This article about mastering Yoga flow originally appears on the Art of Living Retreat Center’s Blog. I’ve made some small edits, and added my own thoughts in a few spots.
Mastering Yoga flow lends itself to the vision of a yoga practitioner moving seamlessly between yoga asana with awareness and fluid grace. This is definitely part of the definition of fluid vinyasa in yoga, and yet, the concept reaches far beyond, to include awareness in all aspects of life. This heightened perception will reward you with enhanced consciousness; inspiring direction in your life, with spirituality, healthy diet, cross-training and your foot print in the sands of time.
The New Accessibility of Yoga
The recent overwhelming popularity of Yoga has its positive and negative aspects. On the one hand, we no longer have to search the world over for a really good yoga teacher. No more walking great distances over blazing deserts, climbing frozen mountains, sleeping on beds of nails, or walking barefoot on hot coals just to earn the right to practice yoga. In almost any town across America, you can now find many great yoga teachers from an array of diverse styles.
Furthermore, you don’t have to go through lengthy auditions to be taken seriously: all you have to do is show up and you are accepted into the group.
How Do You Find the Right Style of Yoga For You?
On the other hand, Yoga has become a bit more complicated now that it is accessible to everyone. You have to be knowledgeable enough to decide which style, guru or teacher is most beneficial, educational, fun, and down to Earth. So where do you begin on your search to find the wisdom and answers to all your questions for every day life and beyond, yet in a nice cheery, leveled headed manor? Should you base your practice on the softer styles, which embrace flexibility and relaxation, or the harder styles, which promise a great workout, and lots of muscle resistance and sweat? Should you invest in spirituality or just use yoga for the physical attributes?
All styles of Yoga have their own unique benefits, appealing to your own individual personality, or goals. Among them, there are many similarities. For instance, all yoga posture practice is categorized as Hatha Yoga, which translates as meaning masculine and feminine, strength and softness, or yin and yang. I always tell my students that when choosing a practice, choose one that defines the true meaning of Yoga: union. Within this definition it is to your advantage to practice both hard and soft forms of Yoga. This creates a greater balance of both physical and mental energy.
Remember to Flow
Surprisingly enough, the way you move from one posture to the next is as important, if not more important, than choosing between a challenging or more-relaxing yoga practice. The movement between postures is called a vinyasa, or connecting link. What you do with your body affects your mind and whole energy level. When practicing either hard or soft form styles of yoga, try to move with fluidity and grace as you enter and exit each yoga posture, still maintaining strength and power. This manor of practice will reward you with greater energy, deeper relaxation, and a more focused mind. Allow your yoga to flow naturally, like the energy of a peaceful river as it journeys to the sea.
(Mike here…..I really, really, really prefer Yoga styles that emphasize flow and movement between poses. But, you should find the style you like. Also, mastering yoga flow is about managing your breath to a large extent, and mastering your breath is one of the keys to relaxation and mindfulness. Really, I love the movement based Yoga.)
Yoga and Spirituality
As for the energetic flow of spirituality, this can mean different things to different students. You may feel spirituality is a natural bond with nature or a faith in a greater power, or perhaps a union of universal energy within your own body and mind. This is a personal matter and the answers will come as you practice your yoga. Remember the masterful words of yoga: “the journey is everything.” Just by committing yourself to the practice, these answers will come to you.
In time you will discover that your yoga practice also affects your whole life in a positive way. Your daily life will take on an essence of controlled energy flow. Yoga is an internal practice with eternal results, touching every aspect of your whole life in a positive way. In yoga, this is called harmony within!
(Mike’s note: I’m not the most spiritual person you’ll meet …. understatement…. but I do feel a certain something I can’t fully explain when doing Yoga or Tai Chi. It is especially prevalent when I am in class, experiencing the movement with others. YMMV on how you do or do not experience this aspect of Yoga, and you are not doing it wrong, or right, if you feel spiritual.)
A Complete System of Health
Yoga is a wonderful science and art, yet your overall health will benefit greatly if you do some cross-training as well. Mastering Yoga flow and poses will complement your other physical activities, just as they will in turn complement your yoga. For complete fitness, we need a balance between aerobic exercise, muscle resistance training, and stretching. Combining these activities will enhance your vital life force, or flow of prana.
Aerobic activities are any exercises that strengthen the heart and lungs, including jogging, bicycling, walking, or even your Saturday night dance fever contest at the local gym. Try to include at least 20 – 30 minutes of quality aerobics every day.
Muscle resistance is found in specific exercises, which strengthen and challenge the different isolated muscle groups. The classic form of muscle resistance is weight lifting, chin-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, or isometric exercises that push one muscle against another. The more challenging forms of Yoga offer quite a bit of muscle resistance, such as Ashtanga Yoga, Power Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga. Even the softer forms of yoga such as Sivananda Yoga or Integral Yoga create some degree of muscle resistance in certain postures. Try to get at least 20 – 30 minutes of quality muscle resistance four times a week.
Stretching is a plus for yoga students; yet don’t get stuck in the same routine day after day. Strive to rotate with different practice and postures over a period of time to insure covering every area of your body.
(Mike again…..I can vouch for all of this part! While Yoga is awesome, and it’s strength building is under-rated by most, it isn’t particularly effective as an aerobic exercise. The most fit instructor I ever worked with did a lot of other things than just Yoga, a lesson I need to re-learn, apparently.)
Your Body is a Temple
When you get hungry and find yourself staring down the barrel of a donut, armed with a full mug of heavily sugared coffee – before you declare war on your anatomy…be sure to remember your body is your temple and you should treat it with respect. Stay away from junk food, fast food, and artificial and unnatural food. You can enhance your overall health by simply eating more fresh raw, fruits and vegetables – and whole foods in their natural state. Try to eat lots of green, chlorophyll-rich foods such as raw leafy greens, which protect your body against pollution and enhance you immune system. Drink plenty of liquids daily and try not to overeat.
Use the energy you create in Yoga to help you to become a better person. If you throw a pebble in to a quite pond, this energy creates ripples, which eventually touch every shore. In the same respect, your presence in life creates ripples in time: your actions, words, and thoughts – in one way or another affects people in future generations.
Words to live by –
Think before you speak…
Think before you eat…
Think before you act…
(Mike one last time…..eating healthy is a huge key to not only health, but happiness. Sure, that sweet, decadent, thing feels good to eat occasionally, but science clearly shows we are happier when we eat healthy. Also, as we point out in this article, exercise is one of the five things we recommend doing right away after getting laid off.)
This article originally appeared on Art of Living Retreat Center’s Blog
You can find it, and other great articles on thriving in life there.
Here is the original link.
Doug Swenson (the author of mastering yoga flow) is a world-renowned yoga teacher and has been a true pioneer of yoga practice in the United States and further afield for over forty years. He has authored three books on yoga and twenty yoga videos on the well-known online spirituality platform, Gaia. Doug teaches with clarity of words and weaves informative wisdom mindfully throughout his teachings.