How long to stay in one asana?
Some of us were then wondering about the idea behind holding asanas for different durations. David was generous with his answer (this is great about him as a teacher, he really gives a lot).
David’s approach is to stay in an asana a little longer when it gets challenging. Since it takes some time to get into an asana (especially the challenging ones) take a few more breaths for benefits and change to get rolling (A bit diverting from the topic of breath but also worthwhile mentioning: Repeat the asanas that are challenging for you!). Generally, five to eight breaths is good. For some poses it may also be beneficial to stay even longer (very individual).
Not relying on the count per se gives us the opportunity to tune inwards. When starting an ashtanga yoga mysore practice the count of five breaths per pose is an important guide but slowly - as the practice matures - a more inward focus develops (and should develop). David is not counting his breath during his practice as he wants to focus on the “inward stuff” and not to "how long the asana is taking". Thus, counting, in a way, distracts us externally.
Then, the length of the breath is different for different asanas, and thereby the breath is variable during one practice as all the different asanas together span the full extend of the breath. During the challenging poses the breath becomes more stiff (partly reflecting the quality of the mind: Something turns challenging, fear and panic are easy companions, as well as grunting (how about: kapotasana). Herein, Guruji used to instruct students to “free breathing”.
Moreover, the finishing poses are meant to rejuvenate the body, in this light a longer visit with shoulder and headstand makes sense then.
Another important notion is that there should not be any more movement / fidgeting once in the asana, the idea is to cultivate as much stillness when in the asana as possible.