yoga every day?

It takes a few months for your muscles and joints to get accustomed to the physical practice of yoga, Radcliffe says. So adding rest days to your routine is ideal to avoid a repetitive motion injury. It does depend on your preferred style of yoga, too. Ashtanga or power vinyasa is harder on the body than a more gentle type.

“Hatha, yin, and restorative yoga are safe to do everyday since they focus on stretching, breathing, opening the hips, and realigning the shoulders and spine,” says Miriam Amselem, yoga instructor, fitness trainer, and holistic nutritionist. “All these forms of yoga practice aim to increase strength and flexibility; however, they vary from one person to another.”

“The bigger question is: Can you sustainably do yoga every day?” Isaman asks. “Do you have the time and interest to do so on a longer-term basis? I generally prefer people do it one to three times a week for years than do a 30-day challenge, burn out, and quit after a month.”

Listen to your body, McClelland recommends, and modify poses as needed based on your comfort level. McCarthy agrees. She points out that your practice will ebb and flow based on daily changes in your mind, body, and spirit.

When will I start seeing results, in terms of strength and flexibility, with a regular yoga practice?

Most people start fitness routines looking for results—physically and mentally. Yoga, on the other hand, is more about what you learn about yourself and your body along the way. “You will get results after the first class,” Isaman says. “Those results may not be what you are looking for in terms of dramatic gains, but every class will generate results.”

“It really depends on the style of yoga you’re practicing and what that style emphasizes,” McClelland says. “You’ll likely see faster results in strength with a more power-based practice, while flexibility and mobility will be emphasized more in a yin-style class. I typically see students make progress after about a month of a regular yoga practice.”

“Every [individual] body will respond at a different pace,” Cruikshank says. “Tangible strength changes, like anything, should take about five to eight weeks with regular practice. Flexibility changes can vary a lot from person to person, though. Most people, however, feel some changes … the moment they step off their mat. Oftentimes, half of the battle is finding a class that’s right for you and your goals. Keep trying until you find a class and a teacher that suit your needs and your preference.”

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