Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Teaching Flow

I had a fascinating discussion with a practitioner recently. This gal doesn’t come to my classes but prefers the Iyengar and Hatha based classes the studio offers. She explained to me that while she enjoys the flow of a Vinyasa and Ashtanga class she finds that she has a tendency to injure herself because it brings out her competitive side and so avoids those classes. I completely understand; it is hard to step back and say I don’t have to keep up with flexy-bendy chick in the corner or muscle-dude in the front row because you don’t want to appear to be weak to the rest of the class (yes, yes, an ego discussion is a whole different topic…).

However, her most interesting question was: How do you teach ‘flow’? I admit I was speechless for a moment. Indeed, how does one teach ‘flow’ to a class?

Well, first there is the basic definition:
(from About.com by Ann Pizer) Vinyasa Flow Yoga combines flowing postures with rhythmic breathing for an integrated body-mind workout. Nyasa means "to place" and vi means "in a special way." The entire sequence is structured to gently stretch while building strength and toning muscles through a variety of standing and seated postures. A good class format will incorporate alignment, modifications, and breath work that is appropriate for all levels of practitioners.

The word Vinyasa means “breath-synchronized movement.” In other words, the teacher will instruct you to move from one pose to the next on an inhale or an exhale. This technique is sometimes also called Vinyasa Flow, or just Flow because of the smooth way that the poses run together and become like a dance.

And then we can become more specialized with Anusara, Sadhana Chi, Shakti, and other styles.

But the question remains, how does one teach a class how to move with the breath in a fluid manner? CAN it be taught? Is this something that is intuitive in some and not others? Is it a matter of saying to the ego, “no, you are not part of this class”? Can you teach someone to let go and just ‘flow’?

One thing I'm trying with my classes is a "ratcheting back" concept, to work at 75-90% rather than 100-110% because what I've observed is the tendency to "muscle" or "power" one's way through a session. If you are muscling/powering your way through a session, are you really flowing? Are you moving lightly and with thoughtfulness from one posture to the next or are you more concerned with getting as "deep" into the posture as possible? Are you letting the breath and body dictate where you need to go on that particular day?

So I bring the question to the blogworld - how does one teach flow?

2 comments:

yogiclarebear said...

i teach vinyasa, and this topic of mindful practice is VERY important to me. i have observed the same things you described in my classes, especially the "power" format. there are many ways i try to combat the competitive ego in my classes. first by simple reminder. i always mention the release of ego, competition, judgment, throughout class. the focus is on form and alignment. for instance, if i see “mr bodybuilder” coming in and chest powering chaturanga, i wont hesitate to bring some attention to the pose by cuing stronger to how it works, or maybe mentioning the difference between a "yoga pushup" and a regular pushup. i might mention that the proper way of engaging the whole body and aligning the pose gives better results in the body than the 10 chest pushups might give on the ego. i also like to explain WHY we practice mindfully, or WHY we align a pose in a certain way: often for protection from specific wear on the body or injury. this point often brings awareness or attention to those who might not have been listening previously to other cues. if I see in class that a certain pose is being done mindlessly, ill take the next few classes to “break down” the pose before or during class. students love pose breakdowns, they feel like they are getting a mini-master class!

in my power class, i always remind that the class is YOGA before power, and power is found in the breath and the peaceful mind before the muscle. i cue breath with movement, but always give a "meet up" pose so everyone flows at their own pace, and i stress this over and over. not to rush. we’ll wait...who wants to get to chair pose faster anyways?

also as an instructor, demonstrating to all levels is important. this means not putting on a stage show, and not using the class as a personal workout. i tend to mostly walk the floor and cue, and ive found that with my constant reminders of mindful practice and ego releasing, being up close and around my students gives them extra incentive to practice mindfully...maybe it is even a little ego driven...because im there watching.

very passionate about this subject. hope my rambling made some sense, I could go on and on and I hope to get more insights about how to best teach vinyasa with more comments here…

GREAT POST AND QUESTION!!!



also as an instructor, demonstrating to all levels is important. this means not putting on a stage show, and not using the class as a personal workout. i tend to mostly walk the floor and cue, and ive found that with my constant reminders of mindful practice and ego releasing, being up close and around my students gives them extra incentive to practice mindfully...maybe it is even a little ego driven...because im there watching.

Sara said...

Kristin -

I'm so glad you wrote about this. I've only attended a few Astanga and Vinyasa classes and although I really enjoyed them, I felt myself becoming competitive and going past my safe edge. And as a teacher(can't turn off teacher eyes) I also saw other students going way beyond what seemed safe to me.

I am curious to know how you find the time in the class to break down a pose. I liked what YogiClairebear had to say about making it a sort of "mini master class."

In Hatha class I take time to break down 1 or 2 poses per class but also flow through other postures without lots of focus.

Also, I usually demonstrate multiple levels for each pose and them go back to the "easy" level so students feel ok about choosing to pick level one or two and not push too far. How do you demonstrate?

Thanks for your great post. Namaste ~ Sara