Do you feel like you might lose it when you hold yoga poses for more than a few seconds? Do you avoid demanding classes or poses at all costs? You certainly aren’t alone! When you learn to hold yoga poses for longer, you’ll actually receive all kinds of benefits that will hopefully outweigh your aversions : let’s take a look!
Build the Mental Strength to Hold Yoga Poses for Longer
Building mental strength is as important as the physical benefits of holding powerful poses. A good deal of yoga classes today are more akin to a fast flowing workout rather than what the practice was originally designed to accomplish. The physical practice was constructed to develop strong supple bodies as well as minds. The purpose is to prepare both body and mind to sit still in meditation. Given our fast-paced society, quick moving classes may ultimately work against the purpose of this holistic practice.
The practice of holding postures for a longer period of time stems from Iyengar Yoga. This form of yoga was developed by B.K.S. Iyengar. He masterminded these techniques and made them available to all practitioners of yoga. Iyengar Yoga promotes precision within alignment, the importance of sequencing to properly prepare the body for the next postures, as well as the use of props. The focus is on quality of pose versus quantity of poses. Postures are also held for a relatively long period of time compared to other styles of yoga. This is to encourage awareness within each pose of both the body and the mind. The benefit is creating a strong, supple, receptive body, as well as a steady, understanding and growth-oriented mindset.
To hold a yoga pose for longer is to cultivate the ability to be still and accept ‘what is’ under any circumstances. The cool part is that everything we need to know about holding powerful poses is essentially the same as what we need to know to build mental strength, all in the same process. Yoga for the win-win!
If we are solely focused on the body, all too swiftly moving through poses, then we may be altogether dismissing “strengthening” the mind. When we gravitate toward attending fast-paced classes, this is an alert. It alerts us that we may be avoiding exactly what need. To cultivate more balance in our lives, we may need to slow down.
Holding poses is challenging for the body. This coincidentally is where the mind comes into play. When we slow down, we are granted the opportunity to notice where the mind goes.
Are we complaining?
Are we berating ourselves for not being strong enough to hold the pose for too long?
Are we cursing?
Are we sending our teacher dirty looks?
If the answer is “Yes.” to any of these questions, know that this is common and not a reason to pass judgment on our personal challenges. It’s our opportunity to genuinely notice our thoughts. Then, we have the responsibility to take ownership of our thoughts so that we can better understand them. Within this style of practice, we are essentially training our brains to transmute and transform our thoughts for the better.
Build Poses from the Ground Up
When yoga teachers speak about “building the pose from the ground up”, they are instilling two components:
1. A safe practice that creates physical strength, stability and flexibility while allowing for longevity within one’s practice
2. A more beneficial practice that gradually allows the mind to also become strong, stable, focused and adaptable
By practicing Tadasana, or Mountain Pose, we begin to “work” the pose from the ground up, which begins in our feet. This method ensures greater stability akin to the roots of a tree plugging into the ground.
Next, we grow a stable tree trunk. First, place attention on the feet ensuring correct alignment. Depending on the style of practice, the instructions on foot placement will vary. Let’s begin with the feet hip-width apart. The outer edges of the feet should generally line up with the outer edges of the yoga mat. The body weight is evenly distributed over the mid-arch of the foot. Toes are spread wide as all four corners of the feet press evenly, rooting into the mat. The inner arches are “pulling up” while the outer ankles are “firming in”. This counteraction creates stability.
Without going into the details of each body part as we would in class, we continue to stack and align our body parts. The knees stack over the ankles. The hips stack over the knees. Then we slowly work our way up placing attention on our ribs, chest, sternum, collarbones, shoulders and shoulder blades. Finally, we elongate through the entire spine, up through the neck, and crown of the head. Now, standing tall, the arms are relaxed alongside the body with palms of the hands open facing the top of the yoga mat.
Phew. At this point, we’ve already held the pose through several minutes when well instructed on each body part to ensure proper alignment. This is the first part of teaching the mind to focus.
Once we “find” the pose, regardless of whether it’s close to perfect or not, we take this use of our left brain, the logical and linear center, and release all instructions. Now, further holding the pose, we tap into our right brain, the intuitive and creative center, by placing our attention on the breath.
This is where it might get tricky. Thoughts will go to:
“What’s for lunch?”
“OMG, I have so much to do after this class.”
“Geez, how long is he going to hold this pose, my quads are DYING!”
The teacher may be incessantly talking. The teacher may become silent for what seems like an eternity. The body may begin to visibly tremble. The sweat may begin to cascade. The music may be annoying. The music may be the one thing getting us through every dang second. Or, the silence could be deafening.
Your job as you hold yoga poses for longer is to notice. Notice the thoughts as they drift across the mind.
This is where we train the brain to be okay with where we are right here, right now.
This is where we train the mind to be at ease with whatever is happening in this precise moment.
This is where we train ourselves not to judge our thoughts, oneself, or another.
This is where we train the body and mind to breathe and BE.
This is yoga.
As we continue to hold the pose, the mind will stray as it always does. We bring our attention back to the breath. Noticing the breath going in through the nostrils and back out through the nostrils, over and over. We place our attention on the temperature of the breath. We consider the texture of the breath. The mind will move to what the next meal will be. And then we pull our attention back to the breath.
Next thing we know, we’ve held the pose, like, forever. We’ve kept our “monkey mind” at bay. And thank goodness, the teacher finally releases us to the next pose.
“Second side,” she says. Now we get to repeat the process!
Hold Yoga Poses for Longer to Cultivate Patience and Loving Kindness
When we hold a yoga pose for longer, we develop mental strength. Best of all, we cultivate listening skills, patience and unconditional love.
Ultimately, this is an embodied practice. Once we embody these tools on the mat, they are integrated into the self and become more naturally and effortlessly applied to life.
Everything we need to know about building mental strength by way of holding yoga poses ultimately becomes our process toward holding steady holistically with confidence, ease and grace.