Time is such an interesting tool to play with on the mat. When I first started doing yoga, I needed time to move quickly. I didn’t like holding poses. In fact, I hated it. There was a very real boredom, frustration, and anger that would arise when I was asked to stay still. As a result, I gravitated towards classes that kept me moving, but really (and I could have never articulated this at the time) that indulged my undisciplined attention.
It took time to cultivate a willingness to slow down—to create a space within myself strong enough to hold what would come up if I stopped and looked. Slowly, I learned to be more tolerant (I’m still learning) and grew to accept and eventually appreciate longer timings. This is not to say that holding poses is more valuable than moving; it just offers a different perspective.
The most obvious benefit to holding postures is that you have more time. Instead of living out of your suitcase, so to speak, you can unpack your bags and put your clothes in the drawers. There’s time to look around, time to ask questions, and time to wait for answers. You can spread out—physically, mentally, emotionally, energetically. Longer holds build physical stamina and mental attention. Your awareness expands, giving you the space to notice details and to observe cause and effect in real time. With practice, the pose reveals itself as truly infinite—there’s literally no end to what you can uncover.
The unexpected benefit of longer timings is that when you stay in a pose, you can observe how the mind reacts to your experience. Holding postures has encouraged me to abide in moments of intensity when I would otherwise like to push, or avoid, or fix. I don’t want to sugarcoat this kind of practice—it’s hard. It’s rarely pleasant but always eye-opening. I’m not suggesting that holding poses is about enduring pain or discomfort; you can always come out of the pose. Holding poses is an opportunity to see clearly—to bridge the gap between what’s actually happening and your experience of what’s happening.
The strength I’ve gained through longer timings has helped me cultivate tolerance—to stay and watch the drama unfold, to bear witness to my own crap, to withstand the intensity of discomfort. It’s this tolerance that has had the biggest impact on my life. When I want to come out of a pose, I hold a quote from Carrie Owerko close to my heart: “In life, you can’t always get out of the pose.” Truer words have never been spoken.
If you’re curious about how to begin practicing longer timings, my advice is to start small. You wouldn’t attempt to benchpress a hundred pounds if it was your first time lifting weights. That would be silly. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Use the timer on your phone and start with thirty seconds and see how it goes. Stuff is going to come up—breathe. Soften your face, relax your eyes, unhinge your jaw. You can increase the time at your own pace, when you feel ready.
If you feel resistance to holding poses, that’s okay, too. I encourage you to explore your reasons and to look at time as just another tool to help you see yourself more clearly. It’s also important to know that not all seasons in life are supported by longer holds. Personally, I don’t like to hold poses when I’m going through difficult times; I need to move.
Holding postures has given me the gift of surrender. When I can see how I’m contributing to my own suffering, I’m presented with a choice: I can continue to resist my experience, or I can let it wash over me. Sometimes surrender means staying in the pose; other times, it means coming out. There’s no right or wrong, yet another thing I’ve learned over time—it just is what it is. I’m grateful for this practice, that it continues to teach me how to sit with myself as myself, to discern between the unreal and the real, and to connect to the moment as it is.