How often should I practice yoga?
Have you been following our series of articles on the yoga survey project? Then you know we’ve been talking about the benefits of doing a yoga practice. It turns out that yoga practitioners experience a lot of benefit from their practice. Practitioners reported physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational benefits of doing a yoga practice. They even reported that their yoga practice often contributed to healing from a pain or injury in their body. You’re not surprised, right?
Is there a right way to practice yoga?
One of the things that we were hoping to learn from our survey project was: Is there a way that we can do our practice which will increase the probability of experiencing benefits? Is there an optimal duration of an individual practice? What about a best time of day to practice? Is there a frequency of yoga practice that is most advantageous? Or, are the benefits of yoga asana derived from the synergistic nature of the many elements that come together when we practice?
This is important to know. If practitioners of yoga are seeking specific benefits and something about the way they practice could make it more likely for them to experience those benefits, then they would be best served to practice in those ways. Likewise, if teachers of yoga are intending to share the path to certain experiences, which are more likely under certain contexts, then they could be better teachers if they knew what those contexts were. The traditional hatha yoga text, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, suggests the following: A practice duration of a minimum of 30 minutes is important. A daily frequency of yoga practice is necessary. And it says that early morning practice done an hour and a half before sunrise is preferred over other times of day.
Let’s find out what our survey said!
Just as we discussed with respect to yoga and injuries, we know that our practice happens under multiple contextual situations all at the same time. For example, we practice for a certain number of minutes in an individual practice. We practice at a frequency of a particular number of days per week. And we practice at a certain time of day. All of those aspects of our approach to practice interact. They all have the potential to change the impact that our yoga practice has.
For that reason, in this post we report the results of a test called multivariable logistic regression. That test tells us which factors, of all the factors that are occurring in practice simultaneously, are related to yoga contributing to each of the benefits of yoga that we evaluated. In this case, a resulting “p-value” of less than 0.01 indicates that there is a statistically significant relationship. Remember that a p-value of .01 is the same thing as saying there is a 99% probability that two variables are related.
We used the results of our logistic regression analysis to calculate “predicted probabilities”. This statistical method describes the probability of reporting a particular benefit in specific contexts based on the results of our logistic regression model.
Demographics: How did our survey respondents practice yoga?
- Eighty-one percent of our sample population had practiced yoga for four or more years.
- Survey respondents primarily did yoga practice in the morning (65%). Fewer respondents practiced in the afternoon (10%) or evening (25%).
- Most respondents (80%) reported practicing for 60 to 90 minutes during an individual session.
- Forty-one percent of respondents self-identified as practicing yoga “consistently”. The rest (59%) reported practicing “off and on”.
- Survey participants reported practicing yoga, either with or without a teacher, between 1 and 7 days per week. Neither practicing with or without a teacher was significantly more common.
What kinds of benefits did practitioners report?
In case you didn’t see our previous post highlighting the benefits of yoga, yoga participants in our survey reported a wide range of benefits from doing asana practice. They included: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational benefits.
For the greatest probability of benefit, aim for a frequency of yoga practice of at least five days per week
Frequency of yoga practice, either with or without a teacher, was the most consistent positive predictor of experiencing nearly all types of benefits. Only physical strength and flexibility were not related to frequency of practice.
- A greater likelihood of reporting the most benefits occurred when yoga participants practiced yoga for five or more days per week.
- Reporting self-confidence as a benefit of yoga was positively predicted by practicing 3-5 days per week without a teacher. Self-confidence was not related to frequency of yoga practice with a teacher, however.
- Self-reported consistency of practice, compared to off and on, was also a positive predictor for physical, mental, and emotional benefits of yoga practice.
Notice in the figure below that the probability of reporting each benefit of yoga listed was higher when the frequency of yoga practice increased. The probability of reporting each benefit increased when students practiced five or more days per week compared with practicing 3-4 days per week or two days per week or less.
What about time of day and length of each practice?
- Practicing in the evening was a negative predictor of both concentration and equanimity in daily ups and downs, when compared to doing a morning yoga practice. Those doing a yoga practice in the evening may feel more distracted by the thoughts of the day than those doing their yoga practice in the morning.
- There was no difference in probability of benefits experienced, however, between doing a morning and afternoon yoga practice.
- Generally, duration of individual practice sessions did not affect how practitioners experienced most benefits of yoga.
- Longer practice times were positive predictors of experiencing only physical strength and equanimity in difficult situations in our study.