In my relatively short tenure as a yoga teacher, I have already discovered that people will respond to hearing about what I do in fairly predictable ways. One of the responses I often hear is, “Oh, I’d love to do yoga, but I just don’t have an hour a day to do it.” There are many misconceptions about yoga among the general population (and it is beyond the scope of this post to give even a passing glance at all of them), but this seems to me to be one of the most common and unfortunate ones.
I can see how it would be logical for someone who doesn’t know too much about the practice to think that you need that much time for a single session, since public yoga classes typically last between 60 and 90 minutes. But this is by no means prescriptive. True, in a perfect world, we would all be able to get in an hour’s worth of practice before facing whatever our day holds, but I believe that this is a case where quality is more important than quantity. Some yoga is definitely better than no yoga.
Earlier this week, I had to leave the house at 7am to fight traffic and be in East Austin by 8:30am. I did not get up at 5am to get in a full practice; but instead of giving up on practice altogether, I went into my yoga room and sat on my zafu. I connected with my breath; I chanted. I did two simple but potent asanas: chakravakasana and vajrasana. All told, I spent no more than five minutes on my yoga practice this morning, but it was enough to center and ground myself before beginning my day, and it made a difference.
Even more important than quality or quantity is consistency. Doing five minutes of yoga on most days will allow you to reap infinitely more benefits from the practice than doing one hour-long session weekly. Although it is possible to enjoy the benefits of a yoga practice from the very first moment you step on the mat, you only really begin to experience its transformational powers when you practice regularly. This can mean doing as little as I did earlier this week; I”ll even go further than that and say that, for a beginner, simply sitting on one’s mat for five minutes a day would be enough to reap some of the benefits of practice. This is by no means the only practice you should ever aspire to, but it’s a damn fine place to start.
I am reading Wild Mind, a book on writing by Natalie Goldberg. She draws a lot from her Zen practice to flesh out her vision of what writing is all about, and this story she relates about her late Zen teacher speaks directly to the matter at hand:
When someone complained about getting up at 5am for sitting meditation, Katagiri Roshi said, “Make positive effort for good.”
This is what we do when we step onto the mat, even if just for five minutes: we make a positive effort for the good–our own, and the good of people and things around us. This is why a week-long of daily five minute stints on the mat adds up to more than a single hour-long session: sure, you’ll have done less asana, and probably won’t have gone as deep in five minutes as you could have in a whole hour, but you’ll have stored up many days’ worth of making a positive effort for good. You will begin to create a a new rhythm, a healthy habit, and it is these seeds, tenderly and regularly tended to, that will bloom into a fully beneficial and transformative practice.
Try it: find quiet spot. Sit down comfortably, and close your eyes. Notice your breath. Notice your body. Notice your thoughts and emotions. Don’t try to change a thing. Settle into the moment. Spent five minutes doing nothing. Now slowly get up, and mindfully go about your day. You may wonder, Is this really yoga? You bet it is. Lather, rinse, repeat, every day like brushing your teeth. Go ahead. Let me know how it goes. See if it doesn’t begin to change your life a little