Yoga is the second fastest growing alternative health practice in the United States, according to the "Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants." More than 18 million Americans participate in yoga classes or develop home-based routines, and the frequency and reasons for yoga practice are as varied as the poses. How often you practice each week may depend on your fitness goals and a versatile yoga routine.
Frequency Trumps Longevity
The practice of yoga rewards consistency. Regular yoga sessions improve balance, posture, flexibility, strength, cardiovascular health, digestion, mental focus and concentration, and lower blood pressure and stress levels. The inner peace that comes from daily or frequent yoga practice can have far-reaching effects on your health. But many benefits are immediate. The Yoga Alliance points out that yoga reduces the levels of cortisol triggered by the automatic "fight-or-flight" response to stress. Pranayama, yoga breathing, activates the parasympathetic nervous system that controls relaxation, further lowering stress. Focus, cultivated in asanas and meditation, increases present-moment awareness, concentration and reaction time. Research conducted by the University of Maryland Medical Center and the National Institutes of Health concluded that how often you practice yoga, rather than how many years you have practiced, determines the levels of well-being and relaxation you experience.
What the Experts Say
Any amount of weekly yoga practice is better than none, but "Yoga Journal" recommends two or three hour-long or 90-minute sessions per week. Nationally known yoga teacher Rodney Yee suggests 45 to 90 minutes each day but adds that a short daily session -- even 30 minutes -- yields greater benefits than a longer session once a week. The "Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants" reminds practitioners that it takes a minimum of two to three sessions a week for eight weeks to measure increases in strength and flexibility from a yoga routine.
More Frequent, Vigorous Yoga Practice for Weight Loss
Yoga can be part of a healthy weight loss plan, but depending on Downward-Facing Dog to peel off pounds could disappoint you. Weight loss requires the expenditure of more calories than you consume, and a balanced program of aerobic exercise and strength training, plus a nutritious, low-fat diet, will lower the numbers on the scale. But a regular yoga practice can contribute to weight loss. Dr. Baxter Bell, an M.D. and therapeutic yoga practitioner, notes that asanas tone, lengthen and strengthen muscles so you look sleeker and more sculpted. Stronger muscles have denser fiber and muscle mass burns calories, even when you are at rest. Several sessions a week of a vigorous style of yoga, like vinyasa or hot yoga, will complement aerobics workouts with increased cardiovascular challenge that costs you calories -- and maybe a few inches.
Inspire Frequent Practice
Time of day and time of year can affect the frequency of your yoga practice. Sustain your enthusiasm with different poses and sequences for different hours and seasons. Sun Salutations are traditional as a morning practice because they create heat and energy. Breathing through the poses loosens muscles and creates flowing movement, according to "Yoga Journal." The standing asanas increase strength, stamina and stability Backbends are not appropriate before bedtime because they are invigorating. Choose relaxing Child Pose and Savasana instead. In hot climates or midsummer, tone it down to stay cool. Try a slow, smooth Sun Salutation and substitute Shoulder Stands for high-intensity Headstands. Rev it up in spring and autumn with energizing moves like Triangle Pose, Backbends and Camel Pose. Construct a more contemplative sequence in winter with Forward Bend poses for calming and lively asanas like Crane Pose for rejuvenation.