The length of yoga poses: How long to hold each pose

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The best part of doing yoga is that we can have a unique routine that works for our personal desires and needs.

Some people prefer a quick and intense session, while others gravitate to longer routines.

It’s totally fine to go with the flow and practice with pleasure!

However, knowing how long you should hold each pose will help you to get the best results within the yoga style that you pick.

Each style has a different approach to how long you should stay in one pose, which ultimately comes down to how many breaths you take there.

Let’s look into that in more detail!

Breathe in…and let’s go!

How you hold your poses depends on the yoga style

How long you hold your poses will depend mainly on what style of yoga you’re practicing.

Each style offers a set of recommendations, but these are more general guidelines than strict rules. So you can still somewhat modify the prescribed routines to fit your needs and preferences.

Experienced yogis like Katarina Spackova shares her experience: “It all depends on the type o yoga you want to do. In general, you can hold a pose for 1-5 breaths. Faster types of yoga like Ashtanga or Power Yoga do one breath per movement. Also, if I’m stretching to achieve a certain pose, like split, I’d stay in the pose (half split) for at least 5 breaths on both sides.”

Ashtanga: hold for 5 or more breaths per pose

Ashtanga yoga focuses on deliberate movements and breath control. This is why discipline is key to performing this style properly.

The routine is comprised of 5 series, which practitioners must go through one after the other. Each of the five must be mastered before they can go to the next one in the series.

While the fact that ashtanga needs a lot of discipline can feel a bit intimidating, people warm up very quickly to the style. Plus, its numerous mental and physical benefits have attracted millions of people around the globe, including such famous names as Sting, who’s been practicing Ashtanga yoga for years.

Mental Benefits:

  • Improves your concentration;
  • Makes you more patient;
  • Helps with endurance;
  • Boosts your confidence;
  • Makes you more disciplined;
  • Reduces stress;
  • Alleviates anxiety.

Physical Benefits:

  • Builds stronger and more durable muscles;
  • Prevents high blood pressure;
  • Makes you become more flexible;
  • Burns body fat.

Vinyasa Yoga: hold for 1-5 breaths a pose

Vinyasa is quite similar to Ashtanga because it emphasizes breath and movement. During the session, practitioners of Vinyasa yoga target large muscle groups at once, so it can be quite the workout.

This yoga style is aimed at improving your cardiovascular conditioning and, consequently, can even help you lose weight.

Mental Benefits:

  • Releases feel-good hormones like serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins which can alleviate stress and depression;
  • Deepens mind and body connection;
  • Improves your ability to concentrate.

Physical Benefits:

  • Boosts heart health;
  • Promotes fat loss
  • Helps with detoxification;
  • Strengthens muscles;
  • Helps with skin issues;

Yin Yoga: hold for at least 5 minutes per pose

Yin yoga poses need to be held for at least 5 minutes.

This is because this style of yoga is all about strengthening and healing your joints, fascia, and other connective tissue—particularly those in your lower body. So expect to hold a lot of stretches and poses on the floor.

Mental Benefits:

  • Calms you down;
  • Reduces stress;
  • Promotes mind-and-body balance;
  • Helps clear chakra blockages;
  • Makes you appreciate stillness;
  • Gives you the opportunity to meditate;
  • Improves sleep hygiene.

Physical Benefits:

  • Targets parts of your body that aren’t usually hit by other yoga styles;
  • Greatly improves flexibility and mobility;
  • Facilitates healthy blood circulation;
  • Stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system.

Iyengar: hold for 1-5 minutes per pose

Iyengar yoga is all about properly aligning your body and maintaining good posture all while controlling your breath. It is a very detail-oriented approach, so you’ll have to stay focused during the session to practice Iyengar yoga properly.

Mental Benefits:

  • Reduces stress by calming you down;
  • Is a great pre-meditative exercise;
  • Improves your ability to be detail-oriented;
  • Helps you be more focused.

Physical Benefits:

  • Can cure neck or backaches;
  • Improves your balance;
  • Enhances your endurance;
  • Loosens up stiff areas and enhances flexibility;
  • Makes you stronger in isometric holds.

Power Yoga: hold for 4 to 40 seconds (1 – 5 breaths per pose)

Power yoga is a more energetic form of vinyasa that includes holding poses for longer. Vinyasa yoga only requires you to hold for a few breaths, but power yoga needs you to hold it for up to 40 seconds.

