When I first started doing yoga in 2002, I practiced typically two or three times a week, for an hour and a half each time. Between driving to and from the studio, showering, etc., this was a considerable level of dedication for me, and I certainly thought of myself at the time as someone who took yoga seriously and who practiced regularly. Now, however, if I practice any less than five times a week, I feel as if I’ve fallen off the wagon and that something has gone badly awry. Certainly, there are advantages to even practicing yoga just once every week or two, but one’s practice — and one’s life, I claim — can change dramatically when yoga becomes a cornerstone of one’s daily routine.
Here’s a brief account of my own personal experiences with different practice schedules. I know that each of us is at a different point in his/her own personal yoga journey, so I don’t mean to suggest that everyone should be nuts about practicing every day like some of us. But I hope that it will be of interest to some readers to see how dramatically the role of yoga changes in one’s life when it moves from being a mere activity to a way of life.
1 yoga session per week: Practicing once a week is enough to wake up the body a little bit and to get a taste of what it is to really be alive and awake. As a complement to other kinds of exercise or similarly “conscious” activity, a once-a-week yoga practice might be a good way to start paying attention to one’s physical self and one’s overall health. A once-a-week practice is also a good way to relieve some stress and to start dealing with any badly wound-up knots and/or tightness in one’s muscles and joints.
2-3 yoga sessions per week: When I was practicing 2-3 times a week, I found myself starting to feel more alert and needing less sleep overall. I saw my overall stress level drop and I felt my body and mind slowly becoming both stronger and generally more at ease.
4-5 yoga sessions per week: Practicing 4-5 times a week, I found myself progressing in my asana practice in very noticeable ways. I think 5 classes per week is the threshold where yoga goes from being a mere activity to a way of life. Besides engaging in some peculiar behaviors, such as doing Ardha Chandrasana while browsing books in the library, I found that doing yoga this much really started to have noticeable effects in all aspects of my life. I began to be much more aware of my physical and mental states, and, as a result, was able to take better care of myself. I also found my immune system was considerably stronger, and I was able to fight off nascent colds and other illnesses rather quickly.
6+ yoga sessions per week: Practicing almost every day, sometimes twice a day, I found my asana practice and my physical body undergo a transformation that is still quite remarkable to me even now. Also, when I practice this much, my overall energy level soars, I can get by with much less sleep, and I find myself able to concentrate and focus much more intensely and for longer periods of time. For about the last two years of my life, I have literally scheduled my days around yoga, and if I happen to miss yoga on a particular day, I feel as if I have neglected to do something as essential to my well-being as eating or sleeping. The “spiritual” changes are perhaps even more pronounced than the physical ones. When I do yoga this frequently, there’s a little more hop in my step, I’m less prone to becoming depressed or anxious, and I have generally a more positive attitude about everything. I am, in every sense of the expression, a different person when I practice yoga almost every day.
So, in response to the question, “How often should one practice?”, I would say that it depends. If you find that 2-3 times a week is onerous and tiresome, then do yoga less. If you find that 2-3 times a week is woefully not enough, then step it up and try to do it more often. In the end, I think each of us will practice yoga as often, and with as much intensity, as is befitting to us given our own personal situations, our schedules, and our connection with the practice itself. If yoga is just a kind of exercise, which it is for most of us in the beginning, then it may be quite a task to do it every single day. But if/when yoga comes to be a living embodiment of a larger philosophy of life, then it becomes an essential part of each day, and to go without it for too long is to give up something not just important, but vital, to who we are.