Question: I’d love to hear some thoughts on why we do a 6-day/week practice, when it started, who started it, etc. My husband is not a yoga practitioner and he can’t understand why practice can’t just be 4 days a week. Are we all addicted to our practice?
I get it. In this day and time, saying something is tradition is not enough for many. It is understandable because in mankind’s history, many evil and unkind acts have been perpetuated in the name of tradition. From what I understand, this was how the practice was taught to Pattabhi Jois and he transmitted it this way to his students. The students of Pattabhi Jois continue to transmit it that way. Traditionally, Ashtanga is practiced 6 days a week with moon days and ladies holiday (first 3 days of period) off.
The Internal Work Must Be Done Daily
“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”-Zig Ziglar
“Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind”- Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:2
“These mental modifications(fluctuations) are restrained by practice and non-attachment”.- Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:12
Yoga is the science of getting rid of addiction to non essential thoughts. When we identify with our thoughts, we let them run our life.
Our daily practice puts us in uncomfortable situations that bring thoughts and emotions to the surface. When these thoughts and emotions come up, the practice gives us tools to start to deal with them. When we practice daily, we get to see first hand what is still present and what has changed. As a result of the practice, we are now on alert. As we continue with the rest of our day, we can identify the areas in our life where, the thoughts and emotions that came up in the practice, reveal themselves in every day situations. Once we see the areas in our life where our thoughts cause us pain, we can start to change our thoughts and subsequently our lives.
Samadhi is the final outcome of the yoga journey. Samadhi is being fully and completely involved in life without feeling that your self worth is attached to it. It is having the ability to react to your thoughts and emotions as you see fit with total control. It is knowing that you are fully and completely connected to everything in the universe. It is unconditional love that never wanes. It is knowing that you are not your body. There is no fear of death because you know that the energy that is you will not cease to exist. It takes a lot of awareness and internal seeing to get to this state. Thoughts are pervasive and sly. If we do not work on stilling the mind daily, Samadhi for most, is not attainable.
A Daily Connection with Self
You must make the transition from a fitness oriented approach to yoga into a devotional one. By getting this subtle shift you will gain consistency and regularity in the way that you do your practice. A daily spiritual ritual where you take time to connect internally to a deep sense of yourself requires dedication. The requirement to practice six days a week is meant to develop the kind of mental, spiritual and devotional determination needed in order make progress along the internal path of yoga. If yoga is meant to be a life long commitment to inner peace it behooves yoga practitioners to practice as much as they can. If you only practice when it is convenient or when you feel good then yoga is more of a hobby then a lifestyle. But sincere spiritual practice has never been a leisurely activity if it is to produce the results of awakening. True spiritual practice is an unbroken commitment to do everything it takes to see the deepest truth there is. It is not something you can choose to look at only on Monday and Wednesday for an hour and pretend it does not exist for the rest of the week-Kino Macgregor
To the keen and intent practitioner, Samadhi comes very quickly. The time necessary for success further depends on whether the practice is mild, medium or intense.- Yoga Sturas of Patanjali 1:21-22
“Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness” Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:14
From a spiritual perspective, Patanjali says that the more intense our practice, the faster we find Samadhi and that a well grounded practice is without break. Does that necessarily mean that asana should be done 6 days a week? If asana is the only way that you connect with the deeper part of you, maybe. For many people, asana gets the monkey off their back so they can see clearly. Some people even have a “yoga high” or a period right after class where they feel clear. Some even experience a mini Samadhi or blissful state. The Yoga Sutras call this objective Samadhi which is a temporary state of Samadhi brought on due to a practice or focusing on an object or feeling. These brief states of Samadhi give us a taste of what life could be and keep us focused on the quest for the permanent state.
Physically speaking, results and progression are quicker as well.
