As long as you can.... ...well, that's not really a scientific answer. I can only tell you from my yoga practice that holding a stretch (comfortably, not to pain) for as long as you can has wonderful benefits in terms of flexibility as well as stress management. I prefer to hold a deep stretch for a few minutes if I can. Remember - don't push yourself to the point where the stretch hurts, because then you may actually be tearing something important. As a yoga teacher of mine said once, there's a difference between pain and discomfort. Discomfort is fine, but pain is a message to stop.
20-30 seconds. Research shows that holding a stretch to a mild point of discomfort for 20-30 seconds will effectively increase flexibility. Anything longer than that will not provide additional results. The best thing to do is to do 2-3 sets of 20-30 seconds of each stretch. Doing this on a daily basis will DEFINETELY increase your flexibility. You'll notice changes and improvements in as little time as a week. An even better idea is to do a couple sets of each stretch in the morning when you wake up, and a couple sets of each stretch in the evening before night-night time.
5 deep breaths. I practice Ashtanga yoga, and we practice 5 deep ujjayi breaths, which means that you breath through your throat rather than your nose or mouth...it makes a special noise. Anyway, with each posture, we hold it for 5 deep, long breaths, and that seems to be a perfect amount. If you need to hold it for longer, you can.
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