It’s Thursday which means one thing to me: it’s Long Hold yoga day. I love Thursdays.
Yoga comes in many forms and I love them all. I love fast paced flow with the bells and whistles of inversions and arm balances. I love the slow and gooey level 1 (gentle) classes, restorative practices, and the styles that blend it all up. What can I say, I’m a yogadork! I have a very special place in my heart for Long Hold yoga, however, and you should, too.
The 5th limb of yoga (Ashtanga) is Pratyahara, which essentially means “withdrawal of the senses.” It means to dive within yourself, to focus inwardly, to disallow distraction or interruption from outside sources. Practicing Pratyahara teaches us to stay in our own bubble of bliss (samadhi,) and contentment (santosha) regardless of what is going on in the world around us. Pretty groovy and useful tool to have, eh? Long Hold yoga facilitates the practice of Pratyahara in a number of ways.
I usually teach it with ambient / chant / trancelike music or no music at all so that the practitioners aren’t distracted by lyrics or driving beats of the more popular music I sometimes use. I don’t speak as much. It’s really hard to listen to your inner voice when your teacher is rambling on. On days like today, we might practice with either the big doors open or even practice outside on the deck so that the world comes to us and we are surrounded primarily by the music of the earth and our breath. Sometimes less is more.
Strength and Surrender
There is a misconception that it is easier to hold a single asana for 1 – 2 minutes than it is to flow through 6 asanas in 2 minutes. Untrue! Even a relatively “simple” posture such as Virabhadrasana 2 can become a challenge requiring your focus as you approach 2 minutes! It is a journey you take in each and every posture. The first 30 seconds are easy. The second 30 seconds start to require focus. The third 30 seconds require directed breath. The fourth 30 seconds require strength and surrender. It is the last 30 seconds of each posture in which Pratyahara comes in. Hatha yoga is based on dualities (sun and moon, light and dark, strength and surrender.) You learn how to put strength into the parts of your body (and mind) that are required to hold the posture while surrendering the parts of your body that are not required at that time. You might hear me say, “You don’t need your jaw to hold this. Release it. You don’t need to use your toes for this, soften them.” Most often, however, you’ll hear me say, “You don’t need your 2 eyes for this. Close them and find out what your third eye (intuition) is showing you.” You’d be amazed at how wise you are and how many answers to your life’s questions come up when you take the time to listen to yourself. Life is all about things that are hard in some areas and easy in others. Long Hold yoga gives you practice at recognizing which parts of your life need full attention and in which parts can simply relax and go with the flow. Hold on loosely, dontcha know?
Yoga is detoxifying. It brings things up from all parts of your body and mind and many of those things need to be released. If they aren’t, bad things happen. Imagine a pressure cooker with no vent – KABLAMMO!! Sometimes things are released from the body through the breath, sometimes things are released from the body through tears, and sometimes things are released from the body through sweat. Sweat has purifying powers! Holding asanas for extended periods of time bring all your junk up and you sweat it out. Awesome! It happens even during simple postures. Try it: right where you sitting right now, lift your left foot so that your leg is straight out, or lift one arm out directly in front of you parallel with the floor. Hold it there for 2 minutes. NO cheating, 2 full minutes. I’d be willing to bet my tie-dye pants that you started building up some heat, maybe not a sweat, but heat. Now imagine doing a slow flow of asanas for an hour, holding each for 1 – 2 minutes. Hot, right? It’s like taking a shower from the inside out. You leave purified and pleased!
Synchronicity of Mind and Body
There is a very clear and important connection between the mind and body. This is one of the main concepts of yoga. Knowing it and believing it, however, doesn’t mean that it always comes easily or instantly. It takes time for the body to hear and understand what the mind is saying, just as it takes time for the body to send messages to the mind. Holding postures for long periods give the body and the mind to have a full conversation. Imagine trying to read a love sonnet using abbreviated text speak. It would take forever for you to translate what was being said so it makes sense and if you did it out loud, you’d sound like a jumbled fool. Allow yourself the time for your mind and body to say sweet nothings (and sweet everythings) to each other. It will make all the difference.
Self-Awareness and Acceptance
So now that you’re all freaked out thinking that Long Hold is too hard and is not for you, I come in with the true importance of the class: you learn more than ever who you are, what you can do, where your edges are, and how to acknowledge and honor them. Two minutes is a long time! It is difficult. It is challenging. It is hard work. Here’s the secret, though: no one expects you to hold every asana exactly as you’ve always done it for the entire 2 minutes! Listen to your body and honor what it is saying! Virabhadrasana 2 is done with arms out parallel to the floor at shoulder height. It becomes hard for the shoulders to hang in there (and, of course, you do it on both sides, so you’re looking at 4 minutes of elevated arms!) So what do you do? You find a modification and give yourself permission to take it. In this case, bring your hands to heart center or to your waist. Holding a lunge? Drop a knee. Holding Navasana? Hold on to your knees. Or how about this: Take Balasana (child’s pose) whenever and for however long as you want! Spend 2 minutes in child’s pose. Take a seat and hang out in Siddhasana for a couple of minutes. Heck, throw a Savasana into the middle of your practice if that’s what your body tells you! No one knows your body better than you. I know I certainly don’t. I alway say, “It’s your practice, not mine, so make it what you want / need it to be.” Practice listening to yourself in Long Hold (believe me, everyone modifies at some point or another, even me,) and then you’ll be so used to it when it comes time to use that practice in other classes and even, gasp, in life off the mat!
Try it. Hold on loosely and let it all go.
Join me for Long Hold yoga on Thursdays at 5:45pm at Yoga Sol, 210 St James Street, Columbia, MO. You’ll be so glad you did.