Embodying the Flow :
Teaching Vinyasa Flow Yoga
An Interview with Shiva Rea
with Sea R. Glassman, Interviewer
Sea R. Glassman, filmmaker, writer, poet , artist and yogini, has been a friend and
student of Shiva’s for over twelve years. She is a Yoga teacher and Healing Energy worker who
shares Shiva’s passion to live and study the Flow in all aspects of life. This dialogue transpired
over the course of a few days with the intention to shed light on both the details of teaching
Vinyasa Flow Yoga , and the desire to reveal the greater metaphors about living a vital and
courageous life inherent to the practice of Vinyasa Flow Yoga. Sea’s questions and comments
are in italics, while Shiva’s are in plain text. Some Sanskrit words are also italicized.
Shiva Rea is a world renowned Vinyasa Flow Yoga Teacher, a teacher of teachers and cutting edge interpreter and practitioner of flow in Yoga and life.
What do you think is the ultimate job of the Teacher?
Well the root meaning of “ guru , ” which is teacher, is “ the one who
removes ‘ Viddahiya ’ or ignorance, – the darkness. The one who brings light, –
you could see it in the positive if you want , as the one who brings light or the
one who dispels darkness . And it doesn’t mean to create a polarity but it means
the one who removes obstacles, the one who brings insight.
For me , in terms of Americans becoming teachers on the path of yoga,
it’s important to know that there are different kinds of teachers and I think some
of the challenges that American teachers face is that we’re teaching much
younger than anyone would be charged or supported or given a transmission to
teach in India. There’s a much longer period of apprenticing under your
teacher, who is usually fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety years old. I don’t think
though , that this is something that we need to then throw in the towel and say
“Oh well! How can I become a teacher? I’m young. I’ve only been doing yoga
for one year, five years, ten years, twenty years …” I think there are different
kinds of teachers, and different stages of becoming a teacher and even as I look
at all the different teachers I’ve had , I can see there are different -I don’t want to
call them categories , but different functions of the teachers, some of which we
can assume quite early on.
Obviously one function is that we are transmitting the technique of yoga ,
which is like a raft, a vehicle for transformation, and the most important thing for
every teacher is to assume the role of the teacher as a kind of “ mitra ” or as a
A mitra ?
It means a spiritual friend. I mean all the good qualities of a friend ; that
you support someone, that you have a sense of benevolence towards them, a
sense of unconditional love and support, which, to me you can extend to even
someone that you are meeting for the first time, because in the path of Bhakti
Yoga , devotional yoga, you are always Honoring the One. So there’s the mitra ,
which is a friend, and think of how we turn to our friends in our lives- they’re the
ones who simply tell us the truth, but perhaps gently … do you know what I
If you’ve chosen your friends and teachers wisely, then you can expect
truthful, benevolent feedback. But constructive.
Yes. Yes, but it holds the truth. I think of my best friends as the ones who
are not afraid, who have been given my permission to hold that truth . How do
we hold that truth as teachers? It means we’re giving honest feedback on the
bodily level, on the energetic level, either through your touch or through your
words, about where they need to be supported …
Another role of the teacher is as a guide or usher on the yogic journey.
When I say Usher, I use it as a metaphor because the role of the teacher is to
help the student find that seat by themselves where they come in contact with
the Great Guru, with the capitol G, the One Teacher that Patanjali refers to…
The Teacher Within.
Yes, the first and foremost teacher is God within the Self.
You mentioned the techniques of Yoga as a raft … what would be the
The river is life, but the techniques of Yoga are that which will help you
navigate through the rough spots of the river.
And perhaps transformation occurs on the sail, on the trip…
Absolutely. Yes, we could flesh out that metaphor more but I also think
there’s the role of the teacher as a midwife. We all come in to the world with
certain constitutions, and those constitutional orientations, within Ayerveda are
called doshas – your prakriti, your genetic nature, and your personality traits. All
of these become -later in life, your body mind patterns , and it develops into your
orientation even towards yoga . Maybe you’re more of a bhakti yogan- more
devotionally oriented, or if you’re more Hatha yoga oriented – you understand
Yoga more through the vehicle of bodily transformation , which includes
everything but you’re more kinesthetically oriented .
Kinesthetic is bodily intelligence.
An awareness of the Self through the body.
Yes. Through the body. It’s an actual form of intelligence. Think of it as
when we were first born. It’s primarily our kinesthetic intelligence that actually
stimulates our verbal and cognitive skills that develop through touch. Through
the body is how we develop our sensory motor pathways of how we come to
know the world.
Right. The body as a receptor of information.
Yes. And some people are more intellectually oriented,- the path of
Jnana Yoga. It refers to the Yoga of Self Knowledge. It usually refers to
someone who studies ancient or sacred texts in any tradition.
They have a more intellectual approach to understanding the world…
An intellectual approach to Self Knowledge, Self Realization.
And the Self as World.
Anyhow, the teacher as midwife is the one who helps you birth , in a way,
aspects of yourself that perhaps have been either limited by your constitution ,
by your body mind patternings. In the yoga asanas, the teacher as midwife is
the one who really helps you go through all of the strength and weakness
imbalances in your body which are never just on a physical level. So , as we’re
opening our hips in Baddha Konasana there may be a physical shift, but there
are other corresponding kinds of emotional and internal shifts that are
For instance, what is it to “ learn to surrender? ” Is it a physical state? An
emotional state? A spiritual state? Internal shifts integrate the different
dimensions of our Self.
A physical shift can trigger an emotional shift. Shifts will probably occur
on all levels sometimes.
But maybe you use the fabric of the body to get in.
Or perhaps with some people, you’d have to approach them in a more
intellectual way and give them verbal information.
In other words, you’d say that one of the jobs of the teacher is to be able
to be aware of the constitutions of those who are in front of them.
Yes and to understand which approach would best benefit the student,
the more practical karma yoga, the kinesthetic hatha yoga, the heart oriented
bhakti yoga or the intellectual approach of jnana yoga.
Let’s talk about Flow.
O.K. How is Vinyasa Flow Yoga related to the larger path of Yoga, the
larger stream of Yoga?
First we’ll say that there’s a universal understanding of Yoga as any path
of Unification , and in that way, Yoga is both a verb , and a state of being.
Meaning any activity, any path that unifies. Unifies what? Unifies all of the
dimensions of our being that sometimes feel separate. Our sense of our
physical body being separate from our mental body, our mental body being
separate from our emotional body. All of these dimensions being separate from
our energy body , our soul, the Atman.
So, Yoga on a universal level is any activity , any path that leads towards
integration or wholeness of the human being. You can also see it on all the
other different levels: between human beings, within the community , and
globally. It’s also a state of being unified. So it’s both a verb and a state of
consciousness, a state of unified consciousness. This is why I feel that Yoga is
now a global practice . It isn’t being limited by people’s religious or spiritual
Also, in a more specific definition, Yoga refers to the philosophy and
techniques of the practice that create this unified state of being or that serve to
unify the human being . These techniques originate within India, and within a
context of Hinduism, which is again a very general term that is not used by
Indians themselves. It was a term coined by the Greeks meaning basically the
people who live in the Indus valley. Hinduism itself is very rich and is usually
called Santana Dharma – the Eternal Dharma , the Eternal Path of Truth.
Hinduism itself is like a huge complex of different relationships to the one
All-Pervading-Energy-of-the-Divine , towards which people from different
families, different villages, different states in India , have more specific
orientations. So you’ll find the three main streams of Hinduism are Vaishnavism
Shavism and Shakti-ism, if you want to put the isms on the end, but it’s a stream
of all the different incarnations of Vishnu, which includes Krishna and Rama ,
and their consorts Krishna Rada and Sita Rama. Shavism is basically
connected to Shiva and Shaktiism is the connection to the Divine Mother .
Those are the three main spiritual rivers, but there are thousands and
thousands of tributaries.
So Yoga exists also within the context of Hinduism. It shares chants and
techniques that are born out of the more than five thousands years of its
Hatha Yoga here in the United States means the path of Yoga that uses
Asana as the primary vehicle of transformation. Vinyasa Flow is a branch of the
tree of Hatha Yoga, and within that tree of Hatha Yoga , you find the lineage of
Krishnamarcharya, the lineage of Sivananda, and the lineage of Kripaluananda
– various teachers who then work with the techniques of Hatha Yoga, which are
Asana, Pranayama, Bandha, and Meditation, and Kriyas (cleansing practices).
Vinyasa Flow in the tree of Hatha Yoga comes out of the lineage of Sri
T.V. Krishnamarcharya as teacher. And there are three main teachers that came
out of these teachings; Sri Patabhi Jois with Ashtanga , and then Vinyasa Yoga,
TKS Iyengar with Iyengar Yoga , and TKV Desikachar with Vini Yoga. Vinyasa
Flow was born in American soil , even though it is in relationship to this larger
context of Hatha Yoga and Yoga as path of Unification , – as the huge incredible
stream of Yoga , it was really born over the last three decades, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s,
and now into the 21st century of Western Yoga teachers beginning to study with
these different streams, Asthanga , Iyengar, Vini yoga as well as other streams,
including teachers of Tantra and Kundalini Yoga. It all comes from the
quintessential Western experience, particularly the American experience of
being exposed to diversity and then creating a means by which to integrate,
synthesize and express the diversity.
In other words, there are people who started studying with Iyengar,
people who started studying Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and people who started
studying with Desikachar, Viniyoga , and stayed true to just those different
systems, because those three are systems within themselves.
Like a religion?
It’s not a religion, it’s just a system. It wants to be a system that is not
diluted. Shri Patabhi Jois doesn’t want the Ashtanga series to break down and
become different things. He wants it to stay that way. But then you have Iyengar
which is going so deeply into alignment and yoga therapy , and the use of
props. Then you find in Viniyoga this whole attention to use of Vinyasa in terms
of adapting to individual needs.
So you find in Vinyasa Flow Yoga, which is born more out of Ashtanga
because of the integration of the very, very heart of Vinyasa as chattarunga,
upward dog , and downward dog, the series of poses that link the Ashtanga
series. On a movement level, that’s the heart of the Vinyasa, which is complete
in itself – it illustrates the principle of Vinyasa, of linking movement and breath,
and of using counter poses.
