Isn’t this the question we’re always asking when we’re unsure of ourselves, feel revealed or scrutinized? Like…. how long should a first kiss last? How long do you wait for a late date? or a professor versus TA? How long do you sit with uncomfortable silence? How long do you stay on hold? How long before this line moves?!?
And, yogically, how long do I hold this pose? This breath, this pattern, this technique, this “om”, this thought…
The answer is the same, of course: listen to the situation and it’ll tell you. But, while we’re becoming expert listeners (because that’s the whole game, right?) there are some guidelines.
Five breaths. I like timing poses by breaths because it’s naturally tuned to your body and you don’t need equipment and it keeps your attention where it’ll do the most good.
Sometimes, though there are reasons to go shorter or longer: discomfort that you can’t just be curious about, shock (which amounts to the same thing), exploration, desire.
So, if you get into a pose, technique, note that shocks you with what it reveals (pain, sorrow, blinding light), kindly retreat and set it up again later.
Maybe it’s a two breath per pose day because you woke up late and just need your yoga jazz on.
Maybe you’re luxuriating and want to go for ten – this can be really yummy in down dog. Or maybe you thought you were aiming for five, but every fourth breath something moves in a really juicy way you want to encourage and savor.
Go for it.
What we’re really asking about is, how do I listen to my body? and the answer to that is you practice. You just keep coming to the mat, shoot for five (or any other arbitrary number you think suits you better) and see what happens. And get ready to be surprised by yumminess you didn’t know was right there on your own mat, just waiting for you.
Go look now!