I personally enjoy this more than vinyasa due to its dynamic nature.

Mental Benefits:

  • Helps improve your focus;
  • Builds resilience and determination;
  • Alleviates stress and anxiety;
  • May relieve symptoms of depression.

Physical Benefits:

  • Strengthens muscles;
  • Raises heart rate, improving cardiovascular performance;
  • Corrects your posture in daily life;
  • Detofixies your body;
  • Relieves tension caused by physical stress inside the body.

Restorative Yoga: hold for 5- 20 minutes per pose

As the name suggests, restorative yoga is all about healing and is, therefore, calmer in nature. With the help of various props, you will hold passive stretches for a longer time. The aim is to soothe your muscles and provide you with an opportunity for deep relaxation.

Mental Benefits:

  • Calms the mind by reducing stress;
  • Alleviates anxiety and depression;
  • Promotes better sleep;
  • Is deeply serene and meditative;
  • Helps to develop self-awareness, empathy, and patience.

Physical Benefits:

  • Relaxes your joints and muscles;
  • Releases deep-seated bodily tension;
  • Gently but effectively stimulates the immune and nervous systems;
  • Promotes whole-body flexibility.

Bikram: hold for up to 1 minute per pose

Bikram yoga is performed with a unique emphasis on heat. The goal is to make you sweat a lot, so the asanas are performed in heated environments. Sessions are 90-minutes long and go through 26 specific poses.

Mental Benefits:

  • Enhances mental endurance and concentration;
  • Builds your mind’s stamina;
  • Helps to balance out your hormones and enhance mental health.

Physical Benefits:

  • Improves musculoskeletal strength;
  • Boosts flexibility;
  • Detoxifies the body;
  • Promotes weight loss.

These are just general guidelines and what’s most important is finding something that works for you in particular.

Listen to how your body feels and reacts, and choose a style and routine that fits you. Remember that there are countless ways to modify standard practices to fit your needs and preferences..

In fact, I highly recommend that you try out and regularly practice a diverse range of yoga styles. This way, you’ll never get tired of doing the same thing all the time—all while reaping the whole range of benefits that yoga has to offer!

I can’t hold certain poses for a long enough time, what should I do?

Holding yoga poses can definitely be quite challenging, especially for beginners.

In order to improve your ability to hold poses for long, we first need to understand there are a lot of factors that can affect it.

Holding poses requires several key skills:

  • Strength;
  • Mobility;
  • Balance;
  • Flexibility;
  • Core strength;
  • Breath control;
  • Proper posture.

The last point, proper posture, is often an under-emphasized skill in yoga. It’s integral in holding poses as it allows you to balance your weight and evenly distribute it in the various poses.

Having a strong core also makes things much easier and makes developing the other skills easier too.

The more you do yoga, the better you will be at these things, so don’t worry too much!

If you can’t hold a pose for a desired amount of time, just hold it for as long as you can. Then, in the next session, try to go over that time or at least match it.

Over time, you will get better!

Alternatively, you can also choose to exercise and improve these skills outside of yoga to quicken the progress.

Factors that determine pose duration

The determined pose durations are not arbitrary. At the absolute minimum, any pose you perform should be held for at least one whole breath. A whole breath should be comprised of one full inhale, and one full exhale. It should be a slow, deliberate breath that completely fills your lungs.

Ultimately, however, it is up to you—you’re free to hold any pose for as long as you like!

But there is a reason why there are prescribed durations. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t modify them (in fact, most styles allow for a fairly big range of pose duration), but rather you should think about why you want to modify them.

To begin, let’s take a look at the key determining factors when deciding how long you should hold a yoga pose.

The style of yoga

As we said above, the style of yoga you’re practicing is likely the biggest determinant of how long you should hold your poses.

Styles such as Iyengar, restorative yoga, Hatha, and Yin Yoga are slower-paced and truly focused on holding poses for prolonged periods of time.

These styles are typically more:

  • Focused on stretching than strength development;
  • Breath-focused;
  • Therapeutic;
  • Relaxing;
  • Meditative;

On the other hand, practices like Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and power yoga are definitely faster-paced.

The styles aim to bring about slightly different effects, which is why they are so different when it comes to asanas’ duration.

Your own individual goals

Every yoga practitioner will have their own individual goals.

Because yoga can provide a wide array of benefits, you can tailor your practice to specifically aim for the benefits you prioritize the most.

So ask yourself: what do I want out of yoga?

