30 Day Yoga Challenges are Popular, but are They Healthy?
Is there such a thing as too much yoga? Thirty day (or other length) yoga challenges have become a thing in the last 15 years…and therefore a staple of the yoga world every January.
Typically these challenges involve attending a yoga class (virtually or in person) each and every day for 30 days in a row. (Although, as you will see, there are various ways to structure them.)
Most often, these challenges are run by yoga studios or Youtube channels. They exist because:
- Humans love / need motivation
- A group of humans sharing a goal is motivating!
- The bonding experience or the pride you feel in accomplishing the feat bonds you to the teacher or studio or channel. You gain more of the know-like-trust factor as a student, or you benefit from that as a teacher / studio
- Students can learn a LOT about yoga, and theoretically deepen their yoga studies. They often get out of their comfort zone, try new things, or create better habits of daily movement.
But is 30 days of yoga too much of a good thing?
It depends. Because so much of yoga in popular culture is defined by asana (poses), and because asana classes often feature repeating poses, completing 30 days in a row of asana classes could cause repetitive stress injuries.
Even the Ashtanga style of yoga, which follows a set asana sequence every day, suggests at least one day a week as a rest day (no asana practice).
Best case 30 day yoga challenge scenario
In a best case scenario, a challenge like this offers a LOT of variety from one class to the next or offers options other than yoga asana classes for your daily participation credit — even Independent “study” – like reading an article or a book on yoga.
Here’s an example of how a well-rounded 30 day yoga challenge could be constructed:
- Twice a week (for example Mondays and Thursdays) could be vinyasa-based classes (including Ashtanga, Power Flow, etc),
- Tuesdays and Fridays could be rest-oriented days (restorative yoga, meditation, yoga nidra or very gentle yoga asana),
- and (if the studio is really diverse) Wednesdays and Saturdays could include something like Iyengar, or a handstand practice (or other pose-focused class), pilates, tai chi, dance, or even a book club or walking meditation.
When we polled our followers on Instagram, many mentioned that they felt that 30 day challenges had deepened their yoga practices, taught them about a variety of ways to practice yoga, and helped to instill a habit of showing up to their mat daily.
Others had a negative experience, particularly “feeling like a failure.”
What could go wrong?
What might go wrong in such a wholesome challenge? Is this a silly question? From a movement science based and psychology perspective, no, it is not.
Here are a few possibilities:
Tackling Repetitive Stress Injuries.
- Repetitive stress injuries from lack of recovery time between active practices
- Students feeling more defeated when they miss a class or don’t complete the challenge
- The challenge becomes more about promoting the studio / getting views on YouTube than true best practices for students’ well-being
Yoga students, like all humans, like what they like.
When one discovers a yoga teacher / class / style that they enjoy, they tend to stick to their chosen movement style, even within these 30 day challenges. Vinyasa lovers show up for vinyasa as frequently as possible. Yin lovers step up the yin frequency.
Maybe this isn’t terribly different from a normal scenario, but the vast majority of yoga asana students do not do hour (or longer) asana practices on a daily basis. They take days off, they walk or run, or bake or Netflix and chill.
Repetitive stress injuries happen when similar movements, especially challenging movements, are performed day after day. Chaturanga, anyone? But also: Downward Facing dog is a challenging pose. You won’t feel a stress injury as it is coming on. You feel it after it is there.
In simple terms, since your muscles have not had the time to recover from the activity on Monday, your tendons take on more of the load on Tuesday. Tendon issues can take a long time to recover.
This is where repetitive stress injuries come up and where 30 day yoga challenges may be too much of a good thing. The amount of rest (or active rest through diversifying physical activity, or suhka, sweetness in Sanskrit) is too limited to allow the benefits to sink in.
The psychology factor
Secondarily, it’s important to consider that a challenge intended to improve someone’s well being should not overwhelm them. From the point of view of asana, it is more important that a yoga practice should be sustainable than that it be daily.
If not, it risks leaving students feeling defeated, feeling like they have failed.
Serve the students
Finally, whether you are enrolling in a challenge or running a challenge, ask yourself — is this what is best for the individual’s or my practice? Or is this challenge more about getting more bodies in the studio or about serving our students?
There is nothing wrong with a studio using a 30 day challenge as a marketing tool. But we encourage those that run these challenges to make them joyful, diverse, and multi-modal.
The big takeaways:
- If you are creating a yoga challenge:
- Start with what is best (and most sustainable) for the students
- Find ways to make the movement class to class more diverse than the student might otherwise experience
- Incorporate rest days (suggesting restorative yoga and taking a walk, for example)
- If you are a student in a yoga challenge, take the parts of it that work best for you, and let go of perfectionism
What are your experiences with 30 day challenges? What would you add to this list — the good or the bad? Let us know in the comments below!
And if this type of nuanced thinking around yoga intrigues you, consider joining our Online Yoga Anatomy Mentorship. It opens up a few times a year to welcome dedicated yoga students, and yoga teachers.
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