Here’s the health reform we really need: 90-minute yoga classes should be banned.
Everywhere I look—whether in my ClassPass app, which is like Blue Apron for exercise, or in MindBody, which is like Uber for your glutes—too many yoga classes on offer are 75 or 90 minutes long. Most classes, blessedly, stop there, but I’ve occasionally even seen two-hour-long meditation classes—for the woman who has everything, I guess, except a job.
Make no mistake: I love yoga. I would simply like to do less of it when I go. I have been “coming to the mat,” as the most annoying among us say, since I was a Texan teenager, sending my “sitz bones” skyward on the lonesome prairie. I have taken yoga classes of all different lengths in various countries. Never, ever have I left one that lasted 60 minutes and thought, “dang! I wish that had been longer.”
I say this, in part, for the obvious efficiency reasons. We live a fast-paced digital lifestyle, yada yada. But even if this were the sleepier time of typewriters and Seinfeld, 90 minutes would be too freaking long to spend regretting your recent furniture purchase while throwing your legs over your head (unless you’re on your moon cycle!)
We can all recognize the calm desperation with which yoga instructors try to fill the extraneous minutes of an hour-and-a-half stretch-a-thon. In one class I took while living in Los Angeles, the instructor padded things by having us choose “partners” who would physically hold us in some of the trickier poses. Then we switch, and the holder becomes the holdee. Leaving aside the fact that if you’re getting grappled by a silver-haired arty man in Los Angeles, you should at least be getting a long-awaited launch to your acting career for the trouble, this “partnership” was completely unnecessary. Under other instructors, these are poses we would do anyway, all by ourselves.
In D.C., where people are too uptight to touch strangers, I’ve seen what could be a 60-minute class go to 90 with the help of long announcements about upcoming “retreats,” or worse, chanting.
Stereotypes about the practice suggest that people who go to yoga don’t care about wasting time (see, for example: “If you’re not into yoga, if you have half a brain.”) But anxious people go to yoga, too—it’s how we persuade our therapists that we’re trying to get better. And anyway, it might behoove even non-angsty Americans to do more yoga, but in smaller bursts. There aren’t many good studies on yoga, but some suggest you only need to do a few minutes of it regularly to reap health benefits. One paper found that just one 20-minute yoga session temporarily improved working memory. Another showed that a 12-minute yoga routine, practiced daily or every other day, led to better bone density. If the “every day” part is key—which we’ll never know until the government makes funding yoga research a priority, haha—then shorter surely is better, or at least more realistic.
Some say 90 minutes is simply how long it takes to pace through all the sacred asanas, and that we shouldn’t tamper with tradition. But there is nothing traditional about most of today’s yoga studios, which are more about monetizing relaxation than they are about honoring whomever yoga is supposed to honor. I recently went to one class, supposedly a hybrid dance-yoga endeavor, in which the instructor shimmied around a stage to Jason Derulo. We’re not exactly meditating in the Indus Valley anymore.
I would be open to dipping below an hour, especially when deadlines are as tight as my shoulders. Another L.A. class I was more fond of, but which I attended less frequently because it had fewer parking spots, packed yoga into 30 minutes, rocketing through the basic poses and dispensing with the zen stuff entirely. But sometimes it felt too brief, as though just as soon as I had found parking, the thing was over. (I always felt this way in L.A.) If you really just need to pop your scapulas back into place with the aid of some quick down-dogs, in other words, perhaps a YouTube video would suffice.
For a class, though, 60 minutes is the platonic ideal. WTF kind of time period is 90 minutes, anyway? Sixty minutes is The Americans or Game of Thrones—award-winning cable programming. Ninety minutes is a Disney Channel original movie.
An hour is more than enough time for the active sun salutations, the relaxing sitting poses, and even the butt-in-the-air one that no one can do. Shavasana will be over before the urge to check your phone becomes overpowering.
Yoga teachers, I beg thee, give the people the workout they want in the time window they can afford: one hour. Namaste.