  • Do I want to practice it in a very general sense, or do I have specific aims?
  • Do I use it mainly as a warm-up for other kinds of exercise, or is it my main way of working out?
  • Do I want to grow stronger, become more flexible, or a mix of both?
  • Do I want it to be a fun and active endeavor, or do I want it to be serene and relaxing?

Your answers to these questions will point you in the right direction. All these different goals will make you hold poses for different amounts of time.

Let’s say that your main goal is to become more flexible.

If that’s the case, then you should hold poses for longer periods of time. This will truly lengthen and stretch your muscles out and allows them to develop muscle memory.

Staying in the poses for long will make your muscle more adept at getting and staying in that position.

On the other hand, if you want to build strength and develop some muscle mass, shorter poses will be better.

Vinyasa and power yoga are great styles for this goal as you will be shifting from pose to pose at a fast pace. Each pose will only last one or two breaths.

Because breathing is an essential part of yoga, the time you hold a pose for is counted in breaths.

  • Short hold time: 3 breaths;
  • Moderate hold time is about 5 breaths;
  • Long hold time: 8+ breaths.

However, even breath times can differ between people. Your breaths might last 5 seconds, while for others, it’ll be only 3.

While conventional yoga wisdom holds that longer breaths are better (and that’s definitely a good rule of thumb to follow), what truly matters is that each breath you take is full, deep, and controlled. So I don’t think you should fret if your breath doesn’t last as long as experienced yogis who have 10-second long breaths!

The pose itself

Another important factor is the pose itself. Some poses are designed to be held for specific amounts of time in order to be effective.

Other poses are simply truly difficult to hold for extended periods of time.

For example, you’ll never hold a Chaturanga as long as you would a Downward Facing Dog (I know I never could!).

This is because the Chaturanga is designed to be more a difficult pose than a Downward Facing Dog, and thus it consequently builds your physical strength and stability. You’ll typically only hold it for a breath or two.

Meanwhile, the Downward Facing Dog is a relatively easier pose to execute, and most people will be able to hold it for far, far longer.

So don’t be disappointed if you only last a short time in a Chaturanga, and don’t think that you’re challenging yourself with a Downward Facing Dog by holding it for a few breaths either!

How your body reacts

There is no universal guideline for how long to hold a pose. Context is always key.

And the most important part of the context is how your own body reacts to the poses.

Remember…

You need to listen intently and honestly to what your body is trying to tell you whenever you’re holding a pose. It will naturally tell you how long you should (and can) do it.

I’m speaking in broad strokes here, but most instructors of beginner or intermediate yoga classes will typically make you hold most poses for three to give breaths. That’s around 30 seconds, give or take.

However, nothing is stopping you from holding that extra breath or two if you’re really enjoying and feeling the pose.

So, if you want to stay in it for longer then go for it!

Or, if you just can’t hold it for that long, no matter how hard you try, then it’s okay to hold it for less.

Just do your best each time you try it, and don’t be impatient with your progress!

You’ll slowly improve over time.

After all, yoga is all about forming a strong connection between your mind and your body. It’s all about enhancing how our body feels and functions. So if you’re not striving for that, then why are you doing yoga at all?

It’s not exactly easy to determine where your limits are, but again, you should get better at it over time.

Essentially, just try your absolute best every time.

Trust me, you’ll be blown away but what your body is capable of.

Important questions to ask yourself

When deciding how long to hold a pose—or even what kind of yoga to perform—you need to ask yourself questions to help yourself come to a conclusion.

How do I feel?

Take some time to check in with how you feel, both physically and mentally.

Is your mind:

  • Racing with thoughts?
  • Filled with worry?
  • Recalling embarrassing moments in the past?
  • In a good or bad place?
  • Relaxed or stressed?

How about your body?

  • Are your muscles tight?
  • Is your heart rate normal?
  • Do you feel energetic and ready to go?
  • Or do you feel sleepy or tired?

These are important questions to ask yourself before starting any yoga session and subsequently, deciding how long to hold poses.

What do I want out of this yoga session?

You shouldn’t do anything before you properly think it through. This applies to practicing yoga too!

So, what do you intend to get out of this yoga session?

Is it:

  • Your way of warming up your body for the day?
  • Clearing your mind before working?
  • Calming yourself after a stressful day’s work?
  • A way for you to relax and cool down before bed?
  • Is it to relieve mental health issues?
  • The main form of exercise for you?