… (downward dog) which is a counterpose …
A counterpose for back bend. So this is a reflection of the heart of
Vinyasa, which is preparation. So you heat the body first. Then you prepare to
move towards a greater culmination and then from that culmination you come
down from the mountain and you do the counterpose in response .
It’s like story structure!
Exactly. So Vinyasa Flow tends to look more like Ashtanga then the other
systems, but the main difference is that it is not a set sequence. It incorporates
more of Viniyoga in that there is a sense of using smaller sequences towards a
specific aim , and that aim can change.
Vinyasa Flow mostly originates from Shri Patabhi Jois’ teaching of
Yes, but he’s not saying “ Oh ! Go teach Vinyasa Flow ! ”. It just
happened. It just happened that people found they might be getting too injured
in Ashtanga , or they were wanting to teach to different populations that weren’t
strong enough to do Ashtanga . Or they found , like what happened to me after
doing Ashtanga for ten years and going very very slowly all the way through the
third series, that after I gave birth to my son and then went back to that system ,
there was a huge organic shift that permeated all the dimensions of my being. I
had been totally initiated into a different rhythm , a different consciousness. I
needed to be able to fully explore the possibilities, which is something you
might find more in an Iyengar practice. So I began to integrate the option of
taking longer holds in poses , going deeper in hip openers, or investigating
variations in back bends…
Instead of an eight breath hold…
Instead of only five or eight breaths. Exactly. Sometimes wanting to
address certain – I call them “ leaks in the boat, ” whether it’s a weakness in the
body or a tightness in the body. Out of love, wanting to spend more time on
really opening my psoas and quadriceps. When I say things on a muscular
level, it’s really the first doorway to everything else, it’s never just the physical.
Plus I think giving birth was a deep initiation into the intuitive mystery of being
alive. There’s so little that you can control when you’re giving birth, not that you
would want to control it but more like the incredible satisfaction of following
energy as it’s unfolding in the form of having life grow inside you…
… Which, although there’s a certain time line, it is new to the mother, and
is not necessarily going to absolutely unfold in this certain sequence, in this
certain way, in this exact amount of time, so you’re organically drawn to a new
way of participating in the unfolding.
Yes , and also giving birth is the quintessential creative act. One of my
teachers, Shandor Remete, said this to me when I was pregnant , “You will
really come to know your life force when you’re pregnant.” And so what I found
when I emerged from this initiation of giving birth and also breast feeding, was
that I was being initiated into the deep creative potential of life. All the cycles.
You have to die many times when you ’re becoming a mother. Die to your old
body. Die to the old rhythms of your life.
And you have to honor each passage. You have to be completely
present in each cycle.
I can see where that would lead you out of a certain way of being.
Now that you’re in this new place with your practice, do you think in ten or
twenty years you’ll be in a whole other place that you can’t even foresee?
Oh totally, totally, that’s always my prayer. A prayer within yoga . Which is
why I feel so excited about Vinyasa. It’s an evolutionary path. It puts you in touch
with the creative unfolding of life as it is happening inside you , and then to
express that fully through your practice … do you know what I’m saying ?
And that’s my prayer. That we all continue to evolve.
It’s almost as if you’re part of a new generation of Yoga teachers who are
integrating everything that has come to pass in Yoga thus far.
Yes, and I think the people who are drawn into Vinyasa flow – and this
gets into the question of being a Vinyasa Flow teacher in the United States- are
people who are not necessarily bucking the system, but just weren’t drawn to an
orthodox path or , as we started to follow an orthodox path , there was an
intrinsic sense of loss. It wasn’t about “ my independence, ” “ my ego,” or “ I’m
not gonna follow that! ” As a child, even though you experience growing up in
your parent’s household in a certain way and you don’t know the specifics of
other approaches, you may still have an intrinsic sense that there are other
parts of yourself that are wanting to be born …
… like a city kid wanting to go into the forest and run ...
Yes , or someone who’s an artist who grows up in a scientific household
or a scientist who grows up in an artistic household . We’re nourished to an
extent, but you feel that you have to continue the exploration…
It’s almost as if there’s a knock at the door of the heart saying “ let me
Yes ! I have deep deep pranams – whole body prostration respect -for
the lineage of Yoga, the passing of the flame. I feel blessed to have received
transmissions from many different teachers. However, no matter what form you
look at- if you look in the arts, if you look in the realm of science, or at spiritual
traditions in India, there is always evidence of those who do further exploration,
and take their art or science or technique beyond the known. These are the
Isadora Duncans who have studied ballet, but then decide they need to branch
off, or the person who studies with Martha Graham , and learns the technique,
but knows that something else has to be born from it, like Jose Limon . In
Vinyasa Flow yoga , what has come before is absolutely the fertile ground of
Siddhartha Gautama had to leave the palace because though he had
everything, he had an intrinsic feeling that for his evolution as a soul, he needed
to leave, it wasn’t enough. Then he went and he found all different yogis, he did
all different kinds of tapas and ascetic practices and still there was the
evolutionary call . You have to move on from there too, and he did. He sat under
the Boddhi tree and found his home.
Vinyasa is grounded in the philosophy and techniques of Yoga , but it
gives you fertile ground to find your expression in a way that’s very authentic
and fresh and alive. I draw a lot of inspiration from Jazz. In Patanjali ’s concept
of shtira and sukha- you need the steadiness of technique, but the sukha is the
improvisation , the creative energy, like what you hear in a jazz rift . We say this
in class, the beginning of Surya Namaskara is like learning to play the scales. It
doesn’t matter how long you’ve been playing. It’s good to come back and hit the
different notes. Technique means a refinement of the relationship to life energy.
We could all take a horn and play anything but that doesn’t sound very refined .
We have limitations. We play one note and it goes whooop! but if we just start
with the scales , later we can refine our energetic expression through that
instrument. The teachers who are drawn to VF Yoga in the United States are
people who are becoming yoga teachers in their twenties, thirties , and forties,
and they are bringing whole selves to this practice . They bring their lives and
backgrounds to the teaching.
We are working with the techniques of Yoga. We are experimenting ,
expressing within the rhythm and requirements of the class. If you come from a
very athletic background and you know the ritual of starting from somewhere
and finishing , then you know the empowerment and transformation that comes
from that ‘Stay with it’ process. You know the process of biking from the bottom
to the top of a mountain and you can apply that to your class. You may have a
lot of rich life experience that is already telling you about the unified state of
consciousness that comes from that kind of dynamic empowerment, and you
may be drawn to teaching in more athletic environments , or students may be
drawn to you. Your pacing of the flow may be more dynamic or relate more to
your life as an athlete , or surfer or rock climber , and those metaphors are
In this teacher’s training, I want to help empower people sooner rather
than later to connect with their own core energy in relationship to Yoga,
because that’s when the teacher starts to become really inspired. The class has
sparks, and it’s juicy because they’re speaking from their own experience.
Rather than what I see happens to a lot of young teachers , who feel like they
have to list all of this alignment, or they’re worried about where they have to
place the body, whether they’re doing everything right , or if they sound like a
teacher . It’s hard to build a class because you’re not out there connecting to
your own creative energy. So what we want to empower people to do is to have
a good sense of alignment, a sense of which structures to begin to play with ,
but then how to work with rhythm , how to work with voice, how to assess the
energy that you see in a student in a class, so that finding the flow is a very
organic , evolutionary, living process and not some cookie cutter repetition.
I feel like there are some very specific needs that Vinyasa Flow is
addressing in the Western Yoga world. One is that most of our lifestyles are
monotone on the movement level, and I speak even for myself. In other words, if
you really kept a log through the day of how many different movements you did :
sitting , standing – and there’d be a few shifts of the hips, walking …
All on the frontal plane.
It’s pretty bleak.
Yes . And the range of motion, the diversity of movement experience is
very limited, even if you’re a Yoga teacher. Any style of Hatha Yoga is
reawakening your range of diversity.
Our modern lives don’t require much diversity of movement.
Right. We need stimulation on all levels. But I don’t agree with the view
that Americans are obsessed with Hatha Yoga because we’re so “identified ”
with our bodies, and not spiritually oriented. I think that the spiritual crisis in
America is not that we’re so much into our bodies, it’s that we’re into our heads
and we’re trying to get ‘in’ to our bodies.
We’re out of our bodies.
We know on an intrinsic level that something is wrong. We know this. Not
just this decade but its been going on for this whole past century. Do you know
what I mean?
Well, since we’ve stopped having to survive by using our bodies –
Yes, or riding horses or – a lot of different rhythms going on. And we know
in our nervous systems that we are …
This is a huge thing- it also relates to the philosophy of Trance Dance.
We find ourselves in this strange situation where mentally we are scattered.
Mentally we are overloaded and we have to tend to the ten thousand things
rising and falling. And yet on a bodily level we are more stagnant and limited.
Vinyasa Flow actually reverses that, and the mind becomes one pointed. Its
only focus is Now. In the body. Your mind rests on your breath and lets the
breath drive. And your nervous system is adjusted.
And we’ll get to talking about the flow of the class here because
sometimes, particularly in urban settings, if you start the class just with
meditation, most people are going to be sitting and fidgeting and just trying to
download from their day. So actually using complexity of movement and
reintegrating the body first is often a path that leads them to sitting in meditation
at the end.
Let’s get back to what I was saying about reshifting the focus from being
mentally scattered, nervous system overloaded, body stagnant, to mind calm
and focused, nervous system becoming more empty and the body becoming
more alive and diverse through the asanas. In Vinyasa the focus is the whole
mandala of the body. You also find there’s an emphasis on the freshness of
each class, by having a wide palette of different sequences and different
rhythmic orientations so that its possible that no class ever looks the same. This
is something that on a soul level is a way for me to say “ yes! ” to life. It’s like a
It’s like saying no to the practice of genetically modified food … – like in
the organic farming movement or in the ecological movement of preserving the
diversity of different eco -systems, mono crops of genetic seeding- where the
seeds are all genetically uniform and are not being naturally diversified through
the natural wild crafting of seeds , in which people are planting seeds that are
already genetically modified and every seed is the same…
… Is not sustainable. The crops don’t have the same resilience. Like
when we clear cut an entire forest, we cannot replant that diversity.
