Early in my yoga practice, I was in my late 20s and fairly fit. I had picked up a copy of Light On Yoga and rushed toward the poses at the back of the book. Many disasters were had. Because I was youthful and full of ego, I went full on to trying to master the book.
Now it seems the more I do yoga, the more I go toward the front of the book to re-learn many principles that were glossed over 15 years ago. Then I realize those principles I had issues in the beginning have recurred tenfold into my later years of practice, very much like in fractal geometry where one simple pattern blows up into a chaotic and overwhelming shape.
My original Yoga teacher was named Daws. He was in his late 60s at the time and did yoga at Kapiolani Park in Honolulu. He still teaches there. He would often talk at length while we were in our asanas. One of the things he said has always stuck with me regarding how often we should practice Yoga:
Once a week…is not enough
Twice a week…is not enough
Three times a week…is not enough
Four times a week…is not enough
Five times a week…is not enough
Six times a week…is not enough
Seven times a week…is not enough
It’s never enough. It’s never enough.
This is a good way to look at each asana. Every day our body changes. Every day there is something going on in our life that creates our body to move a little differently. Our asanas keep evolving too. I remember a time when I could not get my hand to the floor in Utthita Parsvakonasana. Now it is normal for me. However, there are days when I need a block or even a chair.
Gaining mastery in asana does not mean just attaining it. You see all the yoga selfies out there. If you are young and flexible, asanas are a piece of cake. It is the yearly continued practice that peel off layers and layers that make for asana mastery in the truest sense.
In the Iyengar yoga system we are taught there are three parts of the asanic journey: the Bahiranga, the Antaranga, and the Antaratma.
Bahiranga is just the superficial journey of attaining the shape of the pose, knowing the Sanskrit name, learning how to get in and out of the pose safely. This is the yoga you see in selfies no matter how “advanced” the pose looks.
Antaranga is when the asana becomes internalized. Yoga Sutra 2.46 says “prayatna shaithilya ananta samapattibhyam” or the asana attainment is reached when there is effortless effort with contemplations. This occurs when the asana is practiced so much, that the self begins to dissipate and the form of the asana starts to become the aspirant.
Antaratma is the part of the journey where the Atma, or soul is doing the yoga, and the ego is completely eradicated. This is what we should aspire to in asana.
So to address the question of how many times one must do an asana before it is mastered, the short answer is it’s never enough. It’s never enough.