By Corey Lewis, CPT, CSCS
Flow yoga, also called Vinyasa yoga, is one of the most popular styles of contemporary yoga in the world. Each movement is united with the breath as you flow through a string of poses that make up a flow yoga sequence.
Whether you want to disconnect and relax for an hour, fit a workout in, or get in touch with your spiritual side, there is a myriad of benefits that come from a regular yoga practice.
Some studios call it flow yoga, flow-style, dynamic, or vinyasa flow, but it’s all influenced by ashtanga yoga. Ashtanga yoga is a more vigorous style of yoga where you hold each pose in the sequence for a count of five breaths.
The term vinyasa comes from Sanskrit meaning “to place in a special way”. It’s also commonly used to describe the connection between yoga asanas. We can take this to mean the connection between the breath and the movement or the connection between poses in a flowing sequence.
Flow yoga allows for a lot of variety, but the majority of the time you can expect a few sun salutations. The rest of it is up to your teacher. Whether the class is fast or slow, beginner, or advanced students, is completely down to you. Yoga has so many different forms and passionate yogis that it can be a little daunting at first to know where to start.
It doesn’t matter if you’re looking to nail your headstand or just looking for a place to unwind; yoga is a great form of physical and mental exercise. A regular yoga practice has been found to reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep, and treat addiction. Flow yoga is particularly effective as the teacher encourages you to focus on deep breaths and the sensations within your body.
So, you’ve decided that it’s time to hit the mat and go to your first class. Although you only need a mat and some space, when first starting out, head to your nearest yoga studio. By visiting a studio, you get proper guidance on your form so that you nail the poses early on.
Classes are also a great way to meet friends and join a community. Working out with a crowd can do wonders for your fitness and motivation, too. A study published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology found that when participants worked out with a more-capable partner, they increased their plank time by 24%. Yoga is the most popular type of group exercise, with 25% of Americans hitting the mat every week.
If you’ve never tried flow yoga before, start with a slower class. Beginner fitness goals should be attainable, so that you stay motivated for the long-term. In addition, dress to move; you’ll be stretching and twisting so you want your clothes to flow with you through the sequence. Yoga pants are a good option. You can wear baggy tops; however, they can get in the way during your downward dog which can be distracting. There is no “right” outfit; dress for yourself so that you can move freely and feel amazing.
There are so many different styles of yoga out there, that it can get a little confusing as to what you’ve just signed up for. While each style is different, the benefits of yoga remain the same for the mind and the body.
Even if you’re a seasoned yogi in one style, delving into another style could totally transform your overall yoga experience and push you to break out of your comfort zone. One of the main differences between Bikram hot yoga and flow yoga is the environment.
If you’re looking to get your sweat on, then Bikram yoga is for you. Named after Bikram Choudhury, the style is made up of 26 poses done in a specific order, typically set in a room of 105 degrees F and 40% humidity. Bikram yoga poses are each held for a few breaths, sometimes longer before moving into the next posture.
If you love the flow of a vinyasa but crave a little heat, then try a hot flow yoga class. Generally, a hot yoga flow vinyasa class will involve a gentle heat to create a comfortable environment at around 80 to 90 degrees F. Depending on your class, they might bump up the heat for a full out sweat session in a hot yoga flow, too. The heat from the room can make it easier for your muscles to stretch, allowing for a deeper stretch and extension.
A heated vinyasa flow class tends to have music and dimmer lights whereas Bikram yoga has no music and the room is arranged in a certain way. The style of yoga you do is completely down to personal preference and the kind of movement you’re looking for on a particular day.
A flow sequence in vinyasa is a bit like a dance, each pose moves seamlessly from one to another. It teaches us to cultivate awareness from our actions that can be applied on and off the mat. If you’re new to flow yoga, here is a short sequence to get you started and show you the kind of poses you’ll come across in a flow yoga class.
Relax into the mat and start in Extended Child Pose. Take a deep breath in and out and move forward onto your hands and knees into Cat-Cow Pose. Take a deep breath in and drop the belly toward the floor. As you breathe out, curl your spine and drop the top of your head toward the floor. After you feel warmed up, drop back to a neutral spine, exhale, and lower onto your front.
Next, place your forearms by your side and lift your head up into Cobra Pose. Tuck your toes in and lift up to Plank Pose for five breaths, and then sit back into Downward Dog Pose. From Downward Dog, head back into Plank Pose then Cobra Pose.
This short cyclical sequence is a basic vinyasa flow and the perfect starting point to get into flow yoga. If you’re not quite there yet, then consider a less serious class in laughter yoga (yes, you read that right). Otherwise, a consistent and regular vinyasa practice can de-clutter the mind chatter, increase flexibility and strength, and support overall well-being.