Yoga 101 – How long should you hold a pose

Listening to your body when holding a pose

So you recently decided to join the community of people who want to become physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually healthy: the yogi and yoginis.

The first thing you probably learned is that yoga comes in many different forms: Hatha, Vinyasa, Bikram, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Kundalini, and Jivamukti, just to name the most popular.

You probably now know that each form has its own set of poses. But are you aware that you need to hold these poses for a certain period of time to maximize the results you get? There are basically two questions you need to get the answers to: one, is how long to hold yoga poses, and two, why you should hold them for that long. Let us answer them!

When you hold your yoga poses for anything less than two to five minutes, it indicates the current state of your flexibility. To really experience the wonderful benefits of yoga, you need to exert effort, will, and patience, and hold them for more than five minutes.

Yoga and Development
One of the main goals of doing yoga is development. You want to develop flexibility, balance, endurance, and 
strength. You do not perform these poses just to display the existing levels of flexibility, balance, endurance, and strength you have. In other words, the longer you hold these poses, the better these four bodily characteristic will become.

When you simply whip through these poses, you do not give yourself ample time to 
develop awareness during each pose. Timing each pose correctly and holding them for a certain period of time allows you to become aware of what is happening to your body, breath, emotions, perceptions, spirit, and energy.

In other words, statically holding each yoga pose you perform and repeating it for a few times will allow you to experience a more profound transformation. Do this and you will have more opportunities for awareness when it comes to knowing yourself, your physical body, your emotions, and your thoughts.

More than just muscle stretching
There are many physical benefits of holding poses for more than just a couple of minutes. Although the primary reason is for you to extend the reach of your muscles and 
stretch them, there is more to it than just working the muscles. Holding poses affects the muscles and the connective tissues, which both have the responsibility of notifying your autonomic nervous system.

Not repeating the pose leads to ineffectiveness. It can even become counterproductive, in the sense that you may hurt yourself due to overstraining of the muscles.

When you approach the activity of stretching gradually, which involves performing the pose after contracting, you encourage your muscles to safely release and get accustomed to the new movements you subject them to. As a result, your muscles’ tolerance levels go up.

Overall, knowing how long to hold your poses and making sure you reach it will help improve your balance, stability, and strength. To help you better understand, take a look at the four main benefits of holding poses for longer than two to five minutes.

Strength builder.
When you hold your poses for longer than what you usually do, you allow your body to build strength and improve its stamina. For instance, holding the Warrior II pose much longer than what you are accustomed to results in your arm and leg muscles having to work harder to stay in that pose. Keep doing this and you can expect your muscles to strengthen and have improved endurance.
Better timing with alignment.

Whenever you hold your poses, you give yourself enough time to actually feel them. You allow your body to adjust. The same goes true when readjusting. Although you want to focus on your alignment while performing a pose, you should not focus on it alone. Spread out your concentration, and you will soon have better timing with how your body aligns.
Adequate space for your emotions.

Another benefit of holding poses for longer than you usually do gives you space to develop emotions and really feel them. When you just feel comfortable, it means that your body no longer benefits from the pose. You have to hold a pose to a point you no longer feel comfortable, but make sure you go out of the pose once it feels unbearably painful.

The key here is to accept that going outside of your comfort zone will lead to sensations of discomfort. However, this feeling actually means that your body is working to compensate, or in other words, developing better strength, power, and endurance, to overcome the pain.

Mind stabilizer.
Holding a pose goes beyond the physical. It also challenges your mind. For instance, holding poses longer makes it more challenging to remain present. You have to exert more effort, which translates to training your mind. Conscious breathing while maintaining your anchorage (like your breath or the sensations you feel) helps stabilize your mind. Through breathing consciously and staying with your anchor (the breath for example) you can stabilize your mind.

After you successfully practice holding your yoga poses for longer than what you usually do, you can expect to feel much more grounded than before. You will notice your mind has become quieter, and that your body is solidly on the ground.

