When I recently looked “behind the scenes” at my website’s blog, I took a look at the most popular search terms that visitors to my blog were using.
As a teacher who focuses on the anatomy of yoga (with a healthy dose of information on the business of yoga) I was interested to see that the most popular search terms lately don’t really have much to do with the anatomy of yoga but more the practice of yoga and practical questions about the practice itself. So, I thought I’d spend some time answering these questions.
How long does a yoga class last? This one made me chuckle because at first read, I thought what it meant was “how long, after you do yoga, will you feel the effects of it in the body?” But then I realized it was more basic than that. It’s simply asking, “How long are the classes?” This also made me chuckle because I can remember when I started teaching in 2003, the ONLY class length we offered was 90 minutes. Nowadays, it’s hard to find a class that lasts more than an hour and most classes run at 60 minutes or one hour and 15 minutes, tops. I think over the years, studios have found that most students want a shorter class because it cuts less into their schedule. Before I taught yoga and in my first year of regularly practicing, to take the 9 am on a Saturday would require I get up at 7:30, get to the studio by 8:15, stand in line and read a book while waiting to get into class. After taking the class and getting myself home, it’d be over 3 hours, start to finish! No one has that kind of time anymore and quite frankly, outside of the special workshop/bootcamp/ intermediate type class, there’s plenty of benefit you can get out of a 60 minute class.
Now, I will say that a friend of mine actually thinks 60 minutes is too long and there should be a 30 minute option! I think that’s not nearly enough time to warm up, push a little bit and then safely wind down, let alone work through all the planes of the body. So, I’d say 60 minutes is the standard and it’s a good target to use for scheduling purposes.
- Additional suggestions: I recently taught a class and one of the students by the end was overheated and dizzy. He had run to class and upon some questions as I was helping him, he stated he had not eaten since the afternoon before! People, please don’t run to your yoga class, especially if it’s warm/heated. Eat something (fruit, yogurt, string cheese, half a bagel, peanut butter on celery), get there 15 minutes before class (please, your teacher and fellow students will love you) take 5 minutes before class to close your eyes and catch your breath and then begin.
- Avoid class if you’re sick, hung over, just got off a flight (yes, I had that person pass out in class one time), ran a marathon the day before (had this one too.. I would say this could be ok if the class was not heated and the student advised the teacher beforehand of their status) or you haven’t eaten within the past 8 hours. If you’re unsure, ask the teacher when you get there.
- Oh and teachers, please be CPR and first aid certified. I have used it in more ways than one over the past 13 years. It’s well worth it, especially in today’s practice environment where in many cases, you’re the only staff person in the studio when you’re teaching.
When do you see results of doing yoga? Oh, the “results” question! This is a common one. So, if I said, “The goal of yoga is not to care about results?” would you say I was being obtuse? Probably. But you know, of course, that this is part of the paradox. It’s a lot like golf; the more you want the ball to go in the hole, the harder it is to get it in there! Once you stop caring about the end result and just focus on the process, the more you realize you’re getting where you want to go.
So, with that as the backdrop, let’s get down to some basics.
What kind of yoga are you doing and what “results” are you looking for? Make sure the kind of yoga you’re doing will set you up for success in terms of the results you want. So, want to de-stress and relax? Restorative yoga is a good fit. Want to build overall strength and conditioning? Power yoga would be a good pick. Want to learn the fundamentals, anatomy and alignment? Iyengar would be a good choice. Are you a beginner, just getting the hang of it? Look for a class that’s specifically billed for beginners.
There are lots of other classes but I think you get the general idea. If you have questions about the right “Class to Goal” match, talk to a few of the teachers at your local studio and see what they recommend.
Over the years, I’d say one of the most common questions I’ve gotten in this area is the “I want to lose weight. Is yoga a good way to do that?” Now, I’m sure you’ll get a different answer, depending on who you ask but I’ll tell you what I think, what I’ve experienced and what I’ve seen over years:
- If you practice yoga and do nothing to change your diet, you’ll most likely not lose weight.
- If you only practice restorative type yoga with no other exercise, you’ll most likely not lose weight.
- If you combine an active practice (60 minutes of active yoga, at least 3 times a week) with a healthy diet, you may lose weight.
- If you combine active yoga, 3 times a week, with a healthy diet and at least 2-3 segments of 30 minutes of pure cardiovascular exercise, you’ll really set yourself up for weight loss.
- All of these guidelines above might not get you the results you want, as everything is different based on the individual.
In general, I’d say the best way to come with a game plan is to consult with your general physician and come up with a plan together based on your specific considerations and overall health status.
How many times a week should I do yoga?
Oh, my! I love this question. This question really highlights for me how much I’ve changed as a teacher over the years. Back in the day, I’d have said, “More is better! 5-6 times a week with a day of rest!”
What I see now is that even yoga practice, done with attention to anatomy and alignment, can be detrimental if done just about every day with no other exercise practice mixed in. Now again, I must qualify as I did above by saying, “It depends on the person.” In fact, if you’re a teacher, I want you to keep this is in mind for every single piece of advice you offer to your students because it really matters. There are general rules and guidelines but they apply to people who have all levels of variation in their health, anatomy, mind/body connection and any other criteria you can think of. So, having said that (read: BIG disclaimer) what I’d say is that it’s great to balance a 2 or 3 times a week practice with something that’s less “on the hands” than yoga… so think running, cycling, swimming, free weights or a gym workout. Even mixing in one of those bootcamp style classes would be good. The name of the game is my mind is variety.
Why does this matter? Well, in my opinion, too much of anything can have negative effects. When we think of moving the body in the same way, the same sequence, day after day, it can create wear and tear in all the same places. When we balance our workouts with varied types of exercises, we challenge the body in different ways, the same muscles are used differently, we change our relationship to gravity instead of spending so much time on the hands and we use our brain and nervous system differently, which helps build coordination.
Now, keep in mind that yoga comes in various forms. I would highly recommend a few poses a day and daily meditation. You could use the poses to focus on areas of concern or to balance out the workout you’re doing that day. Daily meditation is an excellent way to “live your yoga” and bring the benefits of meditation to the mind and body on a regular basis.
S0, that’s it. I look forward to re-checking this information in the next few months to see how things have changed. Let me ask you though: What’s your biggest question about yoga practice or teaching? Leave it in the comments.
Thanks for reading!