“Flow What?” Vinyasa Flow and Hatha Yoga

The most common question I get out and about as a yoga teacher is, “do you teach vinyasa flow?” Wait, I suppose that’s the second most popular question after, “do you teach hatha yoga?” I’m always perplexed as to how to answer these questions.  Clearly, the inquirer has an interest and some experience with yoga and I want to be encouraging and  I don’t want to scare them off of ever speaking to another yoga teacher at a party again by subjecting them to a soliloquy on yoga. So perhaps I can avoid awkwardness by answering the questions here.

Do I teach hatha? Well, yes, as does most EVERY teacher in America! So, it’s sort of like asking someone in Vail if they ski powder or someone in the south of France if they play their tennis on clay.  Hatha refers to the first few rungs on the “8 Limbs” of yoga, as outlined by Patanjali around 100 AD ( pen name for several contributors–often mistaken as one guy) in which he/they attempted to codify and record hundreds, if not thousands of years of yoga–yoga philosophy and psychology, mostly. In other words,  the  text is not a Yoga Journal “how to guide” on where to put your feet in warrior pose.

Hatha yoga encompasses the first few rungs on the classical yoga ladder or limbs, depending upon how you think of them. Personally, I envision a food pyramid: the base layers are the yamas, niyamas, asana and pranayama.  Yamas and niyamas are the “10 commandments” if you like.  In other words, lead a good life, be a moral person, not so much for the greater good, but because a guilty, troubled mind tends to make meditation difficult. Nothing can kill a good bliss buzz like visions of violence, guilt and jealously.

Asana are the postures, the exercises done primarily to purify the body, prepare it for long periods of seated meditation and promote health and wellness. Asana were meant to work on the internal organs, with benefits like a “yoga butt” or a “kick ass workout” being secondary.  This might be a good time to note the major pitfall of hatha yoga as warned in the texts and by sages throughout the ages: vanity.  Beware of gurus in Speedos /bikinis equating pose mastery with yoga mastery, I say!

Finally, pranayama  are the breathing exercises to prepare body and mind for meditation and higher mental states by controlling the “modifications of the mind” (i.e. emotions, random thoughts, attachments, aversions, ego interference, etc. ) and increase focus.

At this point, you’re running low on pinot and are maybe starting to nervously glean the can of slow moving worms you’ve managed to open with a question like,  “so, do you teach hatha?”  I can say yes, I teach asana and more pranayama than most local teachers; I discuss the importance of “non-violence” to your own body and how yoga wasn’t meant to be an overly aggressive practice (especially with beginners) which would score points in the yama/niyama catagory.  So, I suppose my answer would be, “yeah, pretty much, but…”

Now, this would be the time, at the party, where you start looking around the room, HOPING to see someone, anyone, you know, for a graceful exit.  Sadly for you, this is also the part of the conversation where I get really excited, and struggle to contain my passion as I start to explain the wonders of Raja yoga, the top 4 rungs/ layers of the food pyramid, with Samadhi as the cherry on top!  How, for instance “pratayahara”  has been compared to athletes being “in the zone” so focused on the game that they notice nothing else–including the pain of injury, blood gushing out of a scraped knee, for instance.

I would probably prattle on and on about why do athletes or anyone in a performance situation (actors, public speakers, surgeons) leave higher mental states to chance when there’s a systematic way of achieving them with thousands of years of results; I then add, how holding tree pose for 10 minutes can bring a rush of peace and well being.  At this point you might chime in, just to get me back on track, “so, like, do you teach vinyasa flow, or what?” 

Well, that’s when you’ll burst my bliss bubble, causing me to notice that I too am running low on pinot.   I’ll try not to be disappointed when I refer you to your local health club. I might mumble something about how “vinyasa” used to be associated with the very legitimate classical school of Ashtanga yoga, but, alas, the word has been co-opted by the fitness establishment and become a euphemism for “fitness yoga” which is really a euphemism for “group exercise using yoga poses as calisthenics.”   I may throw in a warning about how the mirrors will deter you from a strong inner focus and obtaining higher mental states and how the New Age music will make it nearly impossible for you to hear your own breath, let alone focus on it.  Oh, and can you believe they get $18 for a drop-in for a 1 hour class at CorePower (aka Corporate Power) led by teachers certified on-line or in 2 week crash courses? I’ll say that last bit in my crotchety old-man voice.

Of course, I could’ve replied to your initial question, “actually, I teach classical hatha and raja yoga in the Sivananda and Kripalu tradtions, combined with modern influences from yoga innovators, mostly West Coast based.”  I suppose then you’ll still have to rephrase, “so like, do you teach vinyasa flow or not?”  In which case, I might respond, “I teach the opposite of vinyasa flow and if you have no idea what that is, you are welcome to try a class for just ten bucks; check out my website, yogahotdish.com –hey, are you running low on pinot too?”

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