Aligning with diversity , which does not mean exclusion of simplicity or a
“let’s just keep creating new new new things” kind of mentality. It’s not an
impatience with deepening into a process. It’s like keeping a certain steadiness
and depth in your practice but letting that be rejuvenated through spontaneity,
diversity, creativity and absolute reverence and attention on who you are in that
If you go out on a river , or you go out to sea, and you have your
compass – I love the arrow of the compass- you know how it goes back and forth
? And it’s so beautiful when it fits, it centers. Flow is like that. What’s more
satisfying when you’re on a road trip, putting your car on cruise control or
driving yourself? On some level it’s satisfying ‘cause you can just lay back and
talk but , come on , it just gets you somewhere fast. But let’s talk on a soul level.
You can take your frozen dinner and pop your box into the microwave , press a
button and there you have it, but does that taste as good as when you cook it
yourself and bring out all the different spices…
And you get it from your garden.
Yeah and you’re pinching stuff and tasting it. Of course, sometimes we do
something and it’s the straight path and that’s where we’re headed. The art of
flow is always that we observe nature and that we observe our participation in
It’s about a process.
It’s process oriented and it includes the excitement of having to make a
decision in this moment, the excitement of not knowing.
Let me reiterate something that keeps coming up. With great respect to
the transmission that has come before, it seems that your desire is to take this
transmission to the next level, and it’s almost like a personal and global call to
human evolution through Yoga. That’s what I get from what you’re saying.
Yes, I guess on some level I do feel altruistic about it because all of us
care about what’s happening on the environmental, social and political levels .
We want to know how our lives are relating to that. The next phase in our
evolution is to synthesize. In the West , the different aspects of yog are coming
together. So working with Jai Uttal and integrating kirtan, integrating Bhakti
Yoga and Hatha Yoga, and bringing the traditional mantras of Surya
Namaskara into the Sun Salutations, which are very devotional towards Life
Force, is very important.
Kirtan is chanting?
Chanting, yes. The mantras of the Sun Salutations , such as “ Om Mitraya
Namah ” which is “ Salutations to the Friend of All ,” is about the sun having this
unconditional radiance. So I think Vinyasa Flow is also open to cross
fertilization or the integration of other aspects of Yoga. It also lends itself to
meditation practice because of the polarity of moving into stillness . Sometimes
the dynamic movement is a really incredible pathway for creating the right
conditions for meditations. The body is open and the breath is already ripe . So
you can see how Hatha Yoga , with all the asanas as “ seats ”, actually prepares
you to sit inside yourself.
As a teacher, you’re very optimistic about those who come, almost as if,
yes, as soon as we begin the practice, we are entering the flow. Yet my
observation as a teacher is that there’s sometimes a bit of a struggle or path of
resistance that has to be traveled before they come awake within the flow.
Maybe at some point you can address that.
We can go into some of the challenges to teaching Vinyasa Flow.
I don’t want to be negative.
But as a teacher when you look around, you can almost see the thoughts
springing out of people’s heads !
And you see the sweet faces.
And you’re thinking “ How can I help them settle? “
I also want to ask about preparation and flying by the seat of the pants,
speaking of seats.
OK ! Challenges in an urban setting we’ve already spoken about, and the
nature of the urban nervous system. Challenge, from a yoga perspective , is
always fodder for the practice. And so the vrittis, the fluctuations of the mind, are
really a source of energy . They are energy that has gotten diffused or bound.
So the point is this energy needs to be channeled.
Exactly. The challenges of an urban setting, particularly teaching in LA
are : you come into the class, there’s a quick change of the class , there’s not
time to settle in, everyone is trying to find their place, people find their place,
people are driving , hurrying , parking. Some people arrive early and are in
meditation. The biggest challenge in teaching Flow is that from where you start
there are going to be some people who are not in their own flow, in fact, not only
are they not in their own flow, they are coming from a disharmonious flow,
whether from the stress of driving or the rhythm of their day not yet being
integrated with their life energy…
Are you scanning the class immediately?
Absolutely, but it becomes less and less the more you work with a similar
group of people. We’ll get to that in a moment. So, some people are arriving in
the flow, some are disconnected to the flow, some coming in with a funky flow.
And that’s cool.
Yeah , they’ve just flipped off a fellow driver!
No judgment, no judgment ! It’s just been a funky flow day! Some people
are coming in an harmonious and spacious state. So this all sums up to people
coming in with different states of being that you could actually describe
rhythmically. So the challenge is finding…
Physical states that can be translated rhythmically ?
Yes, yes. Like slow and steady, neurotic and everywhere, nervous…
Like Gabrielle Roth’s way of describing rhythms?
Yes, you could see it as some people being in chaos, stillness, etc…
You’re doing a general scan of the energy in the room in terms of rhythm.
Also on a rhythmic level, we are all collectively faced with being
influenced by a larger rhythm of the seasons , of the moon , and whatever
collective things are happening, whether tensions or celebrations.
The challenge in creating Flow, if you want to do this in a way that we
were talking about earlier, in not just a cookie cutter manner but really living and
responding to the moment , is that you need to find the raft that’s going to be
spacious enough for everyone to find their way down the river in that class.
Luckily, if you’re teaching in a mixed level class, it means people already
have some orientation to the experience of a Unified Flow Consciousness ,
within stillness and movement. They will know what a really beautiful , deep
Savasana feels like. They’ ll know what it feels like to be passing through a link
in the standing poses and feel their breath sustaining itself.
To feel that kind of flow when you’re in a dynamic rhythm in class feels
similar to experiences of dance, or when you’re entering ‘ The Zone ’ – surfing ,
kayaking, running, – when there’s the entrainment of all the dimensions of your
being, so that your life energy feels like it’s carrying you, that it’s doing the
activity. All of a sudden , you’re being run , you’re being danced, you’ve
entered into the Flow.
It’s almost a trance state. You’re engaged in a deeper groove…
Yes. You’re engaged, and some people describe that as movement
meditation . The fact that everyone has started from different states becomes
fodder for your creativity, as does the fact that some people already know what
Flow is from their Yoga practice , and have an orientation in their nervous
system towards Flow.
One of the things that you’re transmitting to those on a beginning level is
“what does the Flow of Yoga feel like?” The benefit there is that people are kind
of open. They don’t have preconceived ideas or notions that they’re beginning
to be attached to on a rhythmic level. Both sets have their own challenges. Each
thing has its own hindrance. Beginners are more open , but they have less inner
and outer experience from which you can draw to create the Flow. You’re really
setting up the Experience of Flow. Whereas in a mixed level class they have an
experience of flow but that too can be a hindrance because they attach to
certain things that they like about a flow and certain things that they dislike
about a flow.
Experience creates likes and dislikes, so keeping it new becomes the
These are all factors in getting the group energy of the class to begin to
syncopate and align and ultimately entrain. These are important words.
Entrainment. To entrain. It’s a verb, but the state of being entrained is
entrainment. Entrainment is how all of the planets are moving around the sun.
They’re in an entrained rhythm. Like when you go to a concert and everyone
starts clapping , and at first they’re clapping in different rhythms and then they
all start clapping together- that’s entrainment. I don’t know if it’s a Law of
Physics but it’s a phenomenon recognized within physics that when different
bodies begin to sync up on a rhythmic level…
When disparate energies, different elements come into sync…
… that’s what syncopation is, what alignment is…
We’re looking for that experience.
Yes . Exactly.
And all of us are. Even when we come into the class, on some level,
we’re looking to come out of that frenetic state and to join up with something
Yes. We’re coming with our individual needs, and one unconscious need
for Westerners is the experience of Group Mind. The experience of the Tribe.
Just think of how powerful the experience is when the teacher leading the yoga
class is actually getting the ten , twenty , thirty or in a conference, three hundred,
to be breathing together! All inhaling, taking our arms up, exhaling , taking our
arms down- that is extremely powerful. We don’t even have that experience with
people we love. How many times do we just go home and sit with our husband ,
our mother and father or our son and daughter and say “let’s just sit together
and breathe . Let’s inhale together , let’s exhale together. ” It’s extremely
It’s very powerful. What you’re saying is this is not a concept that we’re
actually familiar with. We’re not even knowing that that’s a possibility. A group
experience of Unity.
We don’t even know that we need it.
We desperately need it.
One of the things that has formed my experience of Vinyasa Flow is a
principle from my dance background , which is about the entrainment of the
community. I encourage everybody who gets inspired by this system to awaken
this concept within themselves.
This was my experience in Africa when I lived there for two and a half
years studying African Dance. It’s all about entrainment of the individual with the
community on such a powerful, powerful level.
Often our experience in Yoga is very individually oriented, but when
you’re in India, you see both the individual pilgrim, and you see bus loads and
car loads of pilgrims chanting together “ Jai, jai ram ”- bus loads chanting
together, or you find the temple is playing a chant early in the morning and
people have their own relationship to mantra that’s already alive and they’re
already beginning to attune to that.
And we don’t have that in our landscape. We used to, and people who go
to church certainly have that experience. Because they go and they’re singing
together , which is also like doing pranayama together, because when you are
singing you can only exhale. So when you are singing together , you are
breathing together. I mean you may take your own individual breath here and
there but in general you are doing pranayama together.
The unifying life of the Church is really being disintegrated in America
and that is probably because there are elements of that life that are not
satisfying. We probably shouldn’t go into this, but I go to my father’s church, a
primarily black church for gay and lesbians and my father is white and
heterosexual. You walk in there and there is entrainment. There is Flow.
Everybody is singing from the depths of their being. Do you know what I mean?
And I remember going with my Grandmother to an Episcopal church, and I
didn’t feel like the space was being filled. The separation of flesh and spirit that
has been a conflict for several thousand years in Western culture was present –
St. Augustine, in 3oo A.D., declared that the body was the source of all sin and
our job is to transcend this hellish body…
I mean, Eek.
