How Long Should You Hold Yoga Poses For?
Hey, you! We’re back with a new post on all things yoga. Today, we’re tackling this big ol’ question: how long should you hold yoga poses? If we’re honest, you’re better off asking: how long is a piece of string? The answer will change every time you practise. How long you hold a yoga pose can depend on your intention, the style of your practice, your energy levels, and your physical capacity when you roll out your mat.
How long do you hold a stretch in yoga?
To answer this, without overly generalising, let’s take two different styles of yoga and compare their respective intentions.
In a Vinyasa class, we transition through a range of movements that flow into and out of each other. Vinyasa translates from Sanskrit as ‘connecting breath with movement’ or ‘the marriage of breath and movement.’
We use the breath to guide our transitions between postures - asanas - and maintain focus when holding said postures for lengthier periods.
You could hold postures for as little as one breath cycle - an inhale and exhale - to several breath cycles. This depends on the intention.
In more flowing practices, we may seek to explore fluidity and ease of progression as we move between postures - cultivating a moving meditation to calm the fluctuations of our mind. Alternatively, in a class focused on building strength, we may stay in the same position for over 60 seconds to really fire up and engage specific muscle groups.
Alternatively, in Yin Yoga, our intention is less about strengthening our muscles and more to do with lengthening them. Unlike more Yang styles, Yin often involves passively holding supine positions for several minutes or longer. Because in a Yin practice, we target our deep connective tissues, like your fascia, ligaments, joints, and bones. The longer holds or stretches give the body a chance to extend, release, and find its natural edge.
We love to practise Yin on our thick yoga mats as they provide our joints with a little cushiony comfort to sink into. Mmm.
The length of time also teaches us to sit with, observe, and appreciate emotions, thoughts, or physical sensations as they arise.
How many times should I repeat a Yoga Pose?
For starters, not only will this change depending on how you feel when you arrive on your mat - or wherever you find yourself practising - but what you seek in your practice. Again, it all comes back to your intention.
Looking to strengthen your quadriceps or open your hips? You may return to warrior poses or lunge variations multiple times. Looking to improve shoulder stability? You may repeat the plank pose ten to twenty times in your practice instead of just once or twice to warm up.
Interestingly, although it often feels like there are 100000s of yoga postures, there are 84 classic asanas.
It is said that when Lord Shiva (the Hindu God often referred to as the God of Yoga) taught yoga, he described 84 postures.
However, the earliest yoga text, The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali - written over 4,000 years ago - does not mention these 84 postures. In fact, the sutras do not even describe any postures. What the sutras do, though, is advise all practitioners to approach their practice with intention. That little word again.
We can repeat the same classic asana to build muscle memory, experience it with fresh eyes again and again, or simply learn more about ourselves.
We can also repeat variations of classic or archetypal asanas to explore other intentions. Maybe our resolution is simply to find joy or be more creative - it does not have to be super profound.
As long as we listen to our bodies and are present with our minds, we're moving in the right direction.
Sophie Heatley (she/her) is a Content Writer and Yoga Instructor based in London. She has been teaching at various studios, on retreat, and online since 2018. On the side, Sophie creates online and editorial content for clients within diverse industries, from the arts, to wellness, to financial law. Discover where she's teaching and what she's writing by following her on social media @sophieheatley_