How long should you hold a yoga pose?

by Melissa West on June 10, 2013

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Today’s question comes to us from Doug from Facebook

How-Long-Should-I-hold-a-Yoga-Pose-with-Melissa-Westand he wants to know, How long should you hold a pose? In my home practice I hold poses for 4-6 breaths. In classes that I attend it’s usually less than this. In this video  you are recommending up to 10 breaths.

Thank you for a great question Doug. To a certain extent it depends on the style of yoga you are taking. Certain styles of yoga have longer holds in yoga poses and certain styles of yoga have shorter holds. Vinyasa yoga for example flows from one pose to another with breath so there are little or no holds in the poses.

In the style of hatha yoga I teach there are longer holds in the poses. There are a number of reasons for this.

A number of years ago now I learned from Lucas Rockwood, a yoga teacher that in order to develop flexibility you must hold a yoga pose for at least two to five minutes. Holding yoga poses any less than 2-5 minutes simply demonstrates your existing flexibility. I really took this to heart and started increasing the hold times in my yoga practice- we are interested in developing flexibility, strength, endurance, and balance, aren’t we? We’re not simply here to simply demonstrate our existing flexibility, strength, endurance and balance – and so longer holds to me are super important to increasing our overall flexibility, strength, endurance and balance.

Secondly, I trained in a style that combines yoga and psychology, specifically with Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy. If you are whipping through the poses then you don’t have enough time to develop awareness within each pose and ask yourself, “What’s happening now?” with your breath, body, thoughts, emotions, energy and spirit. Spending time in poses allows you to open the doors of awareness to come to know yourself, your body, your thoughts and your emotions.

In my yoga videos I generally hold the yoga poses for about 10-12 breaths. This morning as I write up this blog post, that clocks in at 1:44 seconds. So, perhaps I should be holding my postures longer in our yoga classes. Generally I do this for time management – on video we try to keep our videos just under the hour mark to keep the video quality high and also to fit in my entire lesson plan.. In your own practice at home you can have the luxury to hold your poses for 30 breaths (which is what I do) which will put you at around the 3 minute mark per pose.

  • defrees

    Thanks, Melissa, you’ve given me a lot to think about. My choice to hold my poses for 4-6 breaths comes from Kripalu yoga and their book “Yoga On and Off the Mat” (I think that’s the correct title.) I do my yoga in the morning after a walk and before breakfast and work. Increasing it to 30 breaths is probably not practical in those circumstances but perhaps I should gradually increase how long I hold my poses and see what I am comfortable with.  –Doug

    • defrees Dear Doug, thank you for asking such a great question. I agree with you that holding for 30 breaths is not always practical – as I discussed in the video – with the challenges I have putting together and filming yoga classes – 30 breaths per pose just wouldn’t allow me to present my complete lesson plan! 🙂 I like your idea of experimenting in your practice with increasing your hold times. That way you avoid getting into a samskara (sanskrit word for rut) in your practice. 
      I was thinking further about this question too and I also think having “rules” about how long to hold a pose overrides awareness in your body. So if you get in a habit of holding your pose for 4-6 breaths (or 30 for that matter) then are you really listening to what is happening in your body and to when your body is finished and ready to come out of the pose? I know I am definitely guilty of this. Just something I wish I had also included in this video for further thought. Great question Doug and thanks again for asking. 🙂 Namaste, Melissa

  • helios1

    Melissa, that was very helpful. I knew there were different “genres” of yoga and always wondered about the number of  breaths you hold. Personally, I change between Vinyasa, when I need a more energetic workout and your videos when I need to concentrate on specific areas.However, I always feel a deeper involvement within my asanas and breathing while practicing to your videos.
    You are much loved here in Denmark.

    • helios1 Dear Janis I think it is important to practice non-attachment even with our yoga practices and so it’s great that you are open to different styles of yoga and respond to what your body needs with a more energetic workout for vinyasa and then have the option for deeper involvement with asana and breathing and focus on specific areas with a different style. 🙂 Namaste, Melissa p.s. thank you for the love from Denmark

  • Carla van de Schoot

    Dear Melissa, I would like to hold the poses longer. Do you think you could make a video with longer holds, some time when you have time (I know you are really busy, but I thought I’d ask anyway…).
    Thanks, love your classes,

    • Thanks for your interest in yoga videos with longer holds. 🙂 I will definitely add that to my content creation list. Namaste, Melissa p.s. in the mean time check out our restorative videos, they have long holds for sure.

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