Flow or slow?

There are so many different styles of yoga, it can be difficult to work out which one is for you.

For instance:

Vinyasa flow: a flowing sequence of choreographed postures, moving with the breath. Sequences are often built around variations on sun salutations. 

Yin yoga: postures which are held for 3 to 8 minutes, in order to work on deep connective tissues and joints, rather than muscles.

Hatha yoga: classical yoga postures are held for 3 to 10 breaths.  We work on stability and strength in the posture, building stamina by working with the breath.

My personal practice and my yoga teaching incorporates many different styles of yoga.  At any one time, I may be particularly inspired by the teachings of Vanda Scaravelli, surrendering to gravity, or I might be extending my knowledge of restorative yoga, making more use of the wall and a bolster.  I might be reading about the subtle energies of breath practice and meditation.

There are seasonal variations in the type of yoga I seek out.

In winter I am more likely to look for an energetic practice, to warm the body.  Sun salutations and vinyasa flows are perfect for getting the blood pumping to our cold extremities.  We can imagine the warm sun opening our hearts in a sun salutation, even if we can’t feel it for real!

Summer can be suited to a slower practice, incorporating longer holds and postures that allow us to feel the cool earth beneath us.  Yin yoga is perfect for a hot summer’s day.  The warmth allows us to soften and release, slowing down with the breath.

Autumn and spring are transition seasons, where everything changes.  I might go back to basics, rooting down to rise up in spring. If we are buffeted by storms in autumn, we might feel for postures with a low centre of gravity such as deep squats and kneeling postures.

On a more individual level, we feel different on different days. 

Our energy might shift with hormonal changes.  In the first half of our menstrual cycle, we are more likely to be sociable, to want to get out there and do stuff.  These are the days for vinyasa flow and long, strong holds of standing postures and balances.  In the second half of our menstrual cycle, we naturally go inwards and conserve our energy.  Yin yoga and restorative postures supported by props will feel good.  We might get more from breath-work and meditation than a physical workout.

Perimenopause can play havoc with our long-established patterns, and we may need a completely different practice. Complicated vinyasas might feel overwhelming, and we might appreciate a slower flow. This might be time to build strength, rather than flexibility. Breath-work and meditation can be helpful as we navigate sleep issues, brain fog or joint pain.

There are other fluctuations in our energy.  If we haven’t slept well or we are coming down with a cold, we will need to be kind to ourselves.  These are not the days to try a new inversion.  If we are buzzing with energy because the sun is shining and we have had a great day at work, then we will be up for a challenge.  Ardha chandrasana, standing on one leg whilst opening the chest to the side and reaching the top arm to catch the foot?  Let’s see what happens!

If we are new to yoga, it can take a while to tune into what we need on a given day. 

Our modern lives do not encourage us to listen in to ourselves.  The school system and workplace train us to ignore our hunger and thirst cues, to delay going to the loo, and to ignore our need for movement and the outdoors. 

Our capitalist economy would prefer us to rely upon adverts and social media to tell us what we need to feel good.  Chocolate!  Lipstick!  The latest gadget! 

By the time we are adults, we have probably outsourced our body’s needs, so that we are no longer sure what we feel for on any given day at any given time.

The good news is: our instincts never left us, they just went dormant.  We are wild beings at heart.  We know what we need. 

As soon as we start to tune in, we notice patterns.  Going outside even for 5 minutes energises us when we are lethargic.   Eating slowly and mindfully is more satisfying than grabbing a quick coffee and drinking it on the go.  Reading a book before bed is more restful than Instagram.

It is the same with movement.  We can start to monitor how our bodies respond to different types of movement.  Repetitive movements coordinated with the breath help us to open out our chest and lungs and feel alive.  Deep pressure into our hip joints when we hold a deep forward fold helps us to feel grounded and calm.  An expansive trikonasana is energising.  Eagle pose with folded arms can help us feel held together. 

We can start to individualise our practice, even within a taught class.  A good yoga teacher will invite you to feel into a posture, to find the edge of sensation for your body.  One day that might mean that you keep a lunge close to the ground, with the knee resting on the mat.  Another day, you might feel that you want to lift off and raise the hands, moving up with your energy.  One day legs-up-the-wall is the inversion for you, another day, shoulder-stand is what you need.

Don’t ever feel you have to do every posture in a taught class.  If I look around a class and see someone going off in their own direction, taking a pose-of-the-child rather than a downward-facing dog, I am delighted.  It means that they are feeling what is best for them.  They know they have permission from me to follow their own urges.  They have broken the bond with obedience; the conformity to what other people think is right for us.  I see this as a triumph of the human spirit!

When we tune into our body’s needs on any given day at any given time, we are reunited with our raw, wild, beautiful human spirit.  This is what ultimately makes us feel alive. 

We are natural beings.  We have seasons, we have cycles, we have ups and we have downs. 

We can both go with the flow and we can slow right down.  Yoga is for the right here, right now.  It can take many forms!

For more information about class times, click here. If you think you might benefit from a one-to-one private session to work out options that are best for your body, then please get in touch. A one-to-one hour-long session with Ali at her home in Staplehurst, Kent, is £30. Group classes are £8.