Yes, well , you can sense that separation when you go to some churches.
And so I think people who are drawn to Yoga are having fulfilling experiences
in whatever spiritual tradition and accentuating that through Yoga- they have a
church that they’re deeply involved with , or a Buddhist practice that’s very
fulfilling, or they go to their synogage and do Sabbath at home and it’s deeply
moving for them. And Yoga is echoing and supporting that. Or they’re people
who just don’t resonate with any of the spiritual traditions that they grew up with.
They felt the emptiness and separation of that, and are looking for experiences
where they can have that unification as an individual. And we don’t talk about it
much in the Yoga community but it is this group entrainment on a spiritual level
that draws them , – and when I say spiritual, I’m meaning at the heart of being
alive, which is breathing. Because Vinyasa Flow is oriented around breath, it is
absolutely a spiritual practice that is not in conflict with any spiritual tradition,
unless that tradition feels that somehow being alive is something that you just
have to endure until the next life. Because Vinyasa Flow is all about being
liberated now- Jivamukti.
The Liberation of the Soul. Now.
Jiva as in soul. Mukti as in liberation. Liberated. In this moment.
As an artist, it’s something that I think about a lot. That we don’t know
we’re starved for that group experience. And along with the church, the closest
thing that our modern life offers us in which to have this participatory experience
is to attend a movie where we’ re all at least experiencing triggers of emotion at
the same time, but even that has begun to be taken away from us by the
technological advances that bring DVDs, Tivo and advanced entertainment
centers into the home, so we’re more and more being taken away from
possibilities for entrainment. In light of the events in our lives right now , there
seems to be a global call to move towards entrainment.
But you can’t take it away because people will seek it like they seek
Right . They don’t know that they need it, though, at this point, but it’s
We are not articulate about needing it ; so we’ll go to clubs, to sporting
events , we’ll go to the theater, to concerts…
It’s a kind of hidden desire. Like you’re lost. You’re a mole under ground ,
looking to come to the surface. Every time I go to the Hollywood Bowl, I’m awestruck
by how many people are experiencing the same musical event. I feel
entrainment very powerfully there.
You can be explicit about it, like in the very beginning of class, when we
do the Sea of Oms, I say “ we’re not going to say when this Om is going to end,”
because we are entering into Group Mind. You don’t want to trip anyone up,
because some people, as they are entering into yoga , are fiercely holding on to
their independent thinking and all of that, which is great! But you don’t want to
trip them out on what they feel they need to hold on to, like their own
discriminative powers. So, good! Stay attuned to your powers!
This comes up immediately, this stuff!
Yeah. No one is saying “ by entering into Group Mind you’re …”
Giving yourself up!
Yeah! Signing up…
But it feels like that to some because that’s how the Ego operates.
Sure. So they may not be ready for a flow class. They may need
something that’s strictly kind of technical.
Because I‘m interested in the phenomenon of resistance, I was following
the process around the group doing the Sea of Oms. When we first started ,
there was some stumbling and hesitation, but now it feels like a whole different
thing. We are entering into it now. After a certain amount of time and familiarity,
there was the Let Go, and then we could enter. Which seems to me the process
of everything. There’s resistance, there’s the letting down of resistance which is
surrender, and then you find your way in to having this big experience. I see
that happening with the Sea of Oms. But first it’s like “ What? Why am I being
asked to do this? Do I wait for someone else to start? Should I start if there’s a
pause? How will I distinguish myself? Do I blend in? Help!”
Right. Right. So when you’re creating a flow class , you have to be aware
of whatever challenges are up at that moment. And this is not every class that
you are aware of this. You can go for whole periods where things seem quite
steady, and then you start to notice that you walk in and something’s up. If
you’re a female teacher, you’re having your menstrual cycle, which changes
your psychological state. Life is change.
Sure. Or there’s a death in the family or a fight with your boyfriend…
Sure , and that is a challenge for the teacher of flow. In order to be open
and listen to what’s needed in the moment, you have to be able to both draw on
your experience, but not project your experience, which takes experience in
feeling the difference between the two !
Yes, and consciousness. So to be a Flow teacher is to be an ongoing
student of Observing the Flow. Of yourself, of the seasonal rhythms. That’s why
I think Ayurveda is a central practice for teachers , and maybe we’ll get into that
later. These kinds of sensitivities determine the ritual of the class and we are
giving people tools that are universal and stabilizing no matter where anyone is
in the Flow, such as sounding Om, such as entraining with the breath through
the use of the first arm movements of Surya Namaskara…
Linking the breath to the body.
Yes. Those are universal tools that will always set the flow. But
observations as to whether people seem tired or scattered or tense are part of
Svadyaya, self observation both for yourself and the class. The rhythmic
observations help you create the body of the class, in choosing how long you
are in the lunar and solar cycles , with what your emphasis is. You may come
with a certain theme or pilgrimmage of sequences, but in order for that to be
fresh and alive in the moment you have to be able to respond to these other
observations. You can’t know until you get to class.
Yes, everybody was on the floor yesterday!
Yes! There are some observation questions on states of being.* Some
have to do with qualities, some with rhythms. Maybe we’ll make a list of them
later. Questions that you are observing about yourself throughout the day, and
observations of your students.
It starts with yourself.
Yes, it starts with what you are observing in yourself.
So you have to trust that you are a part of the whole!
And then the basic principle we use as Hatha practitioners, as Flow
practitioners, as students of Tantra and Classical Yoga , is that in the Union of
Opposites, whatever arises in your observations, the opposite is always the
tool for balancing that, or answering that.
Opposites as a balancing tool.
Sometimes it involves cross fertilization, as in if you notice that you feel
scattered, the opposite of something that moves in many directions is something
that moves in one direction. You need to pause in that moment and create
stillness, focus and stability. Sometimes within polarity, it’s not that something
needs its opposite but that it needs to surrender fully within the mandala of Yin
and Yang, within the mandala of Ha and Tha, solar and lunar. If you find that
you are slightly fatigued, move towards circulation and generate energy, or
surrender towards the lunar, towards the yin , and recieve your energy through
stillness. So it’s not that always and every time, the opposite is the answer.
People have resistence sometimes, to going fully into the one direction or
the other. Even when they’ re working very dynamically, sometimes they’re
holding something back, and you have to give them permission to go forward.
What does it mean to feel how much power you have in your legs? To really
give them permission to fully explore the opposite. But it’s always been in
relationship. Even if you go into one direction. Say you tell people to deeply
surrender to the relaxation , sometimes I remind them that they are charging
their batteries, and that the winter brings spring. Stillness is the place from
which the energy then rises . We all know that when we do restorative poses,
we have a sense that we are restoring ourselves so that we can then move back
into activity with greater balance. It’s within the context of the Yin and the Yang.
Even when you know that you’re working to your maximum potential , it’s
because you know that eventually you’re going to go into Savasana. It holds the
space. But without that awareness of the opposite, that moment of effort or
surrender, the movement in the other direction is less rich, less deep. There ’s a
And these fluctuations happen within a certain amount of time. You know
you’re going to have to exert, and you know you’re going to have to surrender,
and each has its power because of the other. So everything comes in a timely
Right. Like the day. The reason we’re working now is that we know the
night’s coming. We’ll be tired. And we surrender to sleep because we know
we’re going to wake up. We know we’ re not dying. We know we’ re not going to
not wake up again.
Nothing is lasting forever here. The work isn’t lasting, etc. So we bow to
the cyclical nature of all things.
Exactly. If you’re a student of Flow, you’re a student of cycles and rhythms
and harmony and balance, as well as creativity and chaos.
So you begin to trust the process that everything is a process! There’s a
lot of trust involved.
And you get skillful around process.
Yes, skill around process, instead of outcomes.
Thank you , Sea.
Embodying The Flow
Part Two: The Pilgrimage of the Class
Shiva: In Yoga when you go on a pilgrimage , it’s called a Tirta Yatra.
Tirta means a sacred place, and Yatra is the journey. I’ve always been inspired
by reading the Classical Hatha Yoga texts, like in the Shiva Samnita where the
whole understanding of the outer pilgrimage is taken internally. India is covered
with pilgrimage destinations. There’s the whole vision of the earth of India as
being the body of the Goddess. Of there being thousands of places on her body
that are sacred.
Sea: Wow! Right. Pop! (Sea plants invisible flags.)
Right. And the main rivers are the Yamuna, the Ganges, and the
Saraswati, the underground river.
The invisible river. See? I know one or two things.
Yes, I know just one or two things too! So between the two of us, we know
I know one or two, you know four thousand!
No, I know so little , it’s just incredible.
The rivers are considered to be her blood , -the prana, the juice.
The arteries of the body.
Yes. The nadis that we have in our energy body. So this gets translated
in Yoga as the pilgrimage actually taking place on the inner landscape of your
being. And that’s where the koshas come into play. You’re making this
pilgrimage from the outermost layers of your body to the innermost layers, or to
the core of your being.
From the gross to the subtle.
And this is also similar to the experience of entering a temple. You enter
the outer gates, then you move closer and closer to the inner sanctum. First we
have to orient ourselves on the physical layer, the Annamaya Kosha. Your
A good place for a human to start. With this. (Sea pats her arm, her body.)
Yes. Right here. The flesh.
Then you get connected with your Body of Breath, the Pranamaya kosha.
Then we start to become aware of our breath, Ujayii. Then as ujayii comes alive,
you find that your body of awareness, the Manomaya kosha also starts to
become more present and less divided.
Is that the mental body?
It’s the mental body, but it’s also the intelligence body, the experience of
organizing consciousness. Very different from old thinking mind, or the mind
influenced by vrittis, the distracted mind.
And that includes the body and the breath?
Well, it’s a little bit like Russian dolls, and it’s not exactly literal, but it’s a
way of describing that we have these different dimensions of ourselves that
seem separate, but can become integrated. One of the purposes of Hatha Yoga
is to make a pilgrimage towards your innermost self, but it’s through the body,
through the breath, through your consciousness and towards your wisdom
body, and then getting to move even closer towards the Anandamaya kosha,
the core of Bliss.
