“Inhale from tadasana as you lift your arms and rise, looking up. Exhale, lowering into a forward fold, releasing your arms to your shins or to the floor. Inhale rise and half way lift, flattening the back and looking up. Exhale as you lower into chaturanga dandasana, firmly planting both hands onto the floor, making sure your fingers are open and your pointer fingers are parallel as you engage your stomach by pulling your belly button towards the spine as you step or hop back into a plank position. WITH CONTROL slowly lower half way down into a 90 degree angle with your arms, making sure your elbows are firmly pressed into the body AND keeping your spine straight, hips down and a neutral neck. Oh yeah, and make sure you are SLOWLY exhaling, evenly, while you lower.” – Yoga Instructor
Confused yet? We haven’t even reached upward facing dog in the beginning of a dynamic sun salutation. Now if you are a seasoned yogi, you just smiled and reminisced while reading this paragraph. On the other hand, for a not so experienced yogi, this could lead to confusion, even frustration!
Vinyasa flow is a beautiful practice, filled with focused breath, creativity and strength. When you break “Vinyasa” down into ancient Sankrit, “vi” means “in a special way” and “nyasa” means “to place”. It also means “breathe to movement”. Therefore, you place your body in a special way, and breathe. Simple enough, right? However, Vinyasa classes have a tendency to have a rapid flow filled with diversity, at times leading to confusion. This is where students can easily miss the most important part, proper breath and mindfulness, mainly for beginners. Without these two crucial points, are we truly practicing Yoga…?
So here is the question; how do we reach that deep meditative peace in a vinyasa flow class? Here are a few steps in the right direction:
Haven’t you ever heard the expression, “practice makes perfect”? Well, we are not striving for perfection in yoga by any stretch, but the more you practice, the more your mind can relax. Therefore, “practice makes peace”. Why? Because you don’t have to think so much about the “steps”, it just becomes second nature. Once your unconscious mind has picked up the sequence, it has room to focus on breath and meditation.
2.) Do your homework.
If you are a beginner to intermediate level, and truly want to engulf yourself in the magic of yoga, you must take your learning beyond a 60 – 90 minute class. Three words, books, google and YouTube! There is a world of information out there. When you find yourself struggling with a flow or a posture, research it, understand it, that way by the time you make it to your mat, you are half way there.
“Have infinite patience and success is yours.” – Swami Vivekananda
Take some advice from the wise. These things take time. In ancient texts, Lord Shiva states there are 84 basic asanas. In this day and age, there are thousands of possible variations. In a vinyasa class, each instructor has that entire realm of options to include in a session. Every class might be different, changing out a few or many postures. In other words, be kind to yourself, and practice patience. Patience leads to peace of mind.
Yoga is not yoga, without breath. When you breathe properly, mainly utilizing your abdominal region, you are more likely to reach that meditative state by triggering your parasympathetic nervous system, the “rest and repair” mode. You also allow more oxygen into your blood stream.
Once you have followed these steps, you are on your way to finding the moving meditation in any vinyasa flow class! With knowledge, practice, patience and breath you can allow your mind to relax, and truly flow, like a dance through the sun salutation and the postures. When you can base your thoughts primarily on your breath, it will lead to dynamic mediation throughout an entire class, not just in final savasana.
Melissa Andersen is the founder of Passport to the Heart Retreat, and holds yoga retreats and events worldwide. She is a passionate American yoga instructor and motivational coach with over 12 years of experience.