With issues like obesity, physical ailments and mental illness coming to the forefront of society—particularly in recent years—interest in health and wellness has become increasingly prevalent.
So let’s start at the beginning—what exactly is yoga?
Yoga is an ancient practice stemming from India thousands of years ago. Literally, it means to “yoke” body, mind and spirit. The practice goes much deeper than the physical postures that many people in the Western world associate it with today.
While the physical practice does play a role, the ultimate goal of yoga is “moksha,” in Sanskrit (an ancient language of India), or liberation—the ability to find true inner peace and release from suffering.
The thought is that the more you practice yoga, the deeper the connection you’ll find between the physical body, the mind, and the spirit. The stronger this connection is, the more mindfulness you can bring into your life.
With mindfulness comes a much more conscious and healthier approach to living, thus making it possible to see physical results as well as positive changes both mentally and emotionally.
How quickly can I expect to see results?
The physical postures or “asanas” can range from gentle movements to stronger, more physically demanding poses. While practicing gentle yoga or Yin yoga—which is slow-paced and involves holding more passive postures for minutes at a time—you might find an overall sense of calm as well as more flexibility.
However, you may not necessarily notice a physical difference apparent to the naked eye. For instance, you may not notice 6-pack abs in the mirror after practicing gentle yoga for any given time.
This simply means that it depends entirely on what type of results you’re hoping to see. If you’re hoping to quiet and calm the mind and are more interested in gentle yoga or meditation practices, positive results can happen almost immediately.
Spending just a short amount of time on your mat, moving slowly with your breath and bringing your awareness to your physical body can make all the difference in the world.
It almost immediately relaxes your nervous system by lowering heart rate, decreasing blood pressure and increasing blood flow. By focusing on and controlling your breath or “pranayama,” the less stress you’ll encounter in your everyday life.
Gentle yoga, Yin yoga, and even a seated meditation practice can improve your posture and protect your spine. Finding movement through the spine lubricates the spinal disks, helping them stay supple and thus more mobile.
As you protect your spine through movement, you also strengthen the muscles around it. Establishing better posture can mean preventing or alleviating back and neck pain.
All of these improvements can be noticed almost immediately after practice. When your first class is over, it’s likely you’ll already be signing up for your next because of how great you feel!
What if I’m only trying to get toned?
If a toned physique is what you’re looking for, more powerful flow or “vinyasa” classes will peak your interest.
Typically, power vinyasa classes—particularly at advanced levels—will involve the yoga teacher using mainly Sanskrit, are much faster paced and can often be held in rooms around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Even if you’re in relatively good shape already, it’s a smart idea to work your way up to the advanced power vinyasa classes. In classes that are more suitable for all levels, the teacher may talk you through several different options for postures.
In advanced classes, however, fewer options will be vocalized. If you do need to choose another option, it’s expected that you’ll know how to modify already. Consider trying a few classes at a basic level to become familiar with the terminology before jumping into an advanced class in the hot room.
Similar to practicing gentle yoga and meditation, it’s likely you’ll notice results from power yoga right away. It’s an amazing workout that will have you dripping in sweat, and because it is so physically demanding it gets you out of the mind and into the body.
The more familiar you become with the terminology, the less you really have to think at all while practicing.
Power Vinyasa classes are great for building strength and increasing flexibility. The stronger our bodies are, the more protected our joints will be. On the other side of the token, however, flexibility is needed in order to reduce tension throughout the body as well as release strain surrounding the joints.
The balance between strength and flexibility that yoga provides is invaluable and necessary in order to live an optimal life.
Increase in heart rate is a huge positive effect of practicing a powerful style of yoga like a vigorous vinyasa class or an Ashtanga class—another strong style of yoga. This can actually help combat depression and reduce the risk of heart attack.
While powerful styles can help improve endurance, pranayama or breath work during any form of yoga can increase the maximum amount of oxygen that you can breathe in during exercise.
Positive physical changes through practicing yoga can increase self-esteem and overall mindfulness. As we become more present in our physical body, we’re able to make more conscious choices regarding what we put in our body.
The better you feel physically, mentally and emotionally, the more likely you are to continue to feed your body foods that will keep you feeling good.
Positive results such as having more energy, sleeping more deeply at night, feeling better in your body, and relief from pain are all effects you may experience right away. While every body type is different, this lifestyle change will likely produce physically noticeable results in just a few weeks.
Can I practice yoga every day?
