By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500
The term “flow Yoga” is an abbreviated form of the phrase “Vinyasa Flow Yoga.” This form of Yoga is based on movements synchronized with breath. The word ‘flow’ refers to the way the poses are strung together gracefully, and how the Yoga practitioner moves with each breath, while the sequence of movements come together like a dance. Even though it is seen in many Hatha style classes, one of the most popular sequences of Vinyasa Yoga is Surya Namaskar (the Sun Salutations). Many Yoga practitioners know this series, and its many variations, quite well. For anyone who wants to add flowing movement into his or her asana routine, this can be a great starting point. Chandra Namaskar (Moon Salutations) may also be of interest for anyone looking to go further into Vinyasa flows.
There are many different forms of flow Yoga, and it can be practiced in many different ways by changing speed, raising room temperature, or by the posture sequence chosen. In fact, slower Vinyasa Yoga (slow flow) can be extraordinarily therapeutic, healing, and restorative. There are also Restorative Flow Yoga classes, which leave students in a state of euphoria. The pace of movement, and the use of props, can change the experience entirely. When you consider the fact that some flow classes end with a five minute relaxation, while a Restorative Flow class teaches relaxation methods, meditation, and traditional pranayama techniques, there can be vast differences in the way flow Yoga is taught.
The repetition of movement helps to increase flexibility as much as holding a posture for minutes. Flow Yoga is, by its nature, a different school of thought in comparison to styles that hold postures for lengthy periods of time. Styles that hold postures have their advantages, as well. Depending on how well you know the teacher, the movements can also be fairly unpredictable, thus creating a new or exciting environment. As there are many different interpretations teachers can take to this practice, it will be easy to find an instructor with whom you can identify.
For those who crave intense exercise, the faster activity level of flow Yoga, with increased speed and continuous movement, creates internal heat within the practitioner, which has a plethora of benefits. Increased heat means a body sweats, expelling toxins, and promotes overall cleansing of the body. Heat is also a boost for metabolism, so it may burn some extra calories. The movement also stimulates blood flow and heart rate, creating a more healthy body by caring for many organs, and the warmth in the muscles makes them more limber and easy to stretch.
The breathing exercises (pranayama) in flow Yoga are very good for the body, as well. Although some teachers may only focus on Ujjayi, while you are moving, other teachers may devote extra time to pranayama practice. Learning and practicing pranayama is an important practice as it gives you better control of your functions, and increased focus of everything you do, bringing about a more relaxed mind and body. Learning to breathe in correct synchronization with your body can leave you better equipped to handle the tough situations life throws at you, by helping you keep your stress levels in check.
Flow Yoga has many faces. It can be a very challenging exercise class or a therapeutic experience. Chair Yoga classes have flowing movements. On the other end of the spectrum, some martial arts teams practice dynamic flowing Yoga sequences before tournaments. The point being: Flow Yoga can be dynamic or therapeutic. If you want to be sure about which end of the spectrum you are looking at, you should consult your local Yoga studio. If you are a Yoga teacher, label your class accordingly, and describe the experience your students should expect.
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