Mindfulness: Key to preventing over stretching strained areas
One thing you have to remember when about to lengthen the time you hold your poses is the potential for straining your muscles. Although strained muscles typically come with learning a pose for the first time, this actually benefits you too. Your body works harder to repair the injury, and once it does, the affected muscles will have improved power and endurance.

You need to stay mindful every time you hold your poses for longer, though, especially when these poses involve the use of the already strained muscles. Lengthen your holding time, but make sure you also know your limits. Force your body to stay in that position for too long, and you can expect the issue to exacerbate.

Mula Bandha

The Root Lock

In many Eastern religions and philosophies is the concept of energy as a life force. For many of us Westerners, life force is equivalent to what we know as the spirit. In Christianity, a primary Western religion, the spirit is a complete separate entity from the body and the only way to reach a higher level of being is through connecting with a higher source (which many of us know as God). In Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism it is believed that the life force and body are connected and achieving an enlightened or awakened state comes from connecting with that life force, or energy, through breathing, meditation, and a body-mind-soul lifestyle. It is believed that connecting with the higher energy source starts at the beginning, or root, and this is where Mula Banda becomes an important concept.

In Sanskrit, Mula Banda is a posture and meditation type exercise. To understand how it works, one should understand the term itself. As a combined term or name, Mula Bandha means root lock. When trying to decipher the meanings of Sanskrit words, it is important to remember that this language was originally an oral language and the written words only came into existence many years, if not centuries, later. Words then did not have direct meanings but were fluid concepts. Mula is a term that denotes beginning, base or root (as in the root of a tree, which gives the tree life). Banda refers to bondage, joining, togetherness, and posture. The name Mula Banda therefore stems from a meaning that implies securing at the beginning, and “root lock” was the given name to keep things simple.

In these eastern philosophies there are seven primary energy centers that are spread throughout the body. These centers, or chakras, are located in the crown, forehead (the third eye), throat, heart, upper abdomen (solar plexus), lower abdomen (sacral), and in the base of the spine (root). Mula Bandha focuses on this last energy center, the root chakra, located in a diamond shape at the bottom of the spine and between the anus and genital region.

This exercise is key in yoga tradition. The postures here will contract the root muscles, from the anus to the naval, lifting them up and towards the spine. It is believed that this prevents prana, the Sanskrit word for entire life force, from leaving the body. This exercise also pushes the energy up into the sushumna, the central “energy headquarters”. From the sushumna, energy can then be directed throughout the body, influencing healthy and balanced processes.

photo by Dave Rosenblum
photo by Dave Rosenblum

In Hinduism and Buddhism, sushumna is located along the spine and works in conjunction with two energy passages that intertwine up the spine, ida and pingala. These two passages start at the root and wrap around the spine as it travels it’s way up the body and to the notrils, where these passages end. Ida ends at the left nostril and Pingala ends in the right nostril. Activating these two passageways and the central energy headquarters promotes energy flow throughout the rest of the body.

Mula Banda works in conjunction with two other energy locks or banda’s: uddiyana and jalandhara banda. These are the stomach lock and chin lock, which keeps energy in the abdomen and from escaping through the nose, respectively. Those who practice the three banda’s swear on behalf of its holistic approach in it’s ability to aid endocrinology, nervous system, circulatory, and respiratory health, as well as promote relaxation.

This energy exercise is practiced alongside meditation and prayanama, breathing exercises. At the beginning it is important to prepare the body. First, you should simply relax and breath normally in and out. Then contract and release the muscles of the entire perineal area. As you squeeze, imagine the muscles moving in and up. Once you practice that for a minute or so (approximately 25 contractions), hold a contraction of the entire region for as long you can comfortably. While you hold the muscles, take time to focus your energy on three main regions (or two for men): the genital area, the cervix (for women), and the anus.

