Happy fall everyone! This time of year is rich with freshly harvested foods, gorgeous colors of fruits, veggies and leaves, and of course, crisp, bright days. It’s the perfect time of year to reconnect with the practice of gratitude. I know one thing I’m grateful for is being able to teach yoga and share reiki up in Western Massachusetts. I feel quite blessed to be connecting with wonderful people who value, as my NYC yogis do, the many benefits a consistent yoga and reiki practice can bring.
As I begin to share yoga with more and more people, and even take classes at the exciting variety of yoga centers up this way, I’ve begun to think about my own practice and teaching: essentially why I do what I do and the way I do it. I’ve begun to gain more clarity on the importance for me, anyway, of moving my body with my breath with a focus toward alignment : the fluidity it restores to my body and mind as well as the awareness it encourages me to bring to my mat.
Funnily enough, during my own inner investigation and questioning about this, a woman who has been coming to my class for a few months, but who has been a long-time yoga practitioner, asked me why we do so much repetition in vinyasa. We chatted a little bit about it, but in my own thoughts afterward, I felt like I didn’t articulate clearly why we may repeat poses several times in a class. So I thought this might need some clarification for all of us.
The vinyasa style is simply a breath centered movement practice. Every movement is linked with a breath. As you inhale an action in the body occurs, as you exhale something else occurs. The word vinyasa breaks down as such: vi = in a special way, nyasa = to place. In our vinyasa yoga practice we are essentially placing our steps in a special way, aligning our movements with our breath.
Shiva Rae describes vinyasas as “…progressive sequences that unfold with an inherent harmony and intelligence.” And I tend to look at them that way as well. Most often, we use the traditional sun salutations as a way to warm up the body and begin to move the spine in a variety of directions, as a means to establish the link of our movement with the breath, and even as a way to awaken the devotional aspect of our practice. Then we might add on to the sequence other standing poses to help us build strength and feel more grounded in our bodies. I will often repeat poses, as either a foundation for a more challenging pose, but more often than not, simply so that we can more fully experience the changes that are happening in the body, and so that we can more fully integrate our knowledge of the pose and feel the openings that can arise within us. Gradually as we become more familiar with the poses we can let go of the “technique” or the worry of doing them “right” and really be in the poses – be the poses - creating in essence a moving meditation. We know them so well that we can explore more deeply and skillfully the fuller expression of the poses in our bodies. But it only comes by exploring them consistently and with great attention and intention. Standing poses and the sun salutations are not the only way to create vinyasas in our asana practice. We can create “vinyasas” out of backbends or seated poses, even reclining poses.
It’s not to say that this is the only way or the best way to practice. It is simply one way to practice asana. The wonderful thing about yoga is that there are many different ways or styles to practice, and that it allows us to tap into our creativity and encourages us to listen inward so that we can figure out how we want to or need to move our bodies on any given day.
Try this on: find a comfortable seat – on the ground or in a chair. Sit up tall and breathe a couple of breaths, connecting to the rhythm of your breath. Take a moment to notice how you are feeling and store that information away. Then explore this simple vinyasa. Inhale your arms out and up, exhale and side bend right. Inhale back up and exhale side bend left (make sure you are side-bending your torso, keeping your sitting bones grounded). Inhale back up and gently twist right, take your right arm behind you, your left hand to your right knee. Inhale back up and exhale twist left. Repeat the whole sequence at least 2 more times. As you repeat notice the subtle changes with each repetition: Can you go deeper? Is it easier to link the movements with the breath? Can you maintain that nice long spine more easily? Is your body able to move more fluidly? Can you get out of your head and into your body more easily? And then when you are finished, pause: notice how your breath feels in your body and where you feel it; notice how your body feels, particularly in and around the spine: and notice the quality of your mind. And finally take a moment to give thanks for getting on your mat, bringing attention to your body, your breath, your self, and for making your wellness a priority.
Remember to enjoy the explorations and to use this as a tool to deepen your awareness! Happy fall, happy yoga, happy practicing!
Peace, Love, and Bliss,
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