The whole concept of Titra Yatra relates to your experience of the Body
as Temple and you find a parallel in the way the people enter into temples, into
shrines , the way that they go on pilgrimages .
Pilgrims have deep connections or ‘pulls’ to their destinations, which is a
very different perspective from “ Well, I guess I have to make this journey, I
guess I have to go to the store today, I have to go visit my in-laws.” There are
certain ways that we move through space , having to go places we don’t want to
go, or engaging in some kind of mundane movement that is absolutely in
contrast to the intensity that pilgrims have when they make their journey. This is
something that they’ ve been waiting all their lives to do.
We spent some time in Kathmandu, and my favorite thing was to wake up
really early in the morning, four or five A.M., and watch the women make their
way through their local space with their puja tray , with the cumcum powder and
the flowers, and go to all the different shrines in their neighborhood to make
offerings. That was their morning pilgrimage, their morning circuit.
They made a daily pilgrimage.
A daily pilgrimage, yes. So Hatha Yoga is like that daily pilgrimage for us.
This idea was instrumental in shifting my relationship to being embodied. And it
also really highlighted the idea that is present for us in Western culture, that
sometimes we have an objectified relationship to our bodies. The most obvious
examples are “Abs of Steel,” or “ Buns of Steel,” where our goals are very
externalized and the motivation is about how it looks. Of course, it feels good to
have strong abs. But how it looks has to do with how someone else is
perceiving us. Underneath that you can find a motivation that isn’t always
coming from a loving relationship to your body, but from some dislike or disgust
or something. It’s very clear that in our culture we have huge body image
issues. In the somatic world, you’d call it an objectified image of yourself.
Would that mean identifying yourself more as a body? Thinking that the
most important aspect of the identity is the way the body looks?
Well, it relates back to the time when people had some kind of illness,
and they just wanted a pill to fix it. It has to do with a kind of mechanistic world
view, like the way we view the earth is the same way we view the body. “What
can I get out of this? If it’s not working , how can I fix it? ” And it bypasses an
experience of your body, or of the earth , as sacred. It sounds simple and
idealistic , but if you really investigate this kind of historical or cultural
conditioning that has to do with the advertised images that you see while
growing up, they’re very different from some of the images that you see now of
someone who’s doing Hatha yoga in the mountains . It’s almost like their body
is in some kind of a prayer. The ratio of those kinds of images to those of a kind
of externalized version of our bodies is very small. Striving for an external
perfection- what does that actually feel like inside? Ballet dancers and people
involved in body building start to feel like their body is a machine.
Or a kind of armor, which I’m seeing in my healing work.
Yes. We have to address the inner life of the body. And I don’t want to
generalize because on the other end of the spectrum, I think dancers become
so intimate with all of these layers of their bodies because they’re expressing
from the inside out and there can be an incredible consciousness and vitality
and healing quality through that expression.
The way this relates back to studying Hatha Yoga or becoming a Hatha
Yoga teacher is realizing that in the yoga room, people are going to be involved
with a transformation of their experience of themselves that will start and be
rooted first very strongly in the experience of the body. So whatever distorted
feelings they have about their body, or whatever might even be somewhat of a
reality but gets fixed in their mind, such as people are stiff, or they’ve never felt
very strong, these are going to change.
The body has its own ideas about what it is.
Yes. So to me the whole concept of pilgrimage and the Body as Temple
really means to be a devotee of the Life Force , where you’re consciously
inviting the Life Force. For instance, it’s very common if you look in your class,
half the people are stiff or tight, and that’s why they’re there initially, and that can
become a very fixed impression of one’s self which reinforces the holding
pattern. All these things are very important to be attuned to, particularly if you’re
teaching Vinyasa Flow, because the flow can only be as great as
our willingness to enter into it. If you’ve ever been in a canoe with
someone who is half way paddling, or kind of …
(Laughs) Or back paddling! It’s okay if someone doesn’t know what
they’re doing , but if they’re enthusiastic, the energy is actually moving. And if
they are enthusiastic about being in the water, so excited to be on the river, and
you start paddling … Ho! You start paddling together, and the flow comes! That
metaphor relates to our job as teachers, which is to identify what resistances to
the Flow are in the room. Some, as we were talking about , are a part of urban
living – more like obstacles to the flow in that people start from a scattered place
or they start with tension, and these are going to change. It’s fine. All of this is
going to change. It’s nothing to get freaked out about. It’s just our job. The job of
the midwife is to serve the new mother and the things that arise for her. She’s
going to be in a contraction and she’s going to get uncomfortable so you as
midwife help her get comfortable. A beautiful flow starts to happen. You support
her with breathing to encourage that flow. Everything is going to change.
And everything that is present is going to come up.
Yes. It is, within reason. We’re not doing psychotherapy in the room,
we’re not doing emotional healing, but, because yoga practice is a multidimensional
practice and because the flow of our life energy absolutely feeds
every dimension of ourselves and is hindered or liberated by every dimension
of ourselves, if we are a student of flow , we are a student of all of these things.
So having said that, we don’t have to address these things in a heavy handed ,
lecturing, direct way. I actually have found it’s more effective to indirectly
address some of these disembodied states that we encounter, or limitations of
our body image .
I start from an intention of honoring the Body as Temple, or honoring the
sacred landscape of the body. From the beginning I am completely honoring
everybody as a divine embodiment. The way I touch them, if I adjust them, will
be respectfully. In the way I will address parts of their body, they will hear a
sense of benevolence or reverence, so…
They may not even know that they’re being honored.
And it doesn’t mean that the language is very sensuous, or very soft
toned. In a dynamic flow, say in Virabhadrasana 3, I’m talking to that back leg as
a square dance caller, and I’ll say “ Lift that beautiful back leg! ” You know? It
can be very strong and vibrant language but there’s never a sense of
degradation or violation or imposition or bossiness towards the body.
Exactly. That helps people relax around however it is that they’re defining
themselves: if they’re tired, if they’re stiff, if they feel weak, toxic, whatever! Or if
they’re feeling wonderful! Particularly to the men who are stiff, for instance, I
might suggest they think of their father doing yoga, or suggest that in their family
lineage, they’re probably the most flexible person who’s come around for the
last thousand years! In other words, you don’t have to directly say, “Oh, the stiff
people, I know this is hard !” It’s just to bring whatever is natural to you. But get
very clear on your relationship to your body, and to being in a body
centered practice, and to how you relate to other people’s bodies.
When we say body, we are talking about where the soul meets the body .
Wholeness . Conscious, living , and dynamic, not body as object.
So, come back to Yoga as a practice of Pilgrimage. When we go on
pilgrimage, usually it’s to a place we haven’t been before and there’s a feeling
sense of where you’re being directed to, but what happens between when you
begin and when you arrive is, as we know, the process oriented part. That’s
where the transformations are occurring.
All of the asanas, in a way, are like different pilgrimages unto themselves.
Urdhva Danurasana, or any of the back bends, are very sacred pilgrimages to
the center of the heart. Very, very deep opening into the inner sanctum of the
heart. Or for me, in hip openers, it’s like going down to the delta, the sacred
cave of the body. The feeling tone is very different in every part of the body. In
the Tantric world there are thousands of chakras besides the main 7 or 8, and
the chakras in themselves are also pilgrimages.
I love the idea of honoring each asana as a pilgrimage in itself because it
points to the necessity of being present in every moment in the hour and a half
pilgrimage, and honoring each moment. That’s a great intention for a student.
And for me if you’re doing a daily practice, there’s that famous saying by
H.Y. Pradapika about Hatha Yoga, something along the lines of “ Hatha Yoga
is not for the weak! ” When you’re involved in a transformational practice that is
challenging, just as any pilgrimage that has any spiritual power to it, there’s
usually some difficulty in getting there.
One of the pilgrimage places for me is Mt. Kailash in Western Tibet. It
takes two weeks to get there, then once you get there you circumambulate it
more around the mountain. At one point you’re up to 18, 000 feet. No one is
allowed to climb Mt. Kailash, because it’s an Abode of Shiva . It’s like a huge
lingum and it’s also sacred to the Buddhists. The parallel in Hatha Yoga
practice is that we can live our lives and roll up our sleeves and embrace every
challenge with this idea of “ a battle to fight and win, win, ” or the internal attitude
of the pilgrim as one who is deeply humble to the privilege of making the
journey. When I see different pilgrims, particularly Tibetans making prostrations,
or walking, or Christians crawling on their knees, it seems like a total surrender
to the process.
I take refuge in my practice. As much as possible. Of course, there are
days when it feels like, “Okay , I’m going to sustain my practice, this is what I’m
biting off today.” It’s like our meals, sometimes we’re eating it and tasting it and
savoring it and sometimes we have this half hour in between and we’re just
eating. Just eating. Not that there’s a drum roll around every practice, but when I
use this metaphor of being the pilgrim and Hatha Yoga as an ongoing
pilgrimage towards both the inner core of my being and devotion towards Life,
the swell of my practice feels rich and wild , like anything could happen.
Yeah, it’s like a jungle. Not just a landscape.
Rather than Orange County where all the trees are the same height, and
Funny that we’re talking about the earth.
I live for the inspired meeting of creative evolution, of the creative
energies inside myself. When I feel that unfurling, some new discovery in my
body, or it’s not always new ; perhaps it’s deepening some experience of
myself, or of an asana, or when the dam, – that place of tightness opens, it’s like
a baby fern unfurling.There’s no restriction to the flow. But to not be freaked out
when there are restrictions.
I was just thinking at first we were talking about taking refuge in the
practice, and then you kind of moved to this place of living for the flame and
fanning it when it comes, and it’s almost like you’re saying that you have to
begin by taking refuge in your practice, and when you allow yourself to become
completely immersed, then perhaps you see a flame, and you go towards it.
Well, yes. I think part of the reason why you take refuge to begin with is
that you feel that there is some flame that is there.
You’ve been saying that a lot in class lately , “Take refuge in your
practice,” so I wanted you to talk about that a little more.
Do you know what I mean ? You don’t just surrender to something unless
we can feel that there’s something there.
Believe me, I understand!
