Increased cardiovascular efficiency, breath hold time and endurance; increased social skills and well being; improved muscular skeletal flexibility and range of motion, balance, strength and co-ordination; improved sleep patterns, concentration, memory, attention and mood; decreased respiratory rate, glucose, sodium and total cholesterol; and we’re just getting started. The numerous physiological, psychological and biochemical benefits of yoga are well documented. But how long do we need to spend on the mat in order to reap the benefits of practicing yoga? How do we know how much yoga is enough?
Years ago I fell out of the habit of practicing yoga. For me, a yoga practice had always meant at least an hour on the mat every morning. When I found myself in a situation where finding that hour in the morning was difficult I simply stopped practicing all together. I didn't do 10 minutes in the morning. I didn't do an hour in the evening. I did no yoga. None. In order to get back into a daily habit and work on rebuilding my practice, I had to first change my idea of what a daily practice meant.
It is generally appreciated that in order to achieve the full range of benefits from yoga one should have a daily practice of 45-90 minutes. However, even a daily practice off 15 - 20 minutes is beneficial.
Rama Berch writes that a moderate amount of yoga, 45 minutes a day including meditation is required in order to live the inner peace that comes from yoga practice. If you wish for a truly transformational experience from your yoga practice at least an hour a day (and no more than 3) is prescribed.(1)
Luckily, for those who don’t have 3 hours (or even 45 minutes) a day, we can still gain benefits from attending a weekly class, or practicing at home for 20 minutes a day. This is all that is required to recover from daily stresses and restore balance to your life. (1)
Like many things, the key to a successful yoga practice is consistency. It's very easy to let your practice fall to the wayside when there are a million other things to do, but when we don't have time to do yoga is when we need to do yoga the most! Edith Howell believes that even if your practice is only 10-15 minutes, daily (or nearly everyday) practice will aid in building concentration, flexibility, and will power. “The greatest and longest – lasting benefits are achieved when at least 3-4 asanas are done every day". (2)
Swami Sivananda also stresses the importance of daily practice and recommends yoga everyday, again, even if it’s only for 15 minutes. “An ounce of practice is better than a ton of theory… and a day with yoga is better than one without”.(3)
So, creating space for regular practice is more beneficial than rare or sporadic extended sessions.
For me, the keys to maintaining a healthy practice are consistency and self kindness. If I can't bear to get on the mat, I get on the mat anyway and I just start slowly. Sometimes I start with some gentle stretches and before too long my mood changes and my practice takes off. But sometimes I just lie there, and on these days I'm not hard on myself. I tell myself that it's a bad day, and that it will be better tomorrow. But I still show up. I still get on the mat.
My motivation lies in the fact that I feel better on the days I practice than on the days I don't. I walk taller, I feel more balanced, I'm more inclined to want to feed myself good healthy meals and drink more water, I sleep better, I move more fluidly, I feel stronger, and I achieve much more on days that begin with a yoga practice.
If time limitations are something that has been holding you back from beginning or maintaining a regular practice, now is the time to change that! Give yourself 10 minutes in the morning (and again in the evening, if you can) to run through some gentle poses and then build from there!