0 comments / Posted on by Magdalene Ang

Has anyone ever been asked or received comments that “you are addicted to yoga or the asanas”, “you’ve practiced too much yoga”, “you stretched or workout too much on the mat” and so forth?

It’s probably quite a common comment to receive in today’s modern ‘yoga fever’ that has most people going ga-ga over all the various funky asanas that each can achieve / perform and insta-ed :)

Lately, been receiving this comment often from friends, teachers, family “you practiced a lot / too much (yoga) each day” or “you stretched too much”. This had me thinking / pondering further myself - did I really practice too much? am i getting over obsessed with being more flexible by stretching more? am I addicted to yoga (asana)?

So perhaps time to revisit / refresh myself what is asana and where it comes into play in yoga...

What is asana?

Most of us is well aware that asana is Sanskrit word for physical posture or exercise and it’s just one part of what Yoga is (in theory). As explained in yogadailylife.org and wikipedia; ‘Asana’ in the original meaning as written / referenced by Patanjali in the “Yoga Sutras” is a seated / sitting meditation posture while the rest of physical postures are referred to as “Yoga vyayam”. But in today’s modern age, 'Asanas' is better known as any dynamic yoga exercises.

yoga asana

Why practice and the significance of it?

Yoga quite simply means “to unite, connect, yoke - it’s ultimately the union of body, mind & soul bringing one closer to your own true self where true happiness, freedom / liberation / enlightenment can be attained”. Such connection / union will be hard to achieve if our physical body is not in the best shape to allow us to feel connected to begin with!

Anyone familiar or have read or came across the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, would know within this age-old-wisdom-sacred yogic text, there is an 8-fold path known as the “Ashtanga Yoga System” or “8 Limbs of Yoga” that provides guidance to the practitioner on living a meaningful / purposeful life, in attaining full liberation / freedom of oneself from worldly desires to find real happiness, contentment, bliss or enlightenment. Yoga asana is the 3rd limb within this path:

    1. YAMA - Restraints, moral disciplines or moral vows
    2. NIYAMA - Positive duties or observances
    3. ASANA - Posture
    4. PRANAYAMA - Breathing techniques
    5. PRATYAHARA - Sense withdrawal
    6. DHARANA - Focused concentration
    7. DHYANA - Meditation
    8. SAMADHI - Bliss, enlightenment, spiritual absorption

(Can read more on the 8 limbs of yoga here if interested!)

Quite often asana practice goes hand-in-hand with pranayama practice where practitioners learn to become more focused, aware and be present in the moment through their breath and all the various posture exercises in either guided classes or self-practice sessions.

(It is also here that most practitioners are getting stuck or rather hooked on!)

The asana practice is important as all the various poses / postures ultimately aim to train us to be able to sit in the final meditation pose (Padmasana / Lotus pose) for extended period of time which is the hardest pose to maintain in total stillness! Even if it’s not for the ultimate aim of getting into deep meditation, asana practice is still very good to promote overall health / well-being as long it's not being done excessively!

How often to practice? How much is too much?

There’s no hard and fast rule on how often one should or can do the asana practice. Personally, I put in about 2-3 hours a day of practice 6 times a week combining easy, simple stretch / therapeutic sessions with the more intense, calorie burning vinyasa, arm balances, inversion sessions. So depending on the kinds of asana practice done each day, the frequency can vary and most importantly to listen to your body and allow it time to rest, recover.

Asana practice just like any other form of general workout is a form of physical exercise where we stretch, strengthen, stress our muscle fiber to make it stronger and supple. These strengthening, stretches, etc. will create tiny tears in our muscle fiber hence the reason for the after-workout-soreness we feel at the end. If given chance to heal / recover, these tiny fiber tears will re-build again making it more toned, stronger and supple. Else, we will just risk stressing and over-exhausting our body by continuously crushing it with one exercise after another which will have the total opposite effect of what all of us are trying to achieve for! (If interested, can read further about the counter-effect of working out too much in general here!)

So is 2 hours a day 6 times a week considered too much? Am I addicted to yoga / asana practice? Am I classic case of being overdoer? I constantly ask and remind myself below...

  1. Do I go to one class after another without break?
  2. Do I get injured often?
  3. Do I still continue to push on despite my injury, muscle fatigue, soreness?
  4. Do I skip my social gathering with family, friends just to go for yoga classes?
  5. Do I feel guilty if I miss out a class / session or two?

No, no, no, no, no...phew! Guess I’m not (that) addicted or an over-exerciser in this sense. But if you say yes to any one of the above then maybe you may need to take a step back and chill. ;)

While practicing 6 times a week averaging 2-3 hours in each practice sounds intense to many by interspersing sufficient (if not long) intervals of breaks in between with yin stretches or relaxation poses will help give your body time to relax, recover. This is especially true for before / after a strong, intense practice involving arm balances, inversions, power vinyasas. Doing these static yin poses are very therapeutic and good to help calm / cool your overall body down (including your mind!) by allowing time for your stressed out muscle to fully relax.

Here’s my quick checklist to always remind myself what yoga asana practice truly is about, hope this can help all of you too:

  1. It’s not about reaching the toes and beyond
  2. Improvement on poses, flexibility is achieved over period of time through dedicated practice not overnight
  3. The final poses, transitions are not the main goal but rather the transformative journey that you feel within yourself
  4. Breathing should always be part of each of the asana / vinyasa practice and not laboured
  5. Each poses, transitions should be done with minimal effort / struggle or at least with as little stress / strain to oneself as possible
  6. Be mindful and aware of each poses’ / vinyasa movement and transition so as to train your mind to be present at all times. Modify with props where necessary!
  7. It’s ok not to be able to achieve or do all the jaw-dropping funky poses or even a simple seated forward bend whether you are a seasoned regular or newbie practitioner. It’s all about learning, acceptance and understanding your own limitations.
  8. Never rush or be impatient in your practice for if your mind is racing then there’s no way you can perform well.
  9. Never judge what others do or can / can’t do neither compare yourself to anyone. Yoga is all about your own internal self-journey not have wandering attention / focus.
  10. It’s not about how many classes you do in a day, a week, a month, etc. but the quality of effort, the awareness / mindfulness that you put into that counts. Less is more.
  11. Always have time for proper rest before and after your practice. Shavasana is especially beneficial at the end of your practice to help reset your body, relax and start the recovery process.
  12. At the end of any practice, it should leave you feeling refreshed, recharged, relaxed with all stresses, tensions reduced or removed allowing you to be calmer just like after a good massage!

Every once awhile guess it’s ok to push ourselves beyond our boundaries and see how far we can go. I tell myself each time whenever I attempt any of these out-of-ordinary asanas I’m fully aware of what I’m putting my physical self into and that injury is very likely, I may not be able to perform some (or any) of them and to know when / where to stop!

By doing so, it has helped me sustain my yoga practice journey for a long time even when I fail to perform any of the poses / vinyasas properly, it doesn't make me flustered, disappointed, bored or give up completely.

So practice consciously and mindfully so that in whatever exercises you do whether it’s yoga asanas or simply general fitness / aero- / acrobatic moves that you can reap the benefit from each without feeling strained, exhausted or burnt out.

‘Sthira Sukham Asanam’ <3


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