Yoga Once A Week (Is it worth it? What does science says)


Whenever I can I like to do yoga as often as possible. However, sometimes my schedule only allows me to fit one yoga per week max. In this article, I will cover the reasons why you should start doing yoga and answer the question is yoga once a week worth it?

In general, doing yoga once a week is worth it because it helps to relax the body and reclaim the length-tension relationship in the muscles. Also, even one yoga session per week can make significant changes in your mood, energy, and well-being.

When I first started doing yoga I was under the impression that you need to do it every day to see the results. That was a big mistake. Here’s why.

What Does The Science Say?

There is a growing number of scientific research looking at yoga from all different corners and assessing the health benefits on the body and mind even from one single session.

Is yoga once a week enough? Yoga once a week is enough because it helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and down-regulate sympathetic response. Doing yoga once a week is enough to lower stress, reduce cortisol levels, and release feel-good hormones like serotonin and oxytocin.

Is doing yoga once a week beneficial? Doing yoga once a week is beneficial for several aspects of health including lowered muscle tension, improved strength, increased flexibility and range of motion, reduced stress, and reduced perception of pain. The most important factor that determines long-term effects is adherence.

The most important benefits of doing yoga, even if its just once a week is stress reduction.

A study done by Dr. Virginia Lemay from the University of Rhode Island documented the effects of 6-week yoga and meditation program performed once a week on stress perception, anxiety levels, and mindfulness skills. Each class consisted of 60 minutes vinyasa yoga session, followed by 30 minute meditation practice (source).

The results.

After 6-weeks of doing yoga once a week showed a significant difference from the baseline to the end of the study in the perception of anxiety, with a drop by 9.6 scores.

Another factor that researchers were measuring was mindfulness. Each session consists of a 30-minute meditation part. So the goal here was to assess how does one 30-minute meditation class, done immediately after yoga, impacts general mindfulness.

They divided mindfulness into 5 groups. Here are the results after 6-week program.

MindfulnessBeforeAfter
Observing25.830.4
Describing26.828.5
Awareness22.426.3
Nonjudging21.928.8
Non reacting18.522.4
Total115.5136.6
Results of 30 minutes meditation session performed once a week together wit yoga

The results showed that perception of mindfulness improved in every single of the group.

Also, another factor that the researcher looked at was stress. The total scores for the perception of stress improved. Before the 6-week program, the baseline for stress was on average 21.8. After the 6-week yoga program, the stress levels went down by 7.9 points to 13.9.

Here is the graph.

As you can see, the effects of doing just one single yoga session can go way beyond weight loss. The importance of stress reduction has a compounding effect on the body (more on that later).

Take a look at this randomized crossover trial done by Dr. Mateus J Benvenutti from the University of Sydney. He documented a group of 24 healthy adults and their stress responses (blood pressure, cortisol) after a single yoga session. The participants were divided into two groups:

  • Yoga group (yoga practice)
  • Control group (watching TV)

The results showed that a single session of yoga was enough to significantly down-regulate cortisol level, accelerated blood pressure recovery from short-term stress, and improved self-confidence before taking the complicated mathematic test (source).

How does yoga reduce cortisol?

Yoga reduces cortisol by making changes in the autonomic nervous system. It turns off sympathetic response and stimulates parasympathetic activity that is responsible to lowers the respiratory rate, increase GI motility, and secrets serotonin to start vasodilation in the GI tract.

It works by sending a signal from the brain through the vagus nerve to the digestive tract and activating several processes that reduce fight or flight activity. As a result, our cortisol level goes down, together with stress.

The similar effect from just one yoga class you get from a massage treatment. In both cases, intensive stretching from yoga or mechanical pressure from the massage activates a parasympathetic response.

Another study, this time was done by Jeremy West, B.A.from the Reed College in the USA compared Hatha yoga practice with African dance class and their effects on the cortisol levels. 69 participants were divided into two groups, Hatha yoga, and African dance.

To measure cortisol levels, researchers collected saliva samples and assess the salivary cortisol concentration before and after each class. The results showed that both of the activities reduced perceived stress.

However, after the class, the African dance group had elevated cortisol levels, where the Hatha yoga group had lowered cortisol concentrations, compared to before the session (source).

Effects of Yoga Once A Week

Here I want to highlight that the most benefits from doing yoga, even if it only one session per week, is in the long-term. There are multiple studies documenting the positive changes in the body after one single session. But what about the long-term effects?

What are the effects of doing yoga once a week? The long-term effects of doing yoga once a week include metabolic and hormonal changes, reduced chronic pain, improved emotional health, lowered resting heart rate, and improved cardiovascular health. This means the longer you practice yoga the more benefits you get.

A study was done by Dr. Robert B. Saper from the Boston University School of Medicine that compared the effects of yoga on lower back pain between people who practiced yoga once a week and twice a week (source).

The study took 12-weeks and all 95 adults were divided into the two sub groups:

  • Yoga once a week
  • Yoga twice a week

Here in the table below you can see how was each session divided and how much time the participants took for each segment.