By answering these questions honestly, you’ll get a better idea of which class to enroll in and how much you’re ready to put into practice at this particular session.

Do I have medical conditions I should take into consideration?

While you can definitely practice yoga even if you have medical conditions, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Certain medical conditions might make certain styles or poses potentially dangerous for you. It might also limit how long you should pose.

If you have/are…

  • Heart conditions;
  • Muscular pain;
  • Skeletal pain;
  • Past injuries;
  • Pregnant;

…then it’s best to seek a doctor’s approval before delving in.

Do I have any current or past injuries?

Don’t worry!

Even if you have past or even current injuries, you can still participate in yoga. The great thing about yoga is that there are countless variations and countless ways to modify the poses to keep the injured area protected.

In fact, some stretches and poses can even promote faster healing of certain injuries.

Still, it’s best to be careful before trying out yoga or delving into a new style or routine. Listen to your body, and don’t force anything as you might risk re-injuring yourself.

Better yet, as I said above, consult a doctor first if you have any doubts!

What are my short-term goals with yoga?

Before starting any class, style, program, or routine with yoga, you need to consider what your short-term goals are.

There is likely something you want to feel straight after a few months of practice.

Common short-term goals include:

  • Weight gain or loss;
  • Improving flexibility and mobility;
  • Building strength and muscle;
  • Working on mindfulness and concentration;
  • Working on breath control.

Then you can decide how you should structure your routine, including how long to hold the poses.

What are my long-term goals with yoga?

You should also consider any long-term goals you have. There are many things you can achieve in the long run with yoga.

Among many other practices, such as stretching, swimming, or athletics, it can help you achieve:

  • A healthier lifestyle;
  • A consistent way to combat mental illness;
  • Injury prevention;
  • Getting into a habit of regular meditation;
  • Doing exercise regularly.

How does my body feel and react to yoga?

Do you feel any tightness anywhere in your body? Or even pain? Do you feel like there is a strength and/or flexibility imbalance between different parts of your body?

These are extremely important things to consider before enrolling in a yoga class. The longer a pose is held, the more the involved body parts are stretched and exerted.

Your body will feel differently from day to day, so don’t hesitate to make adjustments before or even in the middle of a yoga session.

By listening to your body, you’ll be able to tell if you’re pushing yourself too hard or need to challenge yourself a bit more.

How much time do I have for yoga?

If you only have a few minutes to spare, then you may have no choice but to go for shorter poses—or I guess you can hold a single or a few poses for a long time too!

Of course, if you have more time, that’s great!

You have more freedom to go for longer, deeper sessions.

Regardless, what’s most important is being consistent. Whether it’s a quick 5-minute session or a 90-minute class, try your best to lay out the mat every day.

Why you should hold poses for longer

Trying to hold poses for as long as you can rarely is a bad idea. Here’s why.

Holding poses for longer helps you to:

Stretch your muscles: Particular poses like the Seated Forward Fold or the Reclined Pigeon will gently but effectively lengthen your muscles. Holding poses like these for longer will make your muscles stronger and keep them well-functioning. Plus it’ll give them that lean, athletic look too!

Enhance your balance and stability: It’s more challenging to hold a pose for longer, but this only means that you’ll greatly improve your balance and stability.

Correct your body’s alignment: The more time you spend in a pose, the more opportunity you have to adjust and ensure that you’re executing the pose with proper alignment.

Modify the pose: In line with the last point, holding poses for longer will allow you to play around with them. It may result in new sensations or you might come up with a fun new variation.

Improve flexibility: Because your muscles are constantly stretched and lengthened, they will grow stronger and more flexible. You’ll keep your joints smooth and moving, making them more injury-proof in the process.

Become stronger: Poses such as the Downward Facing Dog or the Warrior 1 will really challenge your muscles. Little rips and tears will be created in the muscle fibers, and then they’ll be repaired and renewed into stronger, larger muscles.

Push yourself: I don’t know about you, but to me, there is great value in simply pushing yourself to see where your limits are. Come on, challenge yourself! Trust me, seeing yourself gradually improve is a massive confidence booster.

Why you should hold poses for shorter

Holding poses for shorter amounts of time also has its benefits too.

Benefits of shorter pose durations:

Quickens your metabolism: You’ll be moving from pose to pose in quick succession. Your metabolism will be more active as your body heats up.

Fat burning: With more dynamic yoga styles, you’ll be moving more and burning more calories.

