Do you really need a long practice (Part II)?

When I was in a yin teacher training with Sarah Powers, she recalled how Paul Grilley first started teaching yin yoga.  He was running classes that were over two hours long and wondered why he wasn’t getting a lot of students.  Who has the time?  Who makes the time?  Eventually classes became shorter and yin took off.  I always share this story in our teacher-training program because it highlights the fact that yoga needs to adapt to the needs to the student and most students don’t have 120 minutes to practice on a given day.

But think about it.  Two hours to immerse yourself in slow and methodical journey inwards in order to unwind seems like a true luxury.  Nowadays, if you want a two-hour or longer practice, you need to do back-to-back practices or take a workshop.   For most people, this is too great a time commitment and for yoga studios, there just are not enough students to fill the class.

In fact, the opposite is happening, as there is a growing trend of one-hour yoga classes and some shorter than that. As I wrote in my last blog, some studios are offering even shorter classes by either removing warm up periods or parts of sequences or the savasana at the end to cool down and reflect. You can only do so much in a one-hour class, especially if you want to include advanced poses that require more preparation.  These classes and studios always rubbed me as the wrong way to do it and I resisted.

But then I thought, “we’ve always offered one-hour classes at lunchtime.” But they were fixed sequences – a modified primary series from the Ashtanga school and a Spiritual Warrior from Jivamukti.  Both of these sequences have been practiced and tested for many years and they make sense.

I resisted adding more one-hour classes because I thought tradition dictated that both students and teachers needed more time to get the full effects of an asana practice.

And yet, in my personal practice, I didn’t always practice for 90 minutes or even 60 minute.  Most days I hit the mat early in the morning and sometimes I’ll practice a longer sequence and sometimes a shorter one (depending upon how my body feels, whether I was teaching that day, what time I started and how packed my day would be).  I would see how much time I have and then I would mentally construct a practice that made sense – whether that is 30 minutes or two hours.

So the issue wasn’t the length of the practice (although over time a 75 minute session allows for a more complete practice for intermediate and advanced students).  The issue is in the construction of the practice for whatever time was available and to make sure its well thought through and complete.

So, we are now creating classes for our community with the goal that every 60-minute offering includes all of the components of a longer class – no shortcuts allowed (be it adding high heat to emulate a warmed-up body, racing through the sequence to cram a lot of poses in or skipping savasana).  Each class is a complete practice with some moving at a faster pace for more advanced students and some with a more measured pace and fewer postures.

As noted in my previous blog, I believe it is more important to be consistent and practice more often with shorter sequences versus coming once a week to a longer one. Regardless of whether you prefer shorter or longer classes, any time on your mat is a good thing.

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