Noah Maze on Vinyasa Yoga

“In wildness is the preservation of the world.” – Henry David Thoreau

Vinyasa yoga practice (or you swap out those 3 words and insert “life”) is furious, but not angry.  It is wild, but not violent. It is urgent, but not anxious.

To be embodied is to have passion. Life wants to live. And life wants to live with great urgency. This is evident in every heartbeat and with every breath. This is evident in the heat of your body, as your body does everything it can to maintain homeostasis. Wildness is an essential feature of life– of embodiment– of human consciousness. To be alive is to possess wildness. To be human is to intervene on our wildness, to civilize our otherwise primal and animalistic nature. We subjugate our wildness to in order to domesticate ourselves. We domesticate ourselves in order to be civilized; civilization is nature with a human imprint. Examples of this are all around: Did you wear clothes today?

Surya Namaskara AThe style of yoga practice, known these days as “vinyasa yoga”  brings out and preserves essential aspects of our wildness/fury/urgency.  This practice heats you up, makes you sweaty and drippy, your eyes become bright like embers and your skin gets flushed with blood. It messes up your hair and your carefully coordinated outfit. When this happens, resist the urge, even if just for a moment, to ‘fix’ yourself. Vinyasa gives you permission to unapologetically be your hot, sweaty, messy, bad-ass, powerful self.

When vinyasa gets increasingly dynamic, as the sequence repeats again and again and adds more poses on the previous, it urges you to embrace your wildness, to keep up with the pace, dig deeper and focus more. In so doing, it teaches you to access the self-regulating tools of drishti (gaze), bandha (deep core stabilization) and prana (breath). These teach us, in the wild furious urgency of the experience to simultaneously preserve and cultivate modicums of self-regulation to temper the heat with the cooling qualities of calm, shanta. Without these tempering/cooling qualities, the passion of vinyasa might become violent; injuring yourself and/or falling on your neighbor.

Drishti: As we often cue the drishti, “Keep your eyes calm. Gaze softly at a steady point. Look inwards as well as outwards.” These qualities of gazing have a calming effect on the sympathetic nervous system. As the wildness/fury/urgency increases, we learn to keep awareness cool and calm and not go into fight/flight/freeze mode of the sympathetic nervous system. We use drishti in vinyasa not unlike a spinning dancer uses spotting to maintain balance and prevent dizziness.

Bandhas: These are the muscular and subtle body engagements, the deep core stabilizing muscles that must be activated in the dynamism of vinyasa as you move from pose to pose to pose. Your deep core muscles stabilize your pelvis and spine in every movement, and the more dynamic the movement pattern, the more furiously they work to keep you together.

Prana: Prana is life force, life principle. The tangible experience of prana is breath, and breath is life. When prana leaves the body, the body is truly just a corpse. In vinyasa yoga, breath is your great resource. By participating in your breath, usually ujayii pranayama in the vinyasa practice, you can increase and harness your energy to focus AND to calm; to speed up AND to slow down, to keep your world together as the waves of the sequence come on you with increased amplitude and frequency.

Another word for many of the concepts above is tandava. Shiva’s dance, as Nataraja, is called Ananda Tandava, the Dance of Bliss. This dance originates both in his love for his beloved and from the urgent ecstasy of the heart. He dances to dance, as the expression of his deepest experience of joy that needs no other reason. And he dances for love, because what reason is more powerful than that. And while the power of love has tamed him, it has also encouraged the splendor of his heart’s true madness and release.

Stay calm and rage on, as you inhale to stretch your arms up and look up, exhale as you fold forward and touch the earth…inhale…exhale…

9 Reasons to Go Slow in Your Vinyasa Yoga Practice

Ready to move deeper into vinyasa and build a practice that supports you for decades to come? Start today with Slow Flow: Sustainable Vinyasa Yoga for Life, designed by Cyndi Lee, renowned yoga teacher and founder of OM Yoga. This six-week online course will refine your approach to vinyasa yoga through creative asana sequences, essential modifications, dharma talks in mindfulness, and much more, so sustainability and precision are top of mind every time you flow—now and in well into the future. Learn more and sign up today!

