As a modern yoga teacher and practitioner, I often feel a tendency to search for novelty. I look for new experiences both for myself and for my students. Sometimes this means trying to provide a dramatically different sequence for my students each week and other times it means switching between different styles and teachers in my own practice.
I think this diversity is good (it’s a big reason I started practicing yoga in the first place). However, it can also be counter productive.
One challenge with frequently changing styles of practice, or even changing sequences, is that it reduces the amount of repetition used to train specific movements. There is a fundamental principle of strength training called “progressive overload”, which entails consistently increasing the strain put on a muscle across training sessions to stimulate muscle growth. Unfortunately, this can only be achieved if movements are repeated consistently, therefore practicing different sequences each time you hit the mat will make it significantly more difficult to build strength.
Now, maybe you (or your students) aren’t in the yoga game for strength gains. Many teachers have still found that repetition and consistency are key. Expert teacher, Jason Crandall explains that his class retention rates and levels of student comfort are both higher because he keeps his sequences mostly the same for each class. Jason suggests that this gives students more opportunities to develop specific muscle groups, the space to go deeper into familiar postures, and a safer overall experience. He notes that his classes are generally 80% the same each time, with 20% reserved for new movements or postures.
From a teacher's perspective, this also significantly reduces the amount of pressure we feel to constantly be creating new content. Plus, allowing ourselves to focus on and reuse specific postures increases our institutive understanding of them, leading to safer and more specific cueing.
You can think of practicing yoga like any other sport (or art for that matter). If you want to develop as a soccer player, you need to be doing many of the same drills over and over. If you want to be an artist, you need to use the same materials whether those be oil paints, clay, or watercolor, over and over again. Repetition is simply a fundamental part of any learning process.
Now, I don’t say any of this thinking that it is going to be revolutionary. There are plenty of practices that use set sequences that are repeated consistently such as in Ashtanga yoga. These have shown to be incredibly effective at progressively building strength and ability. However, these rigidly set sequences also very frequently lead to injury from overuse. Therefore, I would suggest that there’s a spectrum that goes from extremely diverse to extremely repetitive practice, and ideally you find yourself somewhere in the middle of it, depending on what’s right for your body and goals.
So how do we integrate repetition into practice without going too far? Here are a few ideas.
Pick specific movements to integrate into every practice. If you enjoy not being restricted to a specific sequence, then pick a few postures or movements that you can readily integrate into every practice. Maybe you designate a certain time in your practice (like after Sun Salutations) to move through these postures. Similarly, maybe you use a ratio like Jason Crandall's 80/20 split to determine how much of your practice changes between sessions.
Repeat practice for a set amount of time. If you don’t mind repeating a full practice, choose a set period of time (for example, one month) in which you only practice one sequence. Notice the changes in how effectively and deeply you hold each posture as time goes on.
Alternate between set practices. If one practice seems too boring, but you're looking for a little repetition, try alternating between a few different practices. Perhaps you have a different Monday practice, Wednesday practice, and Friday practice, however each of these is repeated week after week for several months.
Try Ashtanga or a style with preset sequences. If you’d like more structure and guidance, perhaps you want to give a style of yoga such as Ashtanga, that inherently incorporates this principle of repetition.
For many of us, the yoga mat is a place that we can come to each day to feel comfortable and relaxed. A place where we can leave anxiety behind. Most of the time, repetition helps this experience, and students will appreciate it.
So if you’re like me; always trying to innovate; always feeling pressured to create, teach, or practice something new, hear this: It’s ok to repeat.
It will help you build strength, make your students more comfortable, reduce teaching anxiety, and allow for a deeper understanding and expression of postures.
Do you use repetition in your practice or teaching? Let us know how in the comments below!