If a student wants to become a serious yogi, the first question I ask is: “Do you have a yoga teacher?” I don’t think we can have a “serious” practice if we’re hopping around from teacher to teacher without any consistent direction. We all need a teacher who will get to know our individual circumstances, personality, and faults, and who wants to lead us down a path that will help us blaze our own trails and evolve as individuals.
What does it take to become a “serious yogi”?
Now comes the next question: If we want to become “serious” about yoga, how often should we practice? Before we had children, my wife Nicki Doane and I sometimes practiced for six hours a day (I realize this is rather extreme). Since having kids, we are lucky to get in two hours a day, but experiencing such long hours of practice in the beginning years opened up my body in such a deep way that I can now practice for a shorter duration and achieve the same results.
Whatever a student is interested in under the umbrella of yoga (pranayama, asana, chanting, kriyas, meditation), I would encourage that student to practice daily, or at least on a regular basis. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell cites a theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in anything. Even if a student practices yoga for 12 hours a week—every week—that adds up to only 624 hours a year, which means it would take over 16 years to become an expert in yoga (according to this theory). Personally, I have been practicing for over 32 years and most of the time I still feel like a beginner!
Define your personal goals
Whether you are striving to master more advanced poses or just starting out in your practice, my best advice would be: do as much yoga as you need to fill your heart. Everybody has a different requirement. I know people who are very happy practicing yoga for 3 minutes a day. That wouldn’t really work for me, but I don’t chastise them for that.
Some people are born yogis, others take an entire lifetime to get there. It can take years to master even a single pose. When we try to put the body in positions it isn’t ready for, it sets us up for injury. It’s not like we can’t work toward poses that are challenging… But it’s always a journey: we start a pose, work on it for several years, and finally get it dialed in. You can be a master yogi and never master a pose, or you can master several poses and never be a master yogi. To me, a yoga master has achieved equanimity in life. The most profound gurus will tell you they are still struggling and if they don’t, be careful. It’s those who say they’ve achieved enlightenment that I’m wary of.