Yeah , whether it’s a person you fall in love with …, we know! Like my cat
Choochie. He sniffs something out – he won’t just eat anything !
That’s why we show up on our mats ! We know there’s something good to
That’s also our job, to share how we’re inspired by this practice. I think
we have a wonderful, artistic role in transmitting Yoga because part of the role
of the artist, whether it be in dance, music, visual arts, is to inspire, to breathe life
into something. You could really lose a beginner if your teaching is dry, and
overly technical. I’ve had people say to me “ My first experience with Yoga didn’t
inspire me, didn’t move me.” It doesn’t mean that we’re constantly emoting, and
trying to uplift people. But it means to be very authentic to the moment.
Sometimes my inspiration comes from getting so real, just speaking
about how crazed we are that day, or how pooped we are that day. Inspiration is
like a wind. It can only move through something that’s there. That’s why we
have to start with ourselves.
This idea of authenticity is very essential! So powerful if you’re going to
be teaching from a truthful place. Otherwise, you’re just acting like a teacher,
how you think a teacher should act !
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah ! Exactly ! And we’re still animals. We can smell a
pile of poop! We all know when we hear a teacher saying the cliches of Yoga.
That’s why I want to encourage teachers sooner rather than later to not be
burdened by the technical responsibility of Yoga in their language. Not
necessarily in your sequencing. In your sequencing you need to be
responsible. Not burdened, responsible. And that of course translates into our
language. But so many teachers have so much anxiety in the beginning. Not
necessarily teachers that I’ve worked with, but so many teachers come to me
and feel concerned as to whether they’re teaching the right thing, or because of
that concern they just teach one or two things because they feel safe within
those parameters. That’s why I think your metaphorical life, the metaphors that
we already know and we come to yoga with and get ignited in our yoga practice
are the compost for this fertile , sacred relationship to the body. You continue to
feed and nourish your experience. It can’t just come from somebody elses’
experience, it has to come from yours.
And I’m also remembering what a teacher of mine said which was that if
everybody only taught what they have already mastered, then nobody would be
teaching anything. Because there’s also that which we know and feel that is
authentically a part of our body of knowledge. In other words, you can have faith
in what you have to offer even if you’re just aiming at it and in process with it
and it feels true for you. Even if you haven’t quite gotten there yet, you can still
be putting forth ideas to people about going up the mountain even though you
haven’t achieved the mountain top.
Yeah, yeah, yeah! Right. You can be a pilgrim on the path and not yet
gone to the top of the mountain, but you’re on the path.
You’re on the path, and that’s a rich place to draw from.
Absolutely. I mean you can still teach Baddha Konasana even if your
knees aren’t touching the ground. It’s okay. In the pilgrimage of the body,
though, it brings to mind why sometimes a yoga teacher’s calling card is a photo
of themselves doing an asana… it shows which sacred centers in the body have
been opened or activated. If you really look at teachers who’ve been teaching a
long time- I don’t even have this in my chest ‘cause I haven’t been teaching for
thirty years yet- there’s something that happens to the yogic rib cage over a long
Right, And that’s just not something that’s going to born in five years or
ten years. Thirty years.
Rod has it. (Rod Stryker, of Pure Yoga ). He has tremendous prana.
Rod totally has it . In his chest. Prana. Absolutely.
It becomes a visible presence , what you know and what you’ve
experienced, but it happens over time.
… So let’s talk specifically now about the Pilgrimage of the Class, the way
that we set up the journey of the class.
Well, in Classical Hindu Temple architecture, there’s the gates to the
temple, and you walk into that, and the you’re inside the temple compound. It’s
called the middle courtyard. And then you pass through some more gates
towards the inner sanctum. And sometimes you have to pass through several
different structures to actually go to the inner sanctum, but let’s keep it simple.
You pass through the gates, and then you’re in the courtyard, and you pass
through another gate and then you’re in the inner sanctum.
Now we can use that structure in terms of Yoga class. As people enter
into the room, we want the atmosphere to feel like they’re entering into a
transforming space. That’s the first ritual of being on a pilgrimage. A
demarcation of space, and that also relates to taking refuge in the practice.
There’s a tangible sense of entering into a sanctuary even though we want that
feeling of the sanctuary inside ourselves , and even though that sense of
sanctuary is not separate at all from the outside world. It’s not like “ Psst ! It’s
safe in here! ” and “ Oooo! Danger outside! ” You know ? “ Oooo! Evil, toxic
outside! Oooo! ”
You’re scarin’ me !
I’m saying it’s not an escapist reality. It’s a natural, ancient experience
that comes from the world, of needing an interior space which is really devoted
towards the Essence .
I hate to interrupt you but I’m having a revelation.
It’s like a temple within a temple within a temple, and then the practice is
the temple and the asana is the temple and then of course life is the temple we
enter into from birth and…
Right, right. Exactly. So that’s the thing. Entering the first gate is the
classroom, and then you’re in the courtyard of the Temple, and the role of the
teacher is to help usher people in towards the inner sanctum , which is inside
them, inside their hearts. That’s from the Upanishads. The inner sanctuary is
inside you. Again , you can carry this very same feeling into any class you
teach, even if you are teaching Corporate America ! If you listen to the
symphony it very much has the same structure. This is classic transformational
structure and you can use many different metaphors to describe it.
Elaborate on the Corporate America idea.
Say you’re teaching a class at Apple. You don’t have to say (hushed
tones) “Everyone ! Enter into this temple! Feel the inner sanctum of the heart! ”
That’s not going to be their language! And this might not be your metaphor at all
but it’s helpful to know that Yoga comes out of these deep archtypal structures.
Even the architectural structure of a temple is considered like a body,
where the gates are the feet , the tower is the head, and the inner sanctum is the
heart. So we’re talking about this an archtypal structure of the divine body, but
you can use your own metaphor. The metaphor that we use in Vinyasa Flow is
of a river, lake, or ocean. You’re on the banks of the river. We’ve all had the
experience where you’re about to jump into a glacial lake and you hesitate. And
maybe you don’t jump in that day ! That feeling sucks. When we don’t have
enough guts to jump in. It’s our role as a teacher to help people into that
process. Jump into the Flow ! Jump in ! It’s refreshing !
When I went tandem sky diving, I had a great teacher. He kept saying
“You’re gonna love this ! ” We’re in the plane at 14, 000 feet and our knees are
starting to shake and we were wanting to get really freaked about it. And they
kept saying “You’re gonna love this! ” And I kept wanting to pray and make
some big ceremony and when it was time to go I wanted to sit at the door and
pray some more, and he just said “No, you just count one two three, here we
go! ” You know? It’s our role to remind people that entering into the flow is very
natural. It’s our birthright! It’s not something exotic. To be in a sense of grace
and of being moved is something we’ve known since we were children. It’s
something that business people know, – we’ve already gone through the list:
athletes, jazz musicians, dancers. In every spectrum, if you’re thriving, you’re in
Flow. Doesn’t matter what activity.
Not everyone has a perception of that flow as being something sacred.
When you say “ sacred ,” all of a sudden it sets up “oh well, here’s the sacred,
here’s the profane. ” Sacred has to do with the fact that at the foundation of that
experience or that vibration is a recognition or reflection of the Essence.
Everything is an Emanation of the One, so what defines something as Sacred is
that it is reflecting the Essence fully. We can just drink our water like “gulp, gulp,
gulp, we’re thirsty!” Or we take the water slowly and there’s this recognition that
this is absolutely sustaining us to be alive. We drink it in and we receive it with
every part of our body. That becomes a kind of sacred experience. The Flow is
permeating everything. You don’t have to describe it in sacred terms, using
words like “temple, architecture and pilgrimage,” but your orientation towards it
as a sacred experience will open you as a teacher, and it will open the flow of
Yoga that comes through you to be aligned with the Essence, the Underlying
Talk about “The Essence. ”
The One Who Creates Us All. Om is the underlying essence.
When you say the Essence, you’re saying That Which Beats our Hearts…
The indivisible Core, yes. The Indivisible Core, the Life Force.
It occurs to me that the modern, Western fear based mind- not to point the
finger and go “ Modern Western Fear Based MIND! ” seems to be conditioned to
stop before a rite of passage as if something needs to be prepared … What is so
distinctive about you, – and I say this as an old friend – what is so amazing
about you is that you have embraced Flow as the natural way of being, and that
the stoppings have become unnatural now. But what I think we are all
surrounded by in life is a sense of stopping a lot and then taking pause and
going “Hmm, I don’t know.” What you’re promoting here is that there are
constant rites and passages and we have the option of flowing through them
without stopping .
We don’t need to prep ourselves, we don’t need to stop ourselves, we
can be invited into the next rite of passage joyfully, have it be an experience of
Flow … maybe this is too tangential.
Only thing to me is that rites of passage are pretty huge, and flow is a
daily rhythm that culminates around certain transitions.
Right but you’re talking about jumping out of a plane and you kind of
want to make a reverential gesture or ritual, a bow to a new beginning …
There’s some stopping before the rite of passage where you’re leaving that life,
where there was no jumping out of planes …
Right, right ! Well, in terms of teaching and in terms of teaching Flow at
the beginning of the pilgrimage of the class, the beginning is very important,
and you have to feel that it is natural , it’s what you always know, so you don’t
freak out if everyone’s not in sync or entrained in the beginning, but there’s a
very clear attending to getting people to enter into the flow. You’re a Temple
Guide and everyone gets through the gates. And once you’re in the middle
courtyard and you see people fidgeting or looking around, then it’s your job to
find the language pertinent to each person and say it in different ways. So
you’re in the temple gates, or you’ve pushed off the river with our raft metaphor,
and you’re starting to paddle, – go back to that person we spoke of earlier, who’s
kind of looking down the river going “ O , did I make the right decision to go
down the river? ” or more likely in a yoga class the mind thinks about where it
came from or is not yet fully present, so our job is to encourage people into the
flow, encourage them into the flow.
How do we encourage people to pass through the gates and enter?
The beginning of a class is very important. The way you enter the temple
gates can set up the entire flow.
