When it comes to yoga, no one size fits all. Yoga poses can look different in each individual doing the pose. It’s also the same when it comes to holding a pose.
Many of my students who do a home yoga practice ask me how long to hold a yoga pose, and the simple answer is, it depends. You need to consider many factors to decide how long you will be holding a yoga posture in your practice.
In this article, you will learn these factors, the benefits of holding yoga poses for a long time and a short time, and whether or not you should be holding a pose for a long time or a short time.
How is Hold Time Counted?
Before we look at the factors on how long you should be holding a yoga pose, let’s first define what a long and short hold times is.
Holding for Three Cycles of Breath
When you hold a yoga pose for three rounds of breath, that’s a short hold time.
Holding for Five Cycles of Breath
To hold a yoga posture for five or more cycles of breath means it’s a medium hold time.
Holding for Eight or More Cycles of Breath
A long hold time for yoga poses is eight or more rounds of breath.
Factors to Consider in How Long to Hold a Yoga Pose
Here are the factors you need to consider when deciding how long you should hold a yoga pose.
The Style of Yoga
There are many styles of yoga, and one thing that differentiates one style from another is the duration of holding a posture.
Hatha Yoga is an umbrella term for the physical side of yoga. These days though, people use it to describe a style of yoga for beginners. In Hatha Yoga, you hold poses for three to five breaths.
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a style of yoga that is much like a physical workout. It is an energetic style and might not be suitable for a beginner. In Ashtanga Yoga, you transition from each yoga asana using a flowing movement.
The specifics on how long you hold the pose when practicing Ashtanga are not precise. But in the book Yoga Mala, Pattabi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga, recommends holding a posture for five to eight breaths or as long as it feels comfortable.
Vinyasa Yoga is a style of yoga derived from Ashtanga. Like Ashtanga, the specific as to how long you should be holding each pose is also not clear. In Vinyasa, you take an inhale in one pose and an exhale to move to another pose.
Typically, you inhale when you extend your spine and exhale when you flex it. A typical example of a Vinyasa and Ashtanga sequence is the Surya Namaskara.
Yin Yoga and Restorative
Yin yoga is very different from other styles of yoga. It is passive and meditative. Poses in Yin yoga aim to target the connective tissue. Since the connective tissues are deep within the body, the poses are held for three or more cycles of breath.
Restorative yoga, like Yin yoga, is a passive style of yoga. The poses are also held longer. Most of the time, you will be using props. The purpose of Restorative is to release tension and restore your energy.
What Your Goal is for Practicing Yoga Poses
We have different goals when practicing yoga asanas. It dictates how long you should hold the poses. Is it your goal to develop more muscle endurance or to get a good cardio workout?
Do you want a quick boost in your energy? Or do you want to relax and find calmness?
If your goal is to develop more muscle endurance, you should hold poses for an extended period. The more stress you put on your muscles, the stronger the muscles get.
If your goal is to get a cardio workout out of your asana practice, hold poses for one breath. Moving fast between each pose will pump your heart quicker and give you good cardio exercise. You should also be doing this if you want a quick boost to your energy.
If your goal is to relax, you will benefit more from doing seated and grounding yoga poses that you hold for a long time. The same goes when you want to restore your energy.
How You Are Feeling
Yoga is about being mindful of your thoughts, physical sensations, and your breath. When you hold a pose, be aware of how you feel and your breath. Is your breath constricted when holding a particular pose?
If your breath is not flowing freely when doing a specific pose, maybe your form is not good, or maybe your body is not ready for the pose yet. In this case, come out of the pose and don’t hold it long.
If you feel anxious or your stress levels are high and you need to relax, you will benefit more if you hold relaxing poses for a long time. If you feel like you need a quick pick-me-up, maybe you need a boost of endorphins.
Moving from one pose to another and holding each pose for a short time will help you pump your heart, boost your endorphins, and give you energy.
Your Fitness Level
Are you a beginner yogi or have you been practicing other types of fitness systems regularly? How long you can hold a pose depends on your fitness level. If you’ve never done yoga or any physical exercise before, you may not be able to hold poses for a long time.
Therefore, you have to honor your body and not push it beyond its boundaries. Holding a pose for only a short time doesn’t make you bad at yoga. It only means you are still a beginner. Everyone starts as a beginner.
