I live for my flow, or vinyasa, yoga classes. My flow yoga classes teach me to live. They help me make sense of my day-to-day schedule; my busy, non-sustainable schedule; my choices; my hopes, dreams, and fears. They guide my decisions and provide clarity on the best days and a heck of a good workout, both for my body and my mind, on an average day. They help me clear away the mental clutter of my mind when I feel like I don’t have the strength.
If you’re a yogi and have never practiced vinyasa before, here are a few reasons why I think you should give it a try.
1. You Will Learn How To Breathe
A lot of people come into a yoga class and leave having realized that, until that moment, they had never taken a deep breath. Numerous of my friends have said that they were not aware that they couldn’t breathe until that class. Now, in my opinion, that is a serious awakening moment. When you learn how to breath — slow, even, belly breathing — your whole body opens up and your mind and body start working in unison.
Vinyasa flow practices are typically faster paced than Hatha classes, incorporating a little more heat and dynamic movement to the class. That’s intimidating for a lot of people. It was for me, for a long time. I think a big part of that hesitation, aside from how quick the sequences can be, derived from not really understanding what you were doing, physically, in the class.
However, when I found out that the practice follows a one breath, one movement (that is, your inhale is one movement, your exhale another) framework and, further, when I started embodying such movement in my own body, it became an instinctual practice.
Taking a vinyasa flow class will teach you how to breath, not only as a way to calm and ground you but also as a way to link the breath with movement, balancing your mind with your body. This practice is hard at first but so rewarding; it’s a very transformative and powerful experience that only those who work at it can experience. Vinyasa classes help you to put in that work.
Aligned with #1, balance is very much directly related to your breath during practice. Without a steady breath, your balance will be off, I guarantee it. With your breath you’re a tree grounded deeply by its roots; you’re sturdy, maybe even immovable.
Especially when you get into the more dynamic sequences within a Vinyasa class, you want to be able to find your balance ASAP. Imagine moving quickly from a low lunge (with your knee on the ground) to a high lunge and your arms raised above your head (see photo below) only to move into a Warrior III balancing pose on your next breath, you need to be able to focus on your breathing to find your balance. This is not to say wobbling is bad; wobbling is, in fact good. It helps you activate your stabilizers and, ultimately, develop balance. But so does your breath.
While Vinyasa flow classes can be fast paced in nature, they are the perfect classes to help you find your balance, a balance that is most definitely felt in the body but that will also eventually, if not immediately, be achieved in the mind.
3. You Learn Your Capabilities
Remember what I said about how vinyasa classes helped me clear away the mental clutter when I didn’t feel like I had the strength to do so? That is what I mean when I say vinyasa helps you learn your capabilities.
Some flow yoga classes are more vigorous than others, but I can guarantee that there will be moments that are very laborous, intense, downright difficult. They can sometimes test your patience, if not your balance; push you to your limits, if not beyond your boundaries; and nudge your inner most emotions, if not cracking them wide open. But believe me when I tell you that this is good, necessary, work.
Without the challenge, you’ll never know what you’re capable of. If my teacher didn’t give me the space and encouragement to rise to the challenge and try moving from one complex arm-balancing pose to another, I wouldn’t have done it. Yes, it was scary, but I needed to try it to see if I could do it. And guess what? I could.
The minute you learn what you are capable of within your body, mind, and soul is the minute you start to feel seriously empowered, both on and off your mat. It’s the minute things look and feel less scary, the minute you tap into your potential.
4. Routine and Ritual
One of my yoga mentors described vinyasa to me in a very special way. Vinyasa moves well beyond physical yoga practice and into the realm of cycles and meditation, and, more specifically, using cycles to perpetuate routine and ritual as a form of meditation.
She used the example of waking up to the sound of her coffee brewing in the morning; it was a ritual for her to walk down the stairs, before anyone was up, grind the coffee beans in the espresso machine and watch and rich liquid fill her favourite mug. Yes, she had to have her favouite mug, or else she would get very cranky.
For my yoga teacher, this was meditation, a mindful activity that we do in a sacred and ritualistic way. From waking up at the same time each morning, to grinding the coffee beans and watching the liquid be poured, all of which she knew to do by heart, at precisely the right moment, functioned as her morning ritual, her morning meditation, her morning vinyasa.
The nature of vinyasa is that it functions in a cyclical and ritualistic way. Like my yoga teacher feeling the very sensorial effects of brewing her coffee, making her ritual all the more evocative, I similarly wait to feel the sensations in my body and mind the minute I step onto my mat and get ready to flow. As humans, we are creatures of habit; vinyasa flow is a natural offering to what we crave the most: routine, ritual, the knowledge and expectation of something we enjoy and count on daily, weekly, monthly.
5. Movement Medicine
This might be my greatest reason for trying flow yoga and the reason I practice on a frequent basis. Quick story time: When I was at an exceptionally low point in my life, I found in yoga an escape that entirely closed me off to my mental anguish, even just for the hour of class. I can’t tell you how much lighter I felt during those classes because, for once, I didn’t feel like I was suffering. I had to pay such close attention to how I moved and how I breathed that, for that hour, I was released from all mental anguish.
I didn’t understand the term ‘movement medicine’ until the day I found I could cease my thoughts from taking over by focusing, really focusing, on the movement of my body. I didn’t grow up a dancer, but I always felt freedom in movement. Even dancing around my kitchen made me feel like I had the chops to make it as a ballerina. It sounds silly, I imagine, to others but what I take from those is that I need movement in my life because movement is my medicine. It saved me and continues to hold me up on the days I need it most; it is the balm that smoothes over my heart and offers me freedom.
Movement is my medicine. And maybe it’s yours, too.