Ashtanga yoga is practiced six days a week. So, when is it okay to take a day off from yoga… and when should we reconsider canceling?
Inertia is a funny thing. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest. Objects in motion, when in a straight path with nothing slowing them down, tend to stay in motion. With this little bit o’ physics, we can say that getting up and doing your practice can become its own perpetual motion machine, right?
Yoga + Science = Win! (?)
Not so fast.
When is it appropriate to take off a day from practice?
Saturday. Maybe do an oil bath.
We have a six day a week practice, right? Saturday is a great day to take off and do nothing. Seriously. Make sure you’re getting a rest day. Chill out a bit, relax. You’ve earned it (and probably need it).
Moondays. We take new and full moons off from practice.
(eat it, science)
Why do we take moondays? Since I’m convinced its ’cause even Gurus like a long weekend (I kid!), I’ll defer to Eddie Stern of Ashtanga Yoga New York:
“Since Pattabhi Jois was a student at the Maharaja’s Pathashala, and was the Professor of Yoga at the college from 1937 to 1973, taking those days off from teaching became a habit and observance for him. Since he held the view that yoga was a practice of Vedic origin, and that the knowledge of the Upanishads was to be accessed through the doorway of asanas and pranayama, he ascribed the same observances to teaching yoga as he did to teaching Veda. He further used to say that on the full and new moon days, there was a particular conjunction of nakshatras that made it easier to get injured, and that the injury would take longer to heal[…]
Pattabhi Jois knew quite a bit about astrology, too – the name Jois is a South Indian corruption of Jyotish, and astrology was in his family tradition. I say all this to make the simple point that Pattabhi Jois had certain habits from the time he was 14. Why he had these habits is interesting, and though we may not be brahmins, or even Indian, as his students it is good to understand why certain things were done by him, and accept that if he felt them important enough to follow, that they are applicable to us too.”
The whole letter is pretty great, I encourage you to give it a read.
So, we know we get Saturdays and the moon off. When else should we take time off? Well, I reckon its time to get back to the science.
Cold/Flu/Fever/etc. Pretty much anytime you’ve got a fever, take the day off.
If you’ve got a communicable case of something-or-other, please stay home and practice. This is kinder to your shalamates.
But, be discerning. You won’t get me sick with your allergies, and you’re not going to feel better any slower for having practiced. Yes, you’ll probably feel like you’re made mostly of lead and phlegm, but general yuck is a poor excuse for skipping practice.
In my experience, for having come in you’ll feel better faster. Seriously.
Menstruation. What Ashtangi’s call “Ladies Holiday.”
If you really feel your body, does it make sense to practice bandha when heavily menstruating? So why do it? Please give yourself enthusiastic permission to rest as long as you need.
(I have seen menstrual cycles lasting from 12 hours to 7 days.) Regular practitioners usually take 2–3 days off for the event. I take 1 or 2, sleep my head off, and eat dark chocolate. I feel that the rest I get during my cycle is twice as deep and effective than at any other time. Listen to your body and rest enthusiastically.
Menstruation is not dirty. I expect all practitioners to be comfortable with the topic. Women often cycle with the moon, if they practice regularly while taking moon days off. We also cycle together. this is natural, once we wire back into some forgotten (some would say suppressed) rhythms. to regulate your cycle, sweat with us and pay a lot of attention to the moon.
Want to know more? Give Rose Tantraphol’s excellent blog post a read. She does a great round up.
This practice is incredibly therapeutic. By its nature, attention is called to our own likes, dislikes, cravings, and manifested beliefs (that may or may not be real). This is a very good thing– but can also be ripe for our own trickery.
If in doubt, come. But there’s something you should know…
I fudge the exact date of the new and full moon. In order to teach from a place of abundance and love, I try my best to make sure my householder duties are attended to. This is very important. So, sometimes I’ll move the moon for my significant other (and he lets me have the yoga full-stop).
While I’m confessing: I often practice on Saturday and take Sunday as my rest day.
We’ve all got lives, and our sadhana is here to support our real lives, not completely take them over. Do your best to practice with integrity and the rest will follow.
I’l see you on the mat.