You can absolutely practice yoga every day. That’s one of the beautiful things about having so many styles to choose from. You may want to practice a sweaty and dynamic power flow one day, and maybe a deep Yin practice the next day to ease away some of the soreness from your more vigorous class the day before.
You may even practice twice a day, with a fast-paced power flow in the morning to energize you before work, and wind down with a slower, more restorative option in the evening before settling into bed.
There are always type A personalities who feel the need for a powerful vinyasa class every day—if that’s what you enjoy, go for it! Many people don’t necessarily want what they actually need though.
For those living fast-paced lives, though they may want an advanced, challenging practice, often what they really need to do is slow down, take a breath and relax—even if it’s just once a week! We all need a rest day every once in a while.
The most important thing is to listen to your body—not only while you’re practicing but also in between practices.
Are you sore?
Are you tired?
Do you need to rest or are you being lazy?
If you feel like you need to practice, could it be your ego taking charge?
Because each day is a little different from the last, our bodies are also different each day. It’s important to always honor that.
How long does it take to master yoga?
Part of the beauty of yoga is that it’s a practice—never-ending and always evolving. There will never be a day when you’re able to say, “okay, that’s it. I’m done! I’ve done everything I can do.”
Of course, the goal for many monks and religious practitioners is to reach enlightenment or liberation through yoga, but you typically won’t find this through practicing a couple of times a week with the intent to get toned.
Working your way up to more advanced classes doesn’t take quite as long as it would to reach enlightenment.
Depending on your physical capabilities, you might work your way up to these classes in just around a month of regular practice. Regular practice for most is considered to be at least a few times a week, though many seasoned practitioners will get on their mat every day.
While advanced classes may be accessible to practitioners after a few weeks or a couple of months of regular practice, again depending on where your body is physically, there are many advanced postures that may take years to become available to you.
Finding arm balances, handstands and other inversions typically takes years of intense dedication to the practice.
How many times a week should I do yoga to lose weight?
Ultimately, through practicing yoga, you’re practicing self-care. Yoga helps improve self-esteem for many reasons. You’ll feel better in your body—less tight and constricted, freer in your physical body, calmer with more mental acuity and potentially lose weight.
Through these positive yoga results, you’re more likely to take care of yourself in other ways. Yoga becomes a lifestyle instead of just a workout, and you begin to discover that you can be in charge of your own health.
Developing a regular practice can bring feelings of gratitude and compassion to the surface. Perhaps you’re able to gain an understanding of why you might have poor eating habits or make poor choices regarding your health on a deeper level. After a time, you may be able to find forgiveness for yourself and thus change your habits altogether.
If you plan to you use yoga solely for a workout and are attending only hot power classes, you may notice a physical difference after just a few weeks. Moving through postures at a fast pace and utilizing all of your muscles in a room of 100 degrees, typically for 75 minutes at a time, is likely to produce results relatively quickly.
Again, consider that if a person is already in great shape, they’re less likely to see noticeable physical results as quickly as a person who may not be in quite as good shape starting out.
Whichever way you look at it, the more regular of a practice you have—the more often you practice—the more quickly you’ll see results. While this could initially encompass physical results, you’ll see mental, emotional and spiritual results as well.
The presence of these changes and improvements on a deeper level could then lead to even more physical improvements.
What’s the bottom line? How often should you do yoga to see results?
Perhaps you’re interested in practicing yoga for the physical aspect—you want to work hard, sweat and get fit. You might find, however, that yoga is so much more than that.
Maybe you found yoga through wanting to begin a meditation practice, and now you’ve found that your body is physically capable of things you never thought possible. Whatever your reason for beginning your practice, at least it’s brought you to the mat!
The more regular of a practice you have, the more quickly you’ll experience positive changes in your life. It could begin with an improvement on a mental level that then develops into physical results or the other way around.
If you’re completely new to the practice, begin with more gentle classes, working your way up through basic classes that are accessible to people of all levels. As you become familiar with the postures and terminology and you feel that your body can handle it physically, you may work your way up to more advanced classes.
Listen to what your body is craving, and go with that!
Perhaps you love going to the sweaty, fast-paced classes every day. Maybe every other day works for you.
Consider filling in the gaps with gentle, slow-paced practices. This will get you moving and into your body every day while also giving yourself enough time to rest.
If practicing every day doesn’t happen immediately for you, just a couple of classes a week can be considered a regular practice.
Take whatever you can get! Results of any kind—physical, mental or spiritual—can be felt almost immediately, and your body and mind will likely be craving more right away.