Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Incorporating Intuitive Flow Yoga

BZ Daily Sunrise
In western civilization, the word commonly used to describe the practice of poses or postures in terms of flexibility, balance and strength is yoga. The practice of poses (asanas) is actually just one aspect of a much broader entity that is yoga practice. There is much theory regarding the specifics of a full yoga practice. In brief, it encompasses spiritual, energetic, and service aspects as well. My interest began with asanas and is expanding outward from there. Start where you are. 


When starting a yogic asana practice it's best to work with an experienced instructor. Having to stop and look at pictures or follow written instructions isn't conducive to flow. Video and online classes are now available, but it's important to note that what feels like proper alignment may or may not be. An instructor can see if the alignment is correct and can help make adjustments if it isn't. The best instructors can tell when you are able to move deeper into an asana and guide you into it. All of this is key to avoiding injury and allowing your body to evolve through the practice.

A thorough, well-rounded sequence is usually in order for regular asana practice to address the full body through a combination of standing and seated postures that involve flexibility, balance, strength, etc. When establishing a personal practice, sequencing can be quite challenging. How do you know what to do and in what order? By taking a variety of instructors and classes, you will no doubt find one that resonates with you. In class, note the asanas and order you are practicing in class and mimic them at home. Hone in on the basics and then refine to include variations. This can take some time.

My first classes were in Ashtanga, which is a fixed set of asanas in a fixed chronological series. Since this type of practice does not incorporate variety, it was relatively easy to get the sequence down for my home practice—with the help of Ashtanga Yoga by David Swenson. After experiencing some Hatha and Vinyasa classes I realized that there are a number of yoga styles, most of which use the same core asanas—Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana I), for example. I developed a personal practice to include the core asanas, my favorite asanas, and the asanas I thought looked fun, but wasn't able to do just yet. I used variation to combat a stale practice and boredom, making sure to get up, get down and move all around. 


I recently read about Intuitive Flow Yoga in Yoga Beyond Belief by Ganga White. He described the practice as being guided from within by becoming deeply in tune with the messages we receive from the body. 

"For example, when you yawn and stretch, usually your movements are directed by inner feelings and impulses. Try it right now: Simply create a yawn and stretch with your arms and let the inner sensations guide how you tense, move, and stretch. It is not hard to let inner bodily feeling create and guide your movements."

Intuitive Flow Yoga means no sequencing. Intuitive Flow is letting your body truly dictate the movement. Tune in to the body. Tune out the mind. This can result in a very uneven practice. Movements on the left may not be replicated on the right. The entire practice might be seated. Perhaps, the entire practice is upside down.

This type of practice was interesting to me, but I doubted that I could quiet my mind enough to do it right. I doubted that I'd know what to do if I didn't think of what to do. I doubted that I'd try it because I didn't think I was capable. 

A week later, I woke up with sore back muscles. Very sore. My entire back. I'd been back bending like crazy the previous morning, and followed it up with 10 hours of screen printing. Much to my dismay, I thought I should take a few days off of my regular practice because I didn't want to stress those muscles without letting them heal. I decided to give Intuitive Flow Yoga a try.

Prior to the back soreness, I'd worked up a fairly rigorous personal practice. I'd fallen into an all-or-nothing mentality and wasn't recognizing value in any physical practice unless it was aggressively forward moving. While this type of mentality is rarely beneficial, it took all of the pressure off my Intuitive Flow Yoga. I wasn't expecting anything.

Naturally, this particular practice revolved around back stretching and twisting. Not a single vinyasa. Not a single handstand. I simply held each asana until I received some kind of motivation from the body. When my mind wandered, I just brought it back to my breath and body to await instruction. The instruction came as knowing what to do next— not a thought about how to move. For such an un-balanced, uneven practice my body reached a place of feeling complete. Usually, soreness like I'd experienced in my back would take days to fade. Later that very same afternoon, I noticed no discomfort or soreness in my back whatsoever. Amazing practice, right?!


While amazed at the effects of Intuitive Flow Yoga on my sore back, I hadn't realized how aggressive—and not just in yoga—I'd become until I started examining the situation to write this article. Screen printing for 10 hours straight? The tendency here is to push, pressure, and over-extend to the point of significant physical or emotional response. This is not a new experience.

The new experience is Intuitive Flow Yoga. Something definitely clicked with that first practice, I've noticed a heightened sense of physical awareness during asana practice. Instead of practicing just core and favorites, I'm able to hear what my body is asking for and I incorporate those asanas.I can feel the myself deepening in the practice.

I'm even recognizing emotion as a feeling in my body before my mind elevates it to critical fruition— a tightness in chest as frustration or uneasiness in my stomach as nervousness. Intuitive Flow Yoga is a very welcome addition to my personal practice.

Thanks to my brother Blake for his daily sunrise photos. Every day is beautiful.

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