So the ways to enter the gates: you can use chanting, you can use
visualization, you can actively call people into some kind of intention or
dedication in the beginning. You can put them into certain asanas which are
reflective by nature, which include tadasana because that creates some
centering by just standing, and is a simple call to presence. You can use a
prostration on the belly, or some other forward bend, like utanasana with the
knees bent, or a simple cross legged position to shift the attention inward
towards the journey towards their Flow.
You can use music. I’ll have specific pieces of music that I use very
specifically as “ entering into the gate ”kind of music. You want music that has a
kind of invocation quality to it, such as Om, or Jai Uttal’s Chanting. Even if it’s
not actually chanting, you can hear and feel that it’s a beginning, a calling down
of the spirit. Within Tantra and Vedic ceremony, that’s the first thing you do, you
call down the Life energy, whether it’s through a specific deity, like invoking
Ganesh, the destroyer of obstacles. That ritual beginning is very important and
using those tools also goes back to what we were talking about in the
beginning- to inspire in the early stages what your orientation is towards Yoga.
Sometimes I’ll use rhythmic music right in the beginning if it’s a more solar
class. Again, I don’t want to strictly typify for myself or for anyone else what the
texture and feeling of that moment is going to be, because then we would be
starting to ‘fix’ something that is relating to the infinite.
And you don’t want to fix something infinite!
No! You want to be as open as possible, yes.
Doesn’t that require that you sometimes ignore where a tamasic state
presents itself and everyone is kind of crashed out on the floor ? You have to
say to yourself “Ok, that’s what it is but I’m going to set the tone in a different
Yes, and we could go on and on and on regarding different feng shui
remedies in the beginning of class – in fact, let’s just list them.
If you come in and you see that people are very fatigued you have two
choices: you can nourish their need for stillness, or you can use the dynamic
opposite, but not harshly. You call people to standing, you don’t start on the
floor. You feel it. You think “ Boy , if we start on the floor, we’re never going to
get up. ” If it’s a very heavy feeling, start standing. If the feeling is that it’s been a
very charged day and people are trying to settle themselves, to ignore that may
actually disrupt the potential of the flow, so you have to be very sensitive to this.
Sometimes if you’re teaching an evening class when people are coming from
work, people aren’t that settled. They’re still coming in late. It’s up to you if you
want to create boundaries where no one can enter after five or ten minutes later.
I tend to be fairly open about these kinds of things. When we’re about to
sound Om, the door is shut and no one is walking in when we’re sounding Om.
If it’s just before, I allow people to come and enter into the door and just stand
there and do Om , because I’d rather they have that experience. I think it’s more
disruptive to walk in after the Om and have to settle yourself. If you’re right there,
right on the cusp, come on in, sound Om and then we can lay down the mats! In
that case, if we are trying to get settled and at the same time I’m trying to initiate
this feeling of going into the gates, I call upon people’s skill. I use it as a Yoga
Wisdom -in -Action moment. I call upon people’s skill to learn how to keep an
inner stability while allowing the room to get settled. So even though the room is
getting settled, I invite people to feel that you can actually have that polarity of
adding your sense of inner stability while things are changing. You don’t have
to have that sense of “Oh, I can’t get stable till everything’s settled.” No! You can
be connecting to your stability as things are stabilizing.
I guess that’s what I was saying before about stopping before the big rites
of passage begin, that sense of “ Okay, we’re starting NOW! ”. We have to
instead continually allow and include within reason, and know that that’s a
human skill that we need to cultivate.
You teach that very well!
And as people are moving their mats, to promote the good karma of
making space for someone to do yoga. To diffuse as much irritation and a
territorial type of attitude as soon as possible – this may only be in L.A.! Or New
York. You may not find it as much in middle America.
No- it’s human.
But the idea is, be aware. Sometimes at the beginning of a class you’re
going to find that you’re going to have to mitigate things. Navigate the flow.
When you push off the dock, there’s choppy waters, and you have to attend to it
to get past the break into smoother waters.
So if you’re a teacher of Flow , attending to the beginning is very
You’re also teaching people how to transition.
Yes, Vinyasa Flow is very much about transition.
Transitioning gracefully while allowing others to maybe go at their own
pace a little bit, to include other paces.
Absolutely. And I think our ancestors had a lot more perspective in a way,
about what they let rattle them, and there were alot more manners in place and
not this huffy puffiness towards strangers that you sometimes find even in a
Yoga studio. Even in the way Yoga students relate to staff. And again, maybe
this is an L.A. experience, but…
It’s a modern urban experience probably.
Yes. And you want to say “ Everyone, relax a little bit here!”
Take the chill pill!
You know, have a wider sense of what’s important. Not to chastise
people, because sometimes I’ve actually been in classes where teachers are
actually chastising people about their cell phones or about being late or any
number of issues. My teaching style is to diffuse the small
irritations, rather than highlight them. Let the small things be small,
and the things that are important, let’s bring our attention to those! Even with cell
phones. People know that they’re not supposed to bring their cell phones to
class, but things happen. I don’t actually have a problem with it in my class. It’s
very rarely that they go off.
The only time was when you answered the phone. That was so funny!
I think you said “She’s in Yoga class. She’ll call you later.”
Right, right, but to make benevolent jokes about the small irritations is
modeling for people about what you’re saying: transitions, irritations, etc.
Diffusing doesn’t mean belittling, or you know, when you sit in traffic, being
reactive, but Vinyasa Flow as it relates back to Patanjali’s first sutra.“ Yoga citta
vritti nirodah. ” Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.
Most of the fluctuations of the mind are caused by our reactions to our
experiences, so in a way, in Vinyasa Flow we are really refining our nervous
system towards being less reactive. We have greater stamina, but also
sensitivity and subtleness and adaptability. You find in the health systems of
Taoism and Ayurveda and oriental medicine, the ideal state of health is one that
is adaptive. Adaptive doesn’t mean so crude that anything can happen and
nothing phases you. But it does mean that you have, in your choices of your
food, not only the food you eat but what you listen to or put into your brain, that
you’ve actually taken care of yourself well enough while not isolating yourself
from life, and that you can be in many different situations and be a pillar of
peace rather than adding to disruption. You’re actually diffusing disruption.
Obviously it’s the mark of your passage into a higher level of evolution
that your perception as to what irritates you begins to change dramatically. Like
the Buddhist monk Bernard Glassman, the roshi, says , and I paraphrase “Don’t
go out to that which aggravates you, make sure it’s coming in to you…” But we
spend a lot of time running towards what bothers us.
So all that calms after you change your perspective a little.
Right. So in a way the body of the class is this middle courtyard of the
temple. The passage into the inner sanctum is the creative part of the class
because it depends on the variables we spoke about earlier : seasons, the
bhava of the class, the mood of the class- not that you’re always catering to
everybody’s whim, but you can see definite cycles before the new moon,
between the new moon and full moon, full moon to new moon, winter versus
summer and spring, and transitions between seasons.
In the middle body of the class is where you come in tune with both your
intuitive and disciplined intelligence , and what you want to teach that day ,then
you get ready to interact with What Is. When you try to figure out what you’re
going to teach that day, it’s going to be a combination of intuition and
disciplined intelligence and what I mean by that is you have a
responsibility as the guide to take people some place, not that
we’re going anywhere.
With a midwife, the mother is not asking you to be there to help her stay
in the contractions, she’s asking you to help her move from the first contractions
towards dilation towards giving birth. We’re all there for Yoga for many different
reasons , even if we’re just there to dwell more in our Being state. There’s a
disciplined intelligence in the approach to Being. Even if someone had no goal,
there’d be a Vinyasa about the No Goal. You would choose alot of stillness.
Meditation, restorative poses. A restorative type of practice, a Being type
of practice. Very little external movement. But if someone is interested in this
evolution of their being in consciousness on all the different levels, then many
different openings will occur, which for me is the constant model of a
A chambered nautilus?
Yes. A chambered nautilius, like a shell, where this little sea creature has
a tiny chamber for itself and it keeps building bigger and bigger chambers . So
for me our life long pilgrimage plus our smaller life pilgrimage of doing this
practice over the years is that the asanas are the experience of creating greater
and greater spaces within ourselves to inhabit. You go from a simple backbend,
to cobra, to the more complex scorpion. The experience of that is a very
profound experience of opening, and you don’t just go from cobra to scorpion,
there are lots of stages between them, and the whole metaphor of pilgrimage
also anchors that evolution so that it’s not just external asana performance but
is the intimate experience of yourself …
…Expanding , but at the same time becoming deeper, you know?
Becoming stronger but also juicier.
Embodying the Flow
Part Three: The Ritual and the Wave of the Class
Shiva: Here are some practical elements of leading a class that can
enhance the flow…
THE ROOM AS RITUAL CONTAINER
If possible, be in the room earlier than the students arriving to set up
these elements of room ambiance. These are the ambient points that you will
play with during the class to enhance the flow.
Bright lights are not conducive to flow. They are good for a lecture format,
when you need to hold people’s mental attention. In Flow we’re trying to find the
balance between internal and external states of consciousness. Find the setting
of the lights that allows for wakefulness and a sense of mood or bhava, that
allows them to connect intimately with themselves.
THE PLACEMENT OF THE MATS
Different possibilities. Either two rows facing each other with a river down
the middle – excellent when the class is less than twenty. Set your mat up either
in the middle on one side of the rows, or at the top of one side of the row. This
allows for a community sense of feeling.
If your students are all facing one direction, find the most inspired place
to face forward. For me it’s facing towards the greatest light. If there are mirrors, I
believe it’s ideal to not be facing them, unless you are using them as a teaching
tool for flow.
If you are going to use props, it’s helpful to have people get them at the
very beginning of the class, rather than in the middle for Flow. So have them get
whatever they need, including blankets for shoulder stand, straps , blocks, at the
beginning. You can suggest to beginners to get a block and a strap, which they
can use for standing poses or forward bends.
Your own connection to Om will also be a powerful tool for you and your
students. As Om starts to resonate inside you naturally, it becomes the way that
you attune your voice in the beginning of class to the experience of the Divine
speaking through you.
