When I first started yoga, I didn’t start gently.
I was a sophomore in college who had been dancing for most of my life up until that point, and I was itching for some movement. I joined a friend of mine at her yoga studio in town. The class we took was the Ashtanga Primary Series. The instructor was a man who’s calm and exacting presence reminded me of my dance instructor.
That first class is etched into my memory. How I felt, what I thought, and how I moved. I remembered how each affirmative nod from the instructor made me feel. This class scratched more than just my itch to move.It satisfied a craving for validation that I received from the teacher. I didn't know at the time that what I liked about this experience was the feeling I was doing yoga the “right" way. I wanted to win yoga.
Now, sixteen years later, my practice holds a totally different meaning for me. I focus on moving according to what my body tells me, rather than forcing my body do what my mind wants.
When I’m on my own, the practice I almost always find myself gravitating towards is slow flow.
The Slow Flow Experience
To me slow flow feels the way that music sounds. Slow flow yoga asks the yogi to move with no hurry.
Slow flow sequences are Vinyasa, but they are unlike a Power flow. There is still an arch in these classes, and a progression, but the experience is much different. To me slow flow feels the way that music sounds.
Slow flow yoga asks the yogi to move with no hurry. These slow practices let us explore our edges, and witness the rise and fall of practice, without rush. We receive the time and space necessary to experience the fullness of each pose, and each transition encourages us to move with intention and control.
Moving slowly is also physically challenging. Through isometrically contracting larger primary muscles as we sustain, challenging our stabilizing muscles to hold us during the small wobbles of long holds, and asking our breath to remain steady throughout, our body and mind are trained for endurance.
Our Breath in Slow Flow
Slow flow invites us to breathe deeply, and asks us to be curious about our own experience.
As we sync our breath with intentionally slow movement we can also learn to find a breath that is deeper and more sustainable. We can do this in a faster pace class too, but a slower flow can be a great place to tap into the profound effect breath-pacing can have on the physical and emotional experience of class.
When I first started practicing consistently, I could never follow the instructor’s cues for breath. It actually felt like I was fighting my breath the whole practice. Before I wasn’t even paying attention to my breath unless I was frustrated by it.
Before, I wasn’t even paying attention to my breath unless I was frustrated by it.
Once I learned to slow down my practice and take full, deep, and complete breaths, I learned to let my breath lead my movement. Breathing suddenly worked for me instead of against me. Once I learned to find my breath in a slower practice, also learned to overcome frustration and use this skill in a fast flow as well.
Now, I know I can trust my breath, regardless of the breath pace cued by the teacher.
The Yoga of Slow Flow
Slow flows help to build a foundation if it’s not already there, and strengthen an already strong base. Yoga itself is constantly evolving, and every time we step on our mat it’s a new experience because we’re new people every day. As we move slowly, we can tune into the sensations in our bodies. We can allow that body awareness to help us peel back the layers of complexity in our thoughts.
As we move through the quick mind-chatter, we can access the inner self - the true part of ourselves that doesn’t change with our thoughts or our bodies. It’s the part of you that exists regardless of what’s happening externally.
Moving slowly can be the vehicle we use to build trust in our bodies, our minds, and ourselves.
So, try it on! Flow slowly and see what arrives.
Julie Stewart is a Yoga Teacher and Before and After Birth Doula living in Virginia. Her classes are compassionate, challenging, and insightful, drawing from her long-term relationship with Yoga as a personal practice for physical and mental wellbeing.
Check out Julie's flow classes on Practice Everywhere or join her in-studio at Honest Soul Yoga.