On a purely physical level a six day a week practice is both advantageous and challenging. You will perform the postures more often so will actually see results faster, building strength, stamina and flexibility at a far greater rate than if you were only to practice once or twice a week. In fact those individuals who choose to attend yoga class once a week are actually setting themselves up for an uphill battle each week where they must face the same weakness and tightness with little chance of hedging a path toward sustainability. It is no secret that if you do practice six days a week you will also be physically sore, but it will be a qualitatively different type of soreness than the once-a-week yoga practitioner. If you practice six days a week you are more likely to feel the pain or purification and learn the mental state needed to stay through the often uncomfortable healing phase. In Sanskrit the word for this type of endurance through challenging situations is “tapas” which literally means heat, but can be understood as the acceptance of pain that leads to purification. Practicing six days a week accelerates the rate at which pains that purify weakness and stiffness arrive and therefore also accelerates the rate at which the purified result of more strength and flexibility both in the body and mind also arrive-Kino Macgregor
I have witnessed this first hand. When I practice Ashtanga every day, my practice progresses quickly and without much incident. When I slack off or dip my toe too much into other styles of yoga too often, my practice slows and even regresses. Practicing the poses every day creates mastery. The practice reprograms the mind and the body and gets them working together seamlessly. When the circuit between the mind and body is broken, progression slows down or even stops. Daily practice keeps it flowing.
Also the nervous system has a huge part to play in the bodies flexibility. Science has shown that the mind will send pain signals to the body even when there is no injury or injury making going on. Why? We are creatures of habit and fear. The body and mind wants to stay comfortable. Whatever it is used to, is what it is comfortable with. When you do a yoga posture that the mind is not used to or comfortable with, the brain will send signals that you are at your edge even when you are not. Another reason for erroneous signals from the nervous system is fear. Maybe you were injured before or you have heard horror stories or the feeling of being at the “edge” is scary. This causes the brain to send pain signals as well. Practicing every day rewires the brain to let you relax and go deeper.
A Barometer For Balance
When I step on my mat in the morning, it takes about 3 sun salutes for me to know what I did wrong the day before. There is no way that you can successfully practice Ashtanga daily and live an unbalanced lifestyle. If you drink too much the night before, in the morning, you will feel like death warmed over . If you eat too much, you will be lethargic and you will not be able to bind, float or invert. If you don’t get enough sleep, you will have no energy. If you are not eating the right foods or enough calories, you will not have enough energy for the practice. If you eat too much sugar and don’t get enough protein, your muscles will be inflamed and sore all the time and you will not recover fast enough. Because you can’t stay up late and you have this weird devotional practice, your friends will change. You will be left with people who are open minded and want to have intelligent conversations with you instead of just getting drunk or the occasional booty call. You cut down on drama in your life because you don’t want those thoughts in your head while you practice. You whittle your schedule down to the necessities because you want time for practice and to conserve energy.
All of these things you do for your practice, you do for your life. When you eat better,sleep well, cut down on drama and surround yourself with people who are open minded and that love you, your whole life is made better. By practicing everyday and using it as a gauge for balance in your life, all areas of your life stay balanced.
I am an advocate of a 6 day a week practice. It has worked for me spiritually, physically and emotionally. However, many people don’t want to take that on. The 4 days, that your husband is suggesting, is what experts from physically oriented backgrounds suggest for good results and quick recovery. I am not going to disagree with that because from a physical stand point, it is solid advice. If someone is coming to Ashtanga just for physical results like strength, flexibility,muscle toning,a work out, healing of ailments, injuries or pain management, this makes sense. However, if you want to completely change your life by taking it on as a spiritual practice, 6 days a week is the way to go.
As far as being addicted to the practice, maybe. Or you can look at it as an act of surrender and devotion. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali tells us that if we are to find Samadhi, we must practice with devotion. Devotion does look a lot like addiction however the energy is different. Addiction brings about negative consequences. Devotion is done from love and brings about positive results. Mother Tereresa was devoted to helping the poor. Martin Luther King was devoted to equality in the United States. Loving parents are devoted to their children. Only the practitioner knows which they actually are.