Sea: So many people seem to have a great deal of fear and trepidation
around their own Om, and the whole idea of being vocal to some students is
very unusual. People aren’t used to speaking out loud….
That’s why it’s so powerful.
If you are teaching where it doesn’t feel appropriate to start Om in the
beginning of class, you can Om in the car before your class, but it’s very
important , I feel , to begin a deep and authentic relationship to Om as the
underlying vibration of Creation.
There are ways to introduce Om to underline that it’s universal. Mention
that Om is a sound that you can hear in all of creation , including modern
technology, such as refridgerators and airplanes. They make great Oms.
Starting with the three sounds of Om : A, U, and M, is another way of
getting people comfortable with the sound.
The more comfortable you are, the more comfortable other people will
Using the Sea of Oms, so the sound comes in and out, in and out, also
allows people a sense of the beauty of Om. This is an opportunity for an
unusual moment in most people’s 21st century life, of just being in sound
together. This sound is not even carrying an overt meaning, but is connected to
the underlying vibration and that’s where the meaning is.
You can also invite people to chant Om internally, which is a very
powerful experience of allowing the sound to resonate inside you.
THE FLOW OF MUSIC
It’s nice to play music as people are entering, then turn it off for the
opening chant. It’s always good for the opening piece of music to have a sacred
orientation .This allows people to feel the beginning of the pilgrimage of their
practice. If you’re teaching in a setting where you don’t feel comfortable using
chanting, then any simple rhythm, any kind of evocative music is also
appropriate for the beginning. Anything that allows people to begin to
syncopate and invites people to enter. Anything that invokes the beginning of
For Surya Namaskara, the music in the beginning doesn’t have to be
strong and dynamic. Sometimes the contrast of very peaceful music while
you’re doing a very dynamic practice is really beautiful. It has a cross fertilizing
quality. It’s talking to your nervous system. But in an urban setting, dynamic
music in the beginning , after a period of some invocation music, inspires
people. It awakens their rhythmic nature, their rhythmic nature, their community/
And so it’s good to have a sense of how long you want to be in the first
wave of the dynamic flow, and to literally count three or four songs towards your
peak . Have a sense of how many minutes that is, whether it’s going to be
fifteen, 20, 30, 40 minutes till you get to your first peak.
How many peaks are there?
That’s up to you, but I’d say in every class there’s at least two peaks,
sometimes three or four.
You’re talking about from beginning to end?
Yes. (See Sequencing Classes.) So after your first peak in the Sun
Salutations, you want to play the kind of music that is balancing.
Invocation, heat and then balance.
Yes, and that’s where you begin to make your transition towards your
standing pose sequence. This is a classic Flow.
Then you have your standing pose sequence. You start to know that
whatever you do in your own practice, it’s going to be about a third longer when
you teach it. So know that when you’re doing the standing pose sequence in
your own practice and it’s thirty minutes, when you teach it, it’s going to be forty
or forty-five minutes. If it’s twenty minutes in your own practice, when you teach
it, it’s going to be thirty, thirty -five minutes. It’s always longer than your own
practice because you’re having to lead people, and sometimes demonstrate.
So in your standing poses, you do the same thing . Slowly feel the music.
The music usually flows from more mellow to more vibrant, more strength. Then
if you’re going into backbends, you can have the music get more introspective,
or more introspective to more dynamic again.
Sometimes it’s nice, for the lunar period , to have a whole other CD that’s
just lunar music because you can’t exactly tell when you want to switch to that
on your own CDs. That takes you towards Shavasana. It’s also nice to have
special music that’s just for Shavasana.
In terms of music, I rarely use music that has english spoken words ,
because I find it drives people’s attention towards the lyrics, but on the contrary ,
if there’s a very powerful piece of music that you can understand the words to
and you play that every now and then, that can be very inspiring. You know your
own student base. If they are not oriented towards Flow music or instrumental
music, then it’s your call.
You have to follow your own instinct. Don’t feel that you have to use
music and/or don’t be attached to your music ! Inevitably, there will be some
situation where the stereo is broken, or your CDs will be left in the other bag,
and this is a test to see if your teaching relies on your music, or if the music
enhances your teaching. It’s best if the music enhances your teaching and the
Flow. The Flow is not depending upon any one variable that could disrupt the
Flow. Ideally , we ‘re very adaptive. The teaching of Vinyasa Flow is to learn
how to connect to the Flow in all situations.
Also, silence is golden. You can have a class that’s primarily silent, and
you can use music in the beginning and the end. You can have a class that’s
primarily music with periods of silence. When you’re doing a concentrated
period of arm balances, or poses that require partner work such as handstands,
silence is best because of the level of interaction and concentration required.
Trust your intuition as to whether the music is enhancing the Flow, or
beginning to be just background noise.
Always gently turn up the volume and gently fade away.
Listen to the feedback of your students regarding the music you choose.
If you have any doubts about your projection, just casually ask “ Can
everyone hear me?” Or “ Can you hear me in the back? ” to adjust your volume.
VOICE IN THE FLOW
When I first started teaching, no one could hear me. Some of you are
blessed with voice training, singing, acting, or public speaking skills, but for
most of us, learning to project while staying connected to our heart is an art.
Be true to who you are. You will know that you’re in your authentic voice
when words flow off your tongue. You don’t have a sense of having to think
about what the next sentence is.
Always speak to the farthest person in the room to allow your voice to
Be aware of the additional teaching that can be contained in your voice.
You can bring different qualities to whatever instruction you’re giving . If you
speak with a soft tone, you’re inviting more of feeling mind : sensuousness,
introspection , tenderness, – the qualities of the heart. If you speak very clearly
and directly, you’re inviting a sharpening of attention and focus. When you
speak slowly, you’re inviting people to slow down. Sometimes our voice picks
up because there’s so many details to transmit over people moving through
postures. Be aware if you’re rushing and if that’s being transferred into your
Try to keep a steady , underlying rhythm in your voice. Up the volume of
your voice like an exclamation point when you are in the peaks of your classes,
or when people are in a difficult pose, and you want to emphasize the
importance of maintaining the action or awareness. For example,in Vira 3, to
encourage maintaining the lift of the back leg , you could chant with a strong
voice “ Keep the back leg alive! Keep the back leg buoyant ! ” as if you are a
midwife, and the baby’s about to be born. And you’re using the voice very
naturally and authentically.
Like saying “Don’t drop the baby! “
Yeah , or “A few more pushes! ”
Lightness and humor in your voice. This takes time unless you’re a
natural comic . Don’t feel the pressure to be funny in your class. If you are open
to the spontaneous interaction that occurs in every class, your humor will come
Using people’s names in class can be very empowering for that person
as well as creating a sense of community.
Gradually integrate saying the names of your students into the class.
The only thing that I would censor is if there’s any anger, anxiety,
judgement, or self rightousness in your voice, which can be expressed in a tone
as much as in words.
You can direct people through your voice, through your touch, and
In a Flow class, look for the appropriate opportunities for giving
adjustments, so as not to inhibit the flow of the entire class.
Scan the room . Be aware of people’s body mechanics more acutely in
THE WAVE OF THE CLASS:
THE RHYTHMIC STRUCTURE OF A YOGA FLOW CLASS
The wave has to do with the essential teachings of Vinyasa, which is that
You Start Where You Are, and through a progression of intelligently sequenced
asanas, you arrive at your pilgrimage destination. So there are waves within
waves. The archtypal structure of a wave is that it has – like Vinyasa – a starting
point. It builds into the peak or the crest of a wave , and then it descends into a
balance or resolution or a counterpose to the peak of the wave. You could see
the entire class , no matter what the length of the time of the class, as
constituting the entire wave in itself. That’s the classic structure of drama , of
music, etc. You can also approach so that there is not just one peak in the class,
but two or three peaks in the class. Within those two or three peaks, you have a
sense of the starting point , your progression , leading to a peak, and then to
your descent, or counterpose.
Let’s talk about the classic “One Wave” structure of the class.
Obviously, we mention the opening or invocation as being the pivotal
starting point as to the way that you enter the flow, then you choose an actual
posture that you see as the peak of the class. This peak is archtypal in that it
reflects nature, in that the summer solstice is the peak of light in the day, and the
period of most sunlight. In a wave , its peak is the greatest height. And so in an
asana , a peak pose is the one of greatest complexity that requires the most set
up to reach .
So, if you’re doing a one wave class, you should have a sense of what is
the peak pose that you’re headed towards. If you’re doing a multi -peaked class
,then for each sub-sequence, you have a sense of what that peak is. For
example, what is the peak standing pose, arm balance, backbend, forward
In a classically structured Vinyasa Flow class, you start with the sun
salutations and then you move into standing poses and arm balances on your
way to back bends and then twists, forward bends, hip openers and inversions .
Then to meditation, pranayama , savasana . Within any of those sections of the
first part which are solar, – which means working with building heat, – you’re
going to have a peak within the sun salutations, and that peak would be your
last sun salutation. Everything you’re doing is building towards that last one.
In the standing pose sequence, it’s not necessarily the last standing
pose, but it’s the standing pose that has the most complexity, and requires the
most opening and stability in the pose, e.g. Parivrita Ardha Chandrasana or
Virabhadrasana 3. The same thing with arm balances. In a beginner’s class,
Bakasana could be your peak in arm balances. In an intermediate class, your
peak arm balance may be Galavasana or even handstand. Your peak in your
backbends is obviously your most complex back bend. Your peak in your
forward bends and hip openers is your place of greatest depth. As soon as you
move into the lunar section, it’s not the pose that requires the most heat or
preparation , but it’s the place of greatest depth in terms of internal introspection
and in terms of flexibility. It could be the pose that you stay in the longest. There
begins the counter pose phase.
Now in an Iyengar style class, they may actually use head stand or
shoulder stand as the peak of the class. That’s somewhat unusual in the
Vinyasa system . In Iyengar, they do fewer poses to focus on alignment, and in
an hour and a half class, they may only do eight poses. It’s possible to use head
stand and shoulder stand as your peak in Vinyasa, but in an Iyengar class it’s a
more appropriate peak because they may only do standing poses, they may
only do forward bends and hip openers, or