Once you release your contraction, work on squeezing and releasing along side your breath. Breath in as you contract the entire area and breath out as you release. Try this for another minute or 25 contractions.

Now it time for Mula Banda! First focus your thoughts on the center of the perineum and contract, trying not to engage the muscles around the anus or genitals. Each time you contract, breath in, and each time you release, breath out. As easy as it sounds, this is a difficult exercise and will take time to perfect!

The benefits of this practice for women are incredible! It is supposed to regulate the menstrual cycle and increase arousal. For both men and women, Mula Banda can help in bladder and digestion function and lower blood pressure, on top of the benefits mentioned above!

This can be practiced during various forms of meditation and prayanama, when yogis alternate their breathing through one nostril at a time or in bursts of breath. This is a safe and low impact exercise that anyone can do regardless of age or fitness level. You can also vamp up your asanas by employing these contractions in conjunction.

Getting started in this style of yoga is easy! There are books, websites, and YouTube video’s to help anyone who wants to practice from home. Also try researching yoga centers in your area to see if they incorporate energy locking in their workouts. Get your energy centers fired up and see what all the hype is about!

Yoga Exercise Tips for Beginners: 6 Tips to Help you Get Started

Yoga has been known to have numerous health benefits for the mind and body for many people. However, starting a yoga routine can be daunting for beginners, especially with the many different types of poses and techniques that are used. Here, we look at some helpful pointers that can help those new to the art of yoga wade through some of the major challenges of yoga.

Yoga Tips

1. Dress Appropriately

When going in for your first yoga session, strive for simplicity when it comes to your wardrobe. Wear loose-fitting clothes that will not come in the way of your yoga stretches. You also don’t want to be tucking in your shirt during poses as this will distract you during your session. Form-fitting fabrics are usually best since they can stretch, allowing to move with ease. Avoid makeup and jewelry too; you want to be as free as possible during your session.

2. Choose the Right Place to do your Yoga Routine

If you plan on doing your daily yoga routine at home, choose a special room or space within your house to do so. This should be a clean, quiet, and well-ventilated area in your house that is free of furniture or other objects that may limit your movement. You should also place all your training materials within that area to reduce the amount of time you need to get a session started. With time, practicing within the same space will create a positive presence and make it easier to achieve your daily yoga objectives.

3. Establish your Goals before Starting any Yoga Routine

This is one of the most important parts of yoga training. Establishing your goals gives you freedom and the clarity to choose the time for practicing and the breathing and meditation techniques you want to apply in your routine. If your goals are geared more towards athleticism, you may want to look at classes that have more of descriptive words such as “power flow.” Alternatively, for more calm yoga techniques, you will want to look at words such as “restorative” and “gentle flow” in the description.

4. Invest in Good Training Equipment

Most yoga practice centers and gyms usually provide basic training equipment such as training mats and towels. However, you should always invest in your own sticky mat if you plan on making yoga a part of your daily routine. Assign a small bag to carry your yoga essentials, that is, a bottle of water,  a block, a towel, your sticky mat, and any other important items you think you should carry.

5. Don’t Overexert Yourself

As with all workout and training routines, most of us are usually tempted to push ourselves beyond our limits. With yoga, it is important to start small and ease your way into the routine. Yoga techniques involve new ways to train your mind and body, and therefore, you should always take it easy and let your body adapt.

6. Focus on Breathing

Finally, breathing is a central component of all yoga techniques and postures. Breathing helps to guide your poses and movements during a yoga session, which increases your success rate and promotes your progress in the long run. You should always back out of a pose whenever your breathing becomes labored or constricted and interferes with your pose. When this happens, try a different approach to getting your body in the right grove for a specific pose.

Yoga is a healthy, fulfilling practice that, when integrated with healthy habits on a daily basis, is bound to improve overall health for your mind, body, and spirit.
Note – The Chatterbowl Team is a huge supporter of practicing Yin yoga. We have found it to be the most beneficial form of to learn.