Rather than directly answer the question for you, I would like to propose that we use it as a tool to uncover what our beliefs are about yoga. I just found a quote by Anais Nin, who said that "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are".
What does Yoga mean to you?
The average person, given today’s media coverage, thinks of yoga as purely a discipline of the body. If you are one who equates yoga with a sport, then, as with any physical activity, the risk of repetitive strain, pain, and fatigue can take their toll. In fact, recent studies, have indicated that strenuous yoga can play a role in repetitive strain injuries. You may have seen it yourself. There are classes with 50 downward facing dogs or chatturangas where speed of movement can take precedence over form and function. Yes, you may be inhaling one movement and exhaling another, but you may be overloading your joints. In this case, “too much” is not so healthy.
Yoga also heals, and this has been the focal point of my career as a yoga therapist. I have often seen those students and even yoga teachers who have rotator cuff injuries or hamstring pulls from pushing their practice a bit too far. There is growing science behind the gift of a specialized (yoga therapy) practice to reduce stress, in addition to being used as alternative medicine for treatment of anxiety, back pain, cancer, IBS, osteoporosis, to name a few areas. These studies include the ‘softer sides’ of yoga including meditation. There is also research on the benefits of restorative yoga therapy. In this case, bring on “too much” if it really can affect such profound transformation.
Balance in opposites
This brings us to the question of how we know whether what we are doing is promoting health and healing or creating an imbalance. What exactly is “too much” and how do we know if we are guilty of using Yoga as a tool for tipping our life off kilter. So personal. Maybe you feel great after all the yoga you are doing, but other areas of your life are suffering. The expression, “too much” implies a sense of imbalance and overuse. Yoga, by definition means, to “unite’, and “Hatha” yoga refers to a balance of opposites, whether they be work/play, relationships/solitude, activity/rest.
This can be examined through simple introspection. Symptoms to watch for are irritability, pain that isn’t going away despite all that yoga, muscle fatigue and soreness. There can also be a kind of addiction to “getting a pose” or competing with oneself, rather than learning through grounded ritual and repetition. Stay in tune and intuitive about yourself. Balance is created by doing what is lacking or un-doing what is overworked. In Yapana® Yoga, we refer to things in terms of “doing”, “being” and “still” poses, and this gives some nice formulas to bring equilibrium to the physicality of yoga practice. Even a daily practice can be an opportunity to put this into practice. Learning to tune into yourself and your needs is a way to cultivate presence and determine where you are in the spectrum of “too much”.
The other limbs of Yoga
I devoted the first part of this piece to examining the ins and outs of “too much” yoga in terms of the body oriented aspects of yoga. Whether one is actually experiencing the benefits of increased health, mobility and joy through that aspect or experiencing signs that “too much” of a good thing was kind of bad. Of course there is SO much more to this ancient system of wellness.
Here we delve into the other 7 limbs of yoga. I believe the yoga mat is the way to take your muscles to school, but you cannot do this without learning to breathe well (pranayama). Once this element of practice unfolds for you, you will likely begin to be able to harness your mind, build focus, concentration, and a meditative state and mindful awareness that permeates your life at work, at home, in your own center. The more you feel nourished from within, the healthier choices (niyamas) you may make. It does not end here. There is no real yoga unless we are cultivating kindness (and the other yamas). Place yourself in the practice and you will see how it bears fruit, like a tree. Can we ever be too kind, too compassionate, too mindful? Here is where we can likely say that there is no such thing as too much yoga. In fact, after we say our “Aum, shanty, shanty, shanty” we reflect on a heartfelt desire to see peace within not only ourselves, our communities, but also within the world at large.
Who are you and where are you on the spectrum?
Healthy introspection is a facet of yoga practice. I have a 20+ year practice which is always evolving and organic, and I do look for ways to be a mindful wife, sister, daughter, aunt, neighbor, teacher. Sometimes, where I am on the spectrum varies, so I derive help from the entire system of Yoga to help me navigate a new balance. You can tap into your own wisdom by asking yourself:
- How do I feel now?
- Does my practice make me feel better?
- Am I able to integrate my yoga practice with other aspects of my life?
- What can I incorporate that will advance harmony?
Yoga as it is practiced by so many is both too much and not enough at the same time. There is truly so much to learn and assimilate that it often feels like there is not enough time to get to Yoga actually becoming “too much of a good thing”. The good news is that it is called a practice so that we can do just that.