The practice of flow, or Vinyasa took over the Yoga market in a storm. It is a dynamic practice that fits both fitness junkies and spiritual seekers. It is an incredibly satisfying sweaty pleasure and a meditative experience.
So what is it about Vinyasa that we get so addicted to and how can we do it right?
First of all, let’s unpack the term ‘Vinyasa’. ‘Vinyasa’ in Sanskrit stands for any combination of postures, a sequence of Asanas. So whenever we connect few postures together instead of practicing them one by one we are experiencing ‘Vinyasa’.
Vinyasa will usually be regulated by our breath. The ideal pace to perform a Vinyasa is the natural pace of our breath: not intentionally slower pace or a puffed, overly fatigued breath. Vinyasa is when we move naturally, inhaling into one shape and exhaling into another.
In the west, we commonly instruct, ‘take a Vinyasa’ or ‘flow through’ in between sequencing. By that we mean a particular combination of postures taken out of Suria Namaskar A, sun salutes: plank - low plank – backbend -down dog. Actually, this is only one out of thousands of ‘Vinyasas’, or combinations of movements we can create in our practice. I’ll just take a moment to admit my opinion: this little core/arm strength transition is a bit over-rated. We do it too much...It doesn’t always evolve our practice, sometimes it comes up in class just because the teacher ran out of things to say. I would say something like: ‘flow through or rest few breaths’ and use the time to check out what’s wrong with my music… So if you done half of the ‘Cheturanga Vinyasas’ you were instructed in class, you probably still had a great workout and got a step closer to spiritual awakening.
Now let’s talk about the real meaning of Vinyasa: incorporating movement and breath. It can be any few movements (as long as the combination makes since anatomically… Trust your teacher on that one.) It doesn’t have to be ‘Cheturanga Vinyasa’! As long as the flow is comfortable enough on your body, you can quickly find it being so addictive that you just want to keep repeating the sequence, until you start feeling annoyed when the teacher tells you to stop and move on to a new pose.
The reason we love it so much is that flowing through a sequence for a while can feel very meditative. Especially if you succeed to build up your flow into one breath – one movement pace and hold on to it for a while.
‘One breath – one movement’ means that we have a posture connected to each breath we take, every breath has a purpose, no breath goes to waste. When we transition to one posture on our inhale and straight away to another on the next exhale, there is no room for external thoughts and we are completely within our own flow. This is, for me, one of the most satisfying parts of my practice.
The practice turns into a moving meditation. Alignment, other people in the room or my weekend plans fly out the window and I am all within my own body. Where should my leg be at my next inhale? Where I land with my next exhale? That is all what life is about for at least few minutes. Yes! This is it. This is Yoga.
If you ever felt the intoxication of flowing through and losing yourself in the movement like in a dance. Here are few simple tips to help you hold on to your mindful pace for longer and just keep flowing:
Choose postures you know well: Simple postures will usually work better in a flow. You will need to think less about the details of posture alignment and will find space to focus on your breath. The best balance for me is to learn the postures through static, detailed practice and then combine them in a flow once I feel confident with my understanding of their alignment.
Build it up slowly: Choose a set of postures you want to flow through (2-5 related postures). Repeat your flow slowly first, holding 3-5 breaths in each posture. Make sure you have alignment and control in your chosen postures. Now when you remember your sequence and feel comfortable with it, you can easily flow through it.
Always rise on an inhale and settle on an exhale: This is the thumb rule I often guide my students to follow. If you only a beginner when it comes to flow, you can easily lose your pace and end up struggling to keep up with the class without knowing what posture or breath is coming next.
If you are losing your pace just remember: you use the part of the breath that assists you in the transition best. If you are about to lift something up (an arm or a leg), enter a back bend or rise up from a pose, this is the time for an inhale. Inhale is uplifting, helps to engage the core and build strength and encourages length at the front of the body.
If you are going to fold forwards, settle deeper into a pose or just rest and prepare for your next move, exhale. The exhale is relaxing, cooling down and bringing us closer to the earth.
Repeat the flow at least three times: Let it be a moving meditation. Don’t stop, keep going. Even if it is something simple like: warrior one, warrior two, reverse, down dog. Repeat the same sequence until you really feel you are one with it. Until you stop identifying yourself as the doer of the postures, they just happen upon you.
If you are still not sure what you are doing, don’t stress! It is meant to be fun… Just pose and take one deep breath: inhale and exhale, then come back to it. The best part about flow is that it just keeps going! So you can keep trying until it feels natural, like a dance.