You may have heard of Slow Food and Slow Fashion, established movements that promote quality, sustainability, and fairness—but how about Slow Flow? It starts right here, right now. We’d argue that all of these movements are essentially ahimsa (non-harming to people, animals, and our planet) in action. Now you can take part on the mat: Renowned yoga teacher and founder of OM Yoga Cyndi Lee has partnered with Yoga Journal to bring you Slow Flow: Sustainable Vinyasa Yoga for Life.

This course was born out of the evolution of Lee’s own yoga practice post-injury. After suffering through years of hip pain, Lee finally saw a doctor this year. “I was diagnosed with end-stage arthritis in my right hip. That basically means all of the cartilage was gone,” she says. “Since cartilage doesn’t grow back, it wasn’t going to get better. This didn’t happen overnight; it was a long process of degradation that was finally catching up with me.” She ended up having both hips replaced within three months of each other.

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Taking a hard look at her practice, Lee says she decided that her focus had to be on how we can use the modalities of asana, meditation, and pranayama in a way that will benefit us both right now and in the future. “Honestly, I’m not sure I would have been able to have that conversation with myself if it was just about getting older,” she says. “Getting injured gave me the chance to reboot my whole practice and my relationship with my body.”

Her new approach to vinyasa yoga is all about sustainability. Here, nine reasons everyone from beginners to seasoned yogis will want to follow her lead and slow their flow.

9 Reasons a Slow Vinyasa is Worth It

1. You’ll be able to practice vinyasa yoga for the rest of your life.

If you want to be flowing on your mat many moons from now, it’s wise to start practicing with sustainability top of mind. In Slow Flow, you’ll learn practices that increase the functionality of body parts that often begin to fail us with age.

2. It won’t hurt…

Yoga shouldn’t have to! “For a few years, I was experiencing a lot of pain in my hips (especially the right one), but I didn’t really know why,” Lee says. “I started modifying my entire practice—making it simpler, more specific, more attentive. I wanted to figure out what I could do that wouldn’t hurt in the moment or wouldn’t hurt an hour later.” Lee discovered having options for each pose is key.

3. It can prevent injury.

Unfortunately yoga injuries like Lee’s have become more and more prevalent. Lee looked at hers as an opportunity to reboot her whole practice with the principles of Slow Fashion in mind. Her thinking: T-shirts shouldn’t be disposable, and neither should our joints. Many of the yoga styles we love for their athleticism may be good for our muscles and bones in the moment but not so much for our joints in the long-term. Sustainability and injury prevention go hand in hand.

4. You’ll have the opportunity to deepen your relationship with your Self.

“My body has always been my vehicle for cultivating a relationship with my Self,” Lee says. By slowing down you may be able to start listening a little more carefully to what your inner voice is saying.

5. You’ll stop taking the body you have for granted.

Not only do we only have one planet, but we each have only one body. Two hip replacements made Lee start looking at hers and her yoga practice a little differently. Slow Flow will help you cultivate appreciation and gratitude for everything your incredible body can do.

6. Your practice will become more mindful.

Flinging and flying and using momentum on the mat aren’t sustainable, but deeply grounded movement can be. As a Tibetan Buddhism teacher, Lee will guide you into applying an advanced awareness to your practice in order to find the safest, most sustainable option for you in every pose. Bonus: You’ll become even more mindful of your body’s needs day to day.

7. Your practice will become more precise and specific.

Sustainability in a vinyasa practice is all about being super engaged and embodied. Slow Flow will teach you how to bring a new kind of precision and specificity to your practice. Sustainability in a pose might mean dialing the angle or your hand, foot, or knee a few degrees one way or the other.

8. It’s even more challenging than your usual vinyasa.

Think that slowing down equals an easier practice? Actually, Slow Flow is advanced work! Approaching vinyasa yoga with this level of precision and mindfulness will elevate your practice—and you’re going to feel the difference right away.

9. It feels good!

If you just love that vinyasa vibe, Slow Flow is the secret to never having to give it up. It’s a sustainable approach that you can take to your mat each day. Linking breath with the kind of precise, specific, therapeutic movement will leave you feeling at 48, 58, 68, 78 the way you did at 28. Who doesn’t want that?