Posted by Miranda Larbi for Wellbeing
There was a point when you couldn’t move on Instagram for influencers telling us to do #yogaeverydamnday. The trend may have died down a little now but the effects of that sort of yoga challenge are still being felt in the way we view the practice. That’s done more harm than good, according to some teachers.
Fitness fads come and go but one which seems to still circulate is the whole #yogaeverydamnday movement. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to try – flowing every day for a few months to see if I can finally get my headstands or become significantly more flexible – but something always seems to crop up like training for a race, going to more explosive gym class or just taking a rest day).
My main concern has largely revolved around the risk of injury. Yoga can be gentle but it only takes a few sun salutations for my wrists to start aching. If I committed to doing a vinyasa every day, would my wrists get stronger or would they inevitably collapse – leaving me unable to do other activities while recovering?
I have plenty of yogi friends who swear by the transformational nature of yoga. For them, yoga helps to keep the body and mind healthy and without that daily ritual, they feel incomplete. Because of the meditation aspect and the fact that you can make yoga as dynamic or low impact as you like, there’s enough variety to pick from.
We also know that there are plenty of scientifically-backed benefits of yoga. Regular practice has been found to significantly improve flexibility and mobility, as a study published in the International Journal of Yoga found. Researchers got a group of students to do yoga twice a week for 10 weeks reported “significant gains” in flexibility and balance when compared to a group who didn’t practice at all.
Another study, this time by The Chinese University of Hong Kong found that women who did a 12-week Hatha course also demonstrated “significant improvements” in muscular strength while a study by the Swami Vivekananda Yoga Research Foundation has shown that people who practice yoga tend to fall asleep quicker, sleep for longer and are better rested than those of us who don’t make time for the mat. Clearly, there are tonnes of reasons to flow regularly – so should more of us aim to do yoga every damn day?
“The ‘yoga every damn day’ movement is an ironic one that completely misses the point of yoga being about balance and harmony in the body, mind and soul,” says yoga teacher and founder of The Yeh Yoga Co, Emily Harding. She says that it’s often populated by practitioners pushing a “very advanced style of vinyasa or power practice” and the notion that people have to keep advancing their asanas (strong flows) above all else.
She likens the effect of telling people to practice asanas every day – trying to push and open the body as fast as possible – to someone suggesting that carrots are worth eating regularly. “If you become obsessed with carrots to the point that you start having carrots for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you’re going to find after a while that you’ve turned bright orange and are beginning to suffer from vitamin A poisoning. Eating carrots alongside other foods, however, is so good for you.
That’s how we should see yoga; it’s something that should be done alongside other types of movement – strength training, mobility (because yoga doesn’t offer any pulling motions), cardio. Vinyasa has to be balanced out with other types of yoga – yin yoga, rest days – and other types of training.”
Of course, there are those who claim that yoga can be a cardio and strength workout in itself but Harding argues that if you’re getting a cardio workout from your flow, you’ve stepped away from what yoga is.
Charley Logan, yoga teacher at Blok, tells Stylist that no two people ever practice yoga in the same way so it’s impossible to give a blanket answer. “While one might benefit from rolling out their mat every day, another might want to do so every other day or a couple of times a week. It’s important to listen to your individual needs and roll with what suits your lifestyle and energy.”
Her own practice, she says, depends on her mood. “I’m not somebody who practices every day; as I’m teaching a fair amount and my passion is my job, I need moments off the mat to keep the joy and curiosity bubbling. If I’m feeling a little funky in body or mind, however, movement is my medicine. Some weeks I’ll be practicing more than others. I’m not set to a strict schedule or routine that others may find beneficial.”
As with all good things, there is such a thing as ‘over practising,’ Logan says – especially when we forget that yoga doesn’t have to be a 90-minute hot yoga sweat session. When you go back to the drawing board and, as Logan puts it, “listen to the needs of the body over the cravings of the mind,” you start to remember how many different types of yoga and sofer practices exist. “Any practice that brings you out of your head and into the joy of moving your body (whatever your style of yoga) is a wonderful way to restore balance from our otherwise busy lives,” she says.
That over practising inevitably leads to injury, including something called ‘yoga butt’. Harding explains that it’s the most common injury and that it happens when we do too much yoga every day because of the way we fold forwards and stretch the hamstrings at the point of insertion. “The pain comes on very slowly,” she says, “beginning with a dull aching eventually resulting in you being barely able to walk. That’s all about too much lengthening and not enough strengthening. Yoga every day isn’t a good idea bad people who push that idea are putting people in danger.”
She even claims that there are some well-known older instructors in the US who are currently having double hip replacements at the age of 50 from doing too much strong yoga for too long.
Saying all of this, Harding is keen to stress that yoga every day is an “absolute yes”. “Yoga should and can be done every day but it’s not the thing you see being pushed on Instagram. Yoga is a lifestyle to be lived, the path to follow. It’s never just the movement – there are so many other paths in yoga.
Yoga asana is just one of the eight paths that make up yoga more generally and yoga in its purest form is something that we could and should be trying to practise every day. There’s nothing to be lost and everything to gain from meditating daily, pracising concentration and breathwork, working on causing as little harm to others as possible.
Nailing handstands and backbends, in the grand scheme of things, plays a minute role in making yoga a daily habit. It’s because of that that Harding says strong yoga is a “big no-no which needs to stop being peddled as a one-size-fits-all.”
If that all sounds a bit much and all you want is to build a routine around stretching, flexing and moving mindfully, try breaking up your day with a rock between a low crescent lunge and half hanuman (half split). Logan says that while everyone feels poses differently, she loves going between those two exercises to really get into the hips and hamstrings.
“If you’re a little tight in both, you can use blocks under your hands (or chunky books) to bring the ground up to meet you.”
If you want to do some gentle daily stretching, check out our collection of Stretch in 10 videos over on the Strong Women Training Club.
Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.
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Posted by Miranda Larbi for Wellbeing
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