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When it comes to yoga practice, how much is enough?

Too many poses, too little time?

Too many poses, too little time?

First let’s agree that the day will never come when you’ve spent enough time practicing friendliness, compassion, joy and equanimity, and can just put them aside until tomorrow.

For that part of a yoga practice, “never enough” is a given.

But even in asana practice, there’s no possibility of doing it all.
You can’t practice every pose, every day. Unless you have almost unlimited time, you can’t even work deeply in every category of pose every day.

Don’t believe me? Check out Dharma Mittra’s famous chart of 908 yoga poses if you’d like a bit of visual proof.

So how do you decide what is enough?

Here’s my best answer: you’ve practiced enough when you see continuing improvement in your poses.

If you have just attended your first class and haven’t exercised in years, then five minutes a day, targeted to whatever restricts you most – hips, hamstrings or shoulders – will be enough practice to show improvement.

And that’s enough, because as long as you continue to improve, you will continue to practice.

Improvement creates a virtuous cycle: growing in our practice makes us happy, so we return, which means our practice keeps improving, making us happier, and bringing us back again for more improvement.

Of course, the more you practice, the deeper you have to go to feel the same sense of progress. Happily, if you keep practicing, and coming to classes, you’ll know how.

I don’t, by the way, mean that every practice is going to feel better than the one before, or that every time you stretch your hamstrings they’ll feel looser than they did yesterday.

In this way, asana practice is a bit like writing. We show up, we do it, and we refrain from judging day-to-day.

There’s an Annie Dillard quote, which I can’t find at the moment, and so have to paraphrase (please send me the correct words if you have them).

It goes something like this: “Whether the writer thinks the day’s work is good or bad, is equally irrelevant.”

Certainly we know if a practice was pleasant or not. What we don’t know immediately is what effect our efforts in each pose might be having.

The pose that you struggle with for weeks on end may be only one practice away from finally, unexpectedly opening to you. That doesn’t mean the struggle was wasted, just that you couldn’t see where you were going at the time.

In my experience, every practice gives me at least one more glimmer of understanding, and yes, improvement.

No matter how small, that’s enough.

Image courtesy of jillallyn, Flickr Creative Commons

If this was your kind of post, you might also like:

Practice Buddies: My Secret Weapon Against Sloth

What’s the Difference Between Movement and Action, and Why Does It Matter?

How to Keep Going When You’re Practicing on a Plateau

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Terri April 21, 2011, 5:57 pm

    And after 20 years, I can say that I have never once finished a practice not feeling better than when I started, not once. But I do have to remind myself of that sometimes.