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What is Flow Yoga? – by Lindsey Alexander

Flow yoga, also called vinyasa yoga, is all over studio schedules these days. From one teacher to the next, however, “flow yoga” can feel quite different. As a teacher, that’s one of the things that I love about it, as there’s lots of room for creativity in designing a flow yoga class. A well-balanced flow class has a fluid choreography that moves students through a practice in a way that feels natural, progressing from a warmup, to a dynamic sequence of poses, to a cooldown, and finally to savasana.

Because “flow yoga” depends so much on an individual teacher’s choreography, however, one flow class might feel quite different from another. Unlike styles like Ashtanga and Bikram, which don’t change from one practice to the next, there’s no “standard” sequence for a flow class, so you may encounter familiar poses alongside asanas that are totally new to you. Exactly how challenging a flow yoga class will be varies by teacher and studio, though some studios designate classes as “open,” “intermediate,” or “advanced.” An “all-levels” flow class should offer both more and less challenging options within poses, so a student can explore them safely and at an appropriate effort level.

That said, while flow classes may vary somewhat, here’s what you can generally expect from one:

  • A practice that feels faster-paced and more athletic than gentle yoga, restorative yoga, or yin yoga

  • To keep moving throughout most of the practice, with the invitation to take rest in child’s pose or downdog whenever you need it.

  • Dynamic, intuitive transitions between poses. For example, you won’t go right from triangle pose to tree pose—you’ll get there gradually.

  • Often, but not always, sun salutations and/or vinyasas.

  • A somewhat different sequence from one class to the next, sometimes with a particular focus in each class (core, hip-openers, shoulders, inversions)

  • Often, but not always, a progression toward a challenging pinnacle pose like an inversion (wheel, shoulderstand, headstand, etc.)

  • For the practice to be symmetrical; what a teacher cues on one side, she’ll generally cue on the other

Like other forms of yoga, flow decreases stress and helps to clear the head. It also builds strength, balance, flexibility, and confidence. But what I love most about flow yoga is that it invites students to find their own personal sweet spot between steadiness (sthira) and ease (sukha), the known and the new. Like writing with your nondominant hand or working a crossword puzzle, moving through a different sequence each time you practice presents a fun challenge for the brain as well as the body.

To find a flow class that feels like a good fit, try practicing with a few different teachers to get a sense of their personal style. If you’re brand-new to flow, let the instructor know, and if you feel a little lost at first, don’t worry. You’ll probably get your left and right mixed up a few times (it happens to teachers too), and there will inevitably be a moment when you wonder how everyone else got to a completely different asana while you’re still in a pose you could swear the teacher just cued. Be patient with yourself, stick with it, and know that the person on the mat next to you is probably learning something new, too. That’s just the nature of flow, and it’s part of what makes this unique style endlessly engaging.

Want to learn more about flow yoga? Join me for a four-part series beginning January 7.

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