August 17, 2017
I had a question/comment come up recently about what kind of yoga I lead – that there needs to be more explanation about what to expect from a class with me. And I agree, there’s so much yoga being led right now that “flow” means as many things as there are people doing yoga, and even more possible descriptions as there are more teachers teaching “flow.” The idea has made me really think about my own evolution of the practice up to this point – how much it’s evolved from a heavy focus on physical movement to one that is still very physical, but totally amplified and vibrant with developing my relationship to my breath.
The short answer to the “flow” bit is that I don’t teach fitness classes. The yoga that I practice and that I lead isn’t geared to be my day’s workout. I’ve found really nourishing outlets like hiking and brisk walks and biking that keep my body feeling good and healthy and fit. But my yoga is distinctly separate. My practice is a homecoming to my body and my breath. I practice and I teach a Vinyasa flow or Hatha type of class if you’re looking for a “kind” of yoga to classify it as. There’s a good amount of movement – sun salutations, a focus on open hip postures, square hip postures, balancing, stretching, opening, inversion preps, backbends, twists – but movement led by breath rather than pushing or forcing or contorting the body to fit an idealized, imagined shape. Envision a yoga class where your breath was your first and foremost priority. Not the movement, and not the playlist. Breath first. That’s how I encourage myself to practice, and I’ve become empowered to lead from that place. In teaching, and in life – what best supports my breath? It’s been a fantastic, fascinating, ever evolving, self studying journey of the past year.
I started doing yoga 7 years ago at a YMCA in a suburb of Philadelphia. At the time, I think I was looking to move stuck energy. I had a deep spiritual component to the general scope of my life and for this, I was attracted to both yoga’s subtly & the independence the practice encouraged. It’s funny, yoga in a gym setting can be really dodgey, but the universe hand picked a true first teacher for me – a seasoned practitioner and massage therapist who used her knowledge of the body and her intuitive and insightful shakti to craft “real” yoga, even in a rec room.
On and off for 3 years, I grew my practice – a year in New York City and then back to the Philadelphia area, I dabbled in studios on a semi regular basis. Though I did notice Yoga was where I went when I felt “lost” or needed inspiration. The practice always did something – it slowed me down even if I was in a “power” class. Which being who I am, I totally leaned towards. More is better. Harder, faster, stronger. Back in Philly, I gravitated to hot power Vinyasa Yoga from one studio in particular that shockingly and thankfully delivered the “Yoga.” Several of those teachers would weave in instruction from the sutras and talk about anatomy within the class – and the Pitta part of me fell for the exertion that came from a sweaty hot practice. For a good bit, I was in a class every day. There was a movement mentality in that studio that wasn’t just fitness. But my mentality was still very much physically based, and I was still not practicing my yoga at home. I went “to” yoga.
It wasn’t until I moved to Raleigh and began my 200hr teacher training at blue that I actually cultivated a daily, steady home practice. And it wasn’t until teacher training that I was taking regular classes at blue – all which finally convinced me that movement and breath were supposed to be linked. That was the point. That all the philosophy and teaching and magical movement of yoga was well and good, but the transformative part of the practice came with the breath. And if I wanted to transform, I needed to drop my workout mentality. I learned enough of the yoga at that point to know that yoga is not fitness. If I wanted to work up a good sweat and burn off some weekend brunch, I needed to make time to cycle, run, hike in addition to my yoga. When I did this, my world (inside and out) expanded for the better and I can say I actually started the yoga. I’ve not turned back.
Now most everything I’m focused on in my studentship, in my own practice, and in my teaching is how to best cultivate and support a really intimate relationship with my breath. It’s subtle and it’s not. And it requires a ton of movement and flow and fun and challenging poses – actually a lot of what I did in my past yoga life – but the intention with which I’m doing, is totally different. It’s breath led rather than movement based. I’m really grateful to take regular classes and attend workshops & trainings that have opened up breath for me, with teachers who have cultivated a knowing of the breath, who can mirror this expansion for me, and who are stirring this recent reawakening to infuse my practice and my life with the breath. And so it’s what I’m cultivating now in my teaching too. If you attend a class I lead, you will move and quite likely break a sweat and you will realize how strong you actually are without having to push yourself to a breaking point to see your strength. You can expect to move in a way that is sustainable for your body and your breath – that awakens and enlivens both – and that nourishes the part of your “big S” Self. Because that’s how energy moves and we get unstuck. Not by a million chaturangas. But by noticing, empowering, and using your breath to make change in your muscles and bones, your nervous system, and in your heart.
My ultimate class name? Yoga. Because this practice is open to anyone that inhales and exhales. And until we get back to knowing what “Yoga” is, those of us that have the “must move” mentality and tendencies need the reminder that the only wrong breathing you can do is the non breathing. So, for now — Sustainable Movement. Or, Breath Led movement. Or, All Levels Breathe and Flow.
Even those looking for a workout, come to a class. Try something new. You may very likely work a muscle in a way you haven’t ((muscle of the moment is the glutes, which some of you know and probably feel.)) And even if you’ve been breathing all your life, try one more time to stop and notice your breath. It’s shape, it’s size, how it’s best supported and how it is your support. A true Yoga practice is not a workout. It’s not one more thing to do in your day. And, it’s not a check out. It a focusing in. It’s a practice to move just enough so that you can peel back of all the layers of your thinking mind, lessen all of the distractions that laden your life, and intentionally use all of the movement of life to get to someplace smooth and steady where you’re always held – it’s a return to the breath.