How Hard the Pose Is
Some yoga asanas are easy, while others are difficult. What pose you think is easy will be difficult for others. While many people find Savasana or Corpse Pose easy and can stay in this pose forever, some people find it difficult. If you find some poses hard and painful, don’t stay on them too long.
If the posture is challenging because you just don’t have the endurance, push yourself to hold it longer. Doing this will train your muscles and increase your endurance and strength. But never force your body when it is in pain.
The Benefits of Holding Yoga Poses for a Long Time
Holding yoga asanas for a long time can give you two significant benefits.
The first benefit is improved muscle endurance and strength. The second benefit is enhanced passive flexibility and recovery.
The benefits you can get from a longer hold time depend on the yoga poses you practice. Poses that generally use more muscles or muscle groups will improve your muscle endurance and strength when held for an extended period.
Here are some poses that will boost your muscle endurance, strength, and mass:
- Chair Pose
- Bridge Pose
- Dolphin Pose
- Warrior Poses
Grounding and centering poses when held for an extended period encourages recovery and relaxation and improves your passive flexibility. Here are some of these poses:
- Butterfly Pose
- Seated Forward Fold
- Dragonfly Pose
- Child’s Pose
- Sphinx Pose
Other Benefits of Holding a Yoga Pose for a Long Time
Improves Body Awareness
When you move fast from one pose to another, it’s easy to forget about where the parts of your body are in space or what your body feels in a particular pose. But when you stay in a pose for a long time, you have the time to notice the parts of your body.
This way, you will see if your alignment is correct and if you are activating your muscles or not.
When the alignment is proper and engaging the right muscles, you will become more stable. Furthermore, you will have time to notice if your breath is still flowing freely, which is very important in yoga.
It Can Be a Workout
While moving fast in yoga is a great cardio exercise, it’s not a complete workout. A complete workout should pump your heart more while also giving your muscles enough stress to grow and strengthen. Holding poses for an extended period will stress and break your muscle fibers.
When this happens, the body will heal itself by bringing the muscle fibers back together. As the muscles recover, they will grow and become stronger. It also pumps your heart more, bringing more oxygen to the body and improving your heart health.
Longer holds of yoga poses engage the primary muscle or protagonist’s muscle. While this is happening, the antagonist muscle will stretch. So, the longer you hold a certain pose, the stronger and more flexible you get.
Many yoga poses relieve physical and mental tension when held for an extended period. Holding calming and grounding poses for a long time stretches tight muscles, which relieve tension.
The Benefits of Holding Yoga Poses for a Short Time
Holding poses for three to five breaths or a short period can also give their benefits. Here are the benefits:
Warms up the Body Faster
When doing any physical activity, it’s essential to start with a warm-up first. Warming up prepares your body for any physical activity. It lowers the risk of injury. When the body warms up faster, the muscle contracts faster.
Boosts Energy Quickly
You need the energy to do any physical activity, such as practicing yoga asanas. When you hold poses for a short time, it boosts your energy. Moving fast stimulates the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for your fight-or-flight response.
Improves Your Lung Capacity
When you move from one pose to another briefly, your lung capacity will improve. That is, of course, if you keep up with your breath. When you are moving fast from one pose to the next, the lungs get a good workout. Therefore, it becomes stronger.
Increases Your Stamina
Holding poses for a short time increases your stamina. Stamina is your ability to sustain a prolonged physical or mental activity. It challenges your mind and body, making them stronger and more resilient.
Improves Your Cardiovascular Health
Holding a pose briefly before moving to another pose increases your heart rate. It’s an exercise for the heart and makes the heart stronger. Increasing the heart rate also makes the flow of oxygen in the body faster.
When oxygen flows more efficiently to your muscles and organs, your body will heal quicker from the stress you put on it and it will function more efficiently.
Should You Hold a Yoga Pose for a Long Time or a Short Time?
Experiment with holding a pose for a long time and a short time. This way, you can get the benefits of each category. Practicing yoga asanas is a great way to improve your physical, mental, and emotional health but only when you do them efficiently.
Focus on finding the balance between challenging your body and pushing its boundaries, and honoring what it can do at the present moment. Listen to your body, so you can move mindfully and avoid hurting yourself. And as always, move with your breath.