Yoga scheduleTime
Check-in with participants5 min
Yoga philosophy10 min
Relaxation5 min
Breathing5 min
Warm-up15 min
Yoga postures25 min
Integrative relaxation5 min
Closing5 min
Total time75 minutes
75 minute yoga session schedule

The results

The overall effect of doing yoga sessions showed that, on average, the group who performed yoga class once a week had lowered their use of any pain medication at 6 weeks by 27%, and by the end of the week 12 by 30%. They also managed to lower the use of NSAIDs.

Here is the graph.

But that’s not all.

Here is the most interesting part. The group who performed yoga twice a week also reported a lower intake of pain medication at week 6 by 36%. However, at the end of week 12, the use of pain medication went significantly up, comparing to the once-a-week group.

The results show that doing just one single yoga class per week gives enough effects to help reduce lower back pain and improve the overall quality of life. It also shows that sometimes doing more than once a week can be detrimental in the long term.

Another study done by Dr. Marie-Louise Gander Ferrari from the Bern University Hospital in Switzerland documented 90 participants and the effect of a single yoga session on pain perception.

The results showed that 36 people (40% of all who took part in the research) experienced less pain after just one yoga class (source).

Can Yoga Once a Week Help?

Doing yoga once a week can help in several aspects of health and well-being. It helps to relieve the perception of pain, increases resting metabolic rate, and significantly reduces peak muscle soreness DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) after prolonged exercise.

Will yoga once a week make a difference? In general, doing yoga once a week will make a difference because a single session of intense and prolonged stretching, combined with breathing and meditation practice is enough to trigger positive changes in the body like higher energy expenditure or better mood.

A study done by Dr. Angela Α Tsopanidou from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in Greece documented the single bout of 90 minutes Vinyasa yoga session and its effect on the metabolic rate (source).

She looked at a group of 24 adults and divided session into four segments:

  • warm-up
  • high-intensity surya namaskar (sun salutation)
  • vinyasa sequence (asanas)
  • savasana (cooldown)

The results showed that peak energy expenditure was in the sun salutation. In other words, the sun salutation part was burning the most amount of calories, comparing to the rest. In the study, Dr. Angela Α Tsopanidou concluded that:

“systematic participation in Vinyasa yoga may effectively improve cardiorespiratory fitness and promote body weight loss, as an alternative method to traditional aerobic exercise.”

TIP: If your goal is to burn more calories, and you’re doing yoga sessions once a week, try to spend more time doing the sun salutation part of the session, as it elevates energy expenditure the most and burns more fat.

Can you lose weight from yoga once a week? You can lose weight from doing yoga once a week, as long as you maintain a calorie deficit. Doing just one session of yoga can help to boost metabolic rate and lowers the stress that often leads to unwanted overeating behaviors.

You see, food is not the problem. The problem is the problem. People usually struggle with excess weight because of higher stress levels, not because of food. More stress triggers us to eat, even when we are not hungry. So by reducing the stress, you are immediately reducing the triggers that lead to overeating.

Is it good to do yoga once a week? As a general rule, it is good to do yoga once a week because not only it can help with muscle tension, but also relax the whole body, release stress, and lowers the allostatic load. This also leads to lesser cravings for foods and better willpower.

Bikram Yoga Once a Week

Doing Bikram yoga once a week is another great way to stay strong and mentally sharp. In a hot yoga room, the air temperature can range from 92 degrees to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes muscles more supple, elastic, and flexible.

The extra heat also increases core body temperature, elevates heart rate, and makes the body sweat. This increases energy expenditure and burns even more calories, compared to a regular yoga session.

A lot of people practice hot yoga and swear by its benefits. One of them is the jiu-jitsu black belt and the founder of the famous podcast “The Joe Rogan Experience”, Joe Rogan.

In one of his episodes with Henry Rollins, Joe explains the benefits of doing a 90-minutes hot yoga session once a week.

“I think I need at least one day of hard cardio a week.

And I think I need at least one day of hard lifting weights a week.

But I also think I need at least one day of hot yoga a week.”

Joe continues:

“To me, yoga is one of the most important because in that 90-minutes I cannot go anywhere, my phone is not in the room.

It’s just me and a jug of water, a yoga mat, and a class.

The last twenty minutes are the hardest to get through. But when you get through, you feel better. It lengthens everything.

Back, hamstring, it stretches everything and loosens it up. This is an antidote for all the muscle tension.”

Once A Week Yoga Routine

When it comes to planning your once-a-week yoga practice, the most important factor is consistency, and do it whenever you can. At the very bottom of the hierarchy of importance is adherence, followed by your personal preferences to when you feel you have the most energy.

Then, once you know your day and you know you can be consistent, try to stick to the same time each week. The is a strong evidence confirming that the best physical adaptations body gets when exercise is performed around the same time.

The least important is time of the day. Meaning, if you worry to do yoga either morning or evening is not relevant as much as just doing it.

Conclusion

Doing yoga once a week comes with huge benefits, especially if it’s done consistently. Of course, many studies have shown that for weight loss or flexibility, doing yoga more often has better results.

But for other aspects like stress reduction, anxiety, or lowering pain, higher frequency doesn’t seem to exceed the results.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc), nutrition coach, Ashtanga teacher, and fitness blogger. He shares his successes and failures to help busy men and women squash down 20, 50, or even 100 pounds of fat without leaving their home.

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