Self-Practice Journal / Yoga Musings / Yoga Poses

Long Holds: Pain and Misery or Peace and Strength?

A lot of advanced flow classes are heavy on the arm balances, deep back bends, and other skill/strength/flexibility based poses. One thing that is often left out of advanced classes, however, is long holds of asanas. Personally, I like to hold certain asanas for an extended period of time because doing so gives me the opportunity to do what I call “mental yoga”. Mental yoga is the challenge of keeping the mind calm in the face of great challenge, as one of my teachers often says. In each of the following asanas, if you hold it long enough, you will start to feel a considerable amount of discomfort and even a burning sensation in the muscles. The challenge here is not to judge these sensations, not to fear them, not to dwell on when they will be over, and not to cheat the pose so as to lessen the sensations. Conversely, it’s probably not a good idea to power your way through the intensity by invoking feelings of anger or aggression, and it’s also probably not a good idea to get through the long hold by taking some kind of masochistic pleasure in the pain.

I try to think about the following sorts of things during a long hold of an asana:

1. Be in the pose fully, paying special and constant attention to alignment.

2. Am I cheating the pose as time goes on?

3. Am I dumping into the bones and joints instead of holding the pose up with my muscles?

4. Recheck alignment.

5. Breathe. Deeply.

6. Is my mind getting panicked? Are my thoughts wandering away to avoid the present challenge?

7. Most importantly, I try not to identify with the sensations in my body, but just observe them.

Here is a short list of poses that I like to hold anywhere from 10 breaths to 2 minutes at a time:

* Virbhadrasana I (aka Warrior I)

* Virbhadrasana II (aka Warrior II)

* Virbhadrasana III (aka Warrior III)

* Urdvha Prasarita Ekapadasana (aka Standing Split)

* Utthita Parsvakonasana (aka Extended Side-Angle)

* Ardha Chandrasana (aka Half Moon)

* Utthita Trikonasana (aka Triangle Pose)

* Crescent Pose

* Utkatasana (aka Chair Pose)

NOTE: Sorry for the long delay in getting pictures and videos up for my recent postings. I am on Winter Break from school and do not presently have a space that is conducive to taking asana pictures and videos. As soon as I’m back at school I’ll bring everything up-to-date.

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2 thoughts on “Long Holds: Pain and Misery or Peace and Strength?

  1. I also find that long holds are very valuable – both physically and mentally. In fact, over the years, I have moved toward more of an Iyengar style practice and away from a pure flow practice. One thing I have found about staying in a pose for many minutes is that the body passes through various layers of effort and awareness.

    The body starts out using the strongest, most frequently used resources… but as time passes, and those resources become fatigued, one is forced to discover new sources of strength and stamina (both in a physical sense and in a spiritual sense). It closely resembles all those times in life when uncomfortable situations last longer than we wish they would, and gives us the chance to practice having a sense of poise and non-attachment in such times, right?

    I love your list of things to think about during long holds… really nice!

  2. I’ve got a REALLY tight left hips so long holds in Baddha Konasana, Double Pigeon, Pigeon and Gomuhkasana are REALLY helpful.

    They hurt, but i try to breathe through it, and then it’s not so bad the next time

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