A curious student asks is Kumari’s flow class hard? Donna replies, “No, it’s not.” Then she qualifies, “It can be hard. You get out of yoga what you put in.” She means I can stand. Or I can stand in Tadasana. There’s nothing inherently difficult about standing. We do it all the time. Women stand, men stand. Little kids stand. How is Tadasana unique from standing? Body engagement. Body awareness. Enlightenment. A properly executed Tadasana asks the muscles to hug the bones. Arches lift. Kneecaps lift. Weight spreads evenly across the sole. The chest lifts subtlety not grossly like a solider at attention. The chest lifts with poise imbued by uddiyyana bandha. I instruct this sort of fine tuning in a level one class. In a “flow” there isn’t time. We’re moving too quickly from pose to pose to break ’em apart and run commentary.
A flow class gets billed as advanced because? Knowing this stuff already enables the practice.
Except not everyone in class does know this stuff already. Some people wander in because the class time is convenient or because their friend is taking the class. Or because they haven’t a clue what “flow” means and would like to know. Or because they self-identify as “Advanced.” That’s fine. Truth is, if you are young or fit or reasonably flexible, if you enjoy Zumba, Pilates, aerobics, calisthenics, gymnastics or dance – flow-style yogas are appealing. Ye olde static pose style seems so 70s. Yin yoga doesn’t seem like it’s going to burn off baby fat. (Maybe it will or maybe it won’t.) My point is, and I do have one: People can learn by doing.
In my first flow class the teacher says, “Do Downward Facing Dog.”
That is literally the sum total of the instruction. I have no idea what she means so I glance around. Looks like everyone is in a triangle shape: butts up in the air, palms flat on the ground. I approximate the pose. Because I am relatively loose in my hamstrings I don’t strain. For about 5 months I wonder what all the fuss is about. Why do people moan and groan about D-dog? How come everyone chuckles when Misty calls it a “resting pose”? Frankly I could be there 5 minutes or I could be there an hour without discomfort. That is, of course, because I’m doing it wrong. If I keep doing what I’m doing: hyperextending my elbows and knees, locking my joints, hunching my shoulders – I’ll do more damage than good.
So no, the class wasn’t “hard” because I don’t know I’m doing it wrong.
I don’t blame the teacher. She does what she can in the fifteen to thirty seconds that she has to explain what. Then we’re off to the next pose, warrior one. I’m collapsing my arches by lack of alignment. Then we open up to warrior two. All sorts of standing poses make up a vinyasa flow. Standard, basic level one poses. Everyone knows them and no one knows them. Maybe the only way to get to know them is to perform them over and over and over again. Let them situate in the body. Four hundred forty-four repetitions have a way of introducing the body to the brain. Little by little I start to notice that effective alignment frees energy to (wait for it. . . ) to: run, course, glide, drift, circulate; trickle, seep, ooze, dribble, drip, drizzle, spill; stream, swirl, surge, sweep, gush, cascade, pour, roll, rush essentially to flow.
Successful flow is a graceful movement – dance at the speed of icicles melting.
The idea of open channels is not news to anyone who started yoga in the 1970s. We all heard about it. We all strive through our meditation, our pranayama and asana to remain receptive, amenable, spacious, uncluttered, open-minded and the like. Nonetheless, before flow yoga the philosophy rests more in my head than my heart. The only time I experience truly unfurled, unfettered freedom in my limbs in is other endeavors: writing, reading, running. The vinyasa action is educating and liberating. I find the inspiration uplifting in flow. A single forward fold, or even three, found in a Iyengar style sequence should permit joint freeing supplication, unfortunately sometimes my exit strategy is too stiff, too clunky, too disassociated with the pose to permit lubrication.
I taught myself a lot of yoga from flow sequences.