Improves cardiovascular conditioning: You’ll definitely raise your heart rate as you move more. You might be breathing a bit heavier by the end, but your heart will thank you for it!

Builds stamina: As you regularly perform more dynamic yoga styles with shorter pose durations, you’ll find stamina improving. It’ll take more and more before you feel tired.

Allows you to enjoy the moment: I personally find shifting from pose to pose really fun. A part of it is learning how to enjoy each pose despite how little time you spend on each one. You get to appreciate each pose’s uniqueness.

It’s all up to you!

Whatever style of yoga you may choose to practice, it’s important to take your time—both in the poses and with your overall progress.

Don’t be discouraged if you’re struggling to align yourself properly or if you get tired quite quickly.

Even if you choose to try out slower-paced styles like Yin or restorative yoga, you’ll still find yourself struggling with the new sensations. You’ll probably be fidgeting and moving a lot, trying to maintain the poses too.

Be patient.

Your body and mind will adapt to the necessary forms and amount of focus soon enough. Eventually, you’ll be able to hold poses for longer—or have the ability to choose from a wider array of pose durations.

Actually, believe it or not, the most important part is the internal self-awareness and self-studying that occurs during the pose.

Say that you’ve been practicing a specific routine for a while. You have a set sequence of poses to hold for standard holding times. Even if you hold the poses for the same amount of time every session, your internal experience may vary.

On some days, a minute of plank pose will feel like a few breaths. On others, it’ll feel like an excruciating 10 minutes.

You’ll go through peaks and troughs, and you’ll be a better, more equanimous person in the long run.

This is a great piece of advice from Rajarao Garikipati for any yogi: “How long should each yoga pose last? As long as you can hold the breath and feel comfortable. You are aware that yoga postures are directly in tune with the inhalation and exhalation and meant for flexibility of the body parts. With increasing practice, the duration of inhalation and exhalation increased likewise, the flexibility of the body parts to hold for increased duration from a few seconds to a minute. The primary purpose of the Yoga postures are for keeping the body and mind in good condition and to enable to carry out pranayama and meditation for a longer duration undistributed in a comfortable posture.”

If you choose to practice something that does not have a set pace, your pose durations will be a key variable you can manipulate to customize your yoga journey.

Whether you need to take more frequent breaks and shift poses more often or want to stay in poses longer, it’s all under your control.

You need to mindfully study how your mind and body respond to the poses and adjust accordingly.

The importance of breath integration in yoga

Breathing is one of the pillars of yoga practice. Performing the poses are near useless without proper breath control and technique.

The good thing is that, as with the pose duration, you can and should make your breathing technique fit with your overall practice.

Here’s how Mark Whitwell, a yoga teacher, puts it: “This completely depends on the individual. There is no template in Yoga – it must be adapted by the body type, health, fitness, age, and culture of each person practicing. The way Krishnamacharya, the grandfather of modern Yoga taught, we practice each posture dynamically with the breath first, making each breath as smooth and as long as possible. Then, we can hold the pose statically, if we are able, keeping the same breath ratio as that established in the movement.

The breath should be both smooth and stable, expanding the chest and allowing the diaphragm to descend on inhale; and using the base of the body to contract upwards on exhale.

The pose breath should be held no longer than we can continue with a smooth and full breath.”

Breathing basics

Never underestimate how important breathing is in yoga. It’s just as important as the poses themselves.

By breathing properly during yoga, you can:

  • Go deeper into poses;
  • Hold them for longer;
  • Achieve full mental relaxation;
  • Control your heart rate;
  • Achieve complete mind-body integration and synchronicity

Even if yoga is a form of exercise, your goal shouldn’t be to be out of breath by the end of the session. Rather, it should be kept at an even, balanced level the entire time.

If you’re a beginner, here are the two main things you should keep in mind about breathing:

  1. Use an inhale, or an exhale as you transition between poses;
  2. While in a pose, use inhales and exhales to get deeper into the pose;
  3. Use your breath to keep track of time during a pose.

Remember!

To conclude, how long you hold a pose will depend on the style you’re practicing, the state of your mind and body, and your own individual goals.

While many poses have a desired duration you should hold it for, and there is ultimately no right or wrong amount of breaths for each pose.

Your body will instinctively tell you how long you should hold. Don’t hurt yourself going overboard, but do your absolute best to test your limits too!

Good luck, yogis! You can do it. I believe in you. 🙂

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