Often as a teacher, I am asked by a student “how often should I practice my Yoga asana?” In my travels and interactions with other teachers, it is evident that it is a common question that is asked by students. Perhaps the most common response that I have heard teachers give is “practice as much as you feel you need” ie. listen to what your body is saying, or follow your common sense. Good advice. Did you ever wonder what was behind the “voices” and feelings of your body?Five Foundational Principles
In Exercise Physiology there are 5 foundational principles that are key to health and wellbeing as it pertains to exercise. You will see that they are as applicable to asana practice as they are to traditional forms of exercise.
Principle 1: Principle of Individual Differences
Because every body/mind is different, each person’s response to a Yoga asana practice will be different. The length of time between sessions will depend on what is going on for each individual yogini – how new they are to Yoga, their ability to connect brain and body, their level of fatigue, their level of stress, the amount of injury or scar tissue that exists in their body, and their age, are just a few factors. These factors will also influence the style of Yoga that a particular yogini is drawn to.
Principle 2: Principle of Overload
According to this principle, a yogini needs to apply a greater than normal stress on their body in order to adapt, change, strengthen. You can do this for yourself by increasing the length of time that you are in an asana, or increase the complexity of the asana that you are practicing. If you want to maintain the practice where it is at, then continue to practice your asanas as is.
Principle 3: Principle of Progression
This implies that there is an optimal level of overload for each of us. It is as important to rest and recover, as it is to increase the complexity or time in an asana. If a yogi increases the complexity of an asana or time in an asana too quickly there is a greater chance for injury and/or a reduced chance for improvement. When not following the principle of progression, it is possible to overtrain. You know that you are “overtraining” in your Yoga asana practice if you have the feeling of being washed out, tired, and dehydrated, have ongoing muscular pain, insomnia and an inability to relax.
Principle 4: Principle of Adaptation
According to this principle, the body adapts to the increased time or complexity of asana in a highly specific way. By repeating the asana practice over and over again the body adapts and the sequences, or individual asanas become easier to perform. Wasn’t it P. Jois who said, “Practice, practice, all is coming?” This principle explains why some beginning yogis are quite sore when starting a new Yoga program – no matter the Yoga style – and after doing it for a while, feel that there is much less muscle soreness associated with the program. As the yogi becomes comfortable with their Yoga practice, they will need to vary up the program to stay aligned with the Principle of Overload if they want to continue to improve their strength, flexibility, balance and stability.
A word of caution: As a teacher, be sure that that the new yogi is truly experiencing muscle soreness and not muscle pain. The two are quite different. If it is pain, then the student has gone “too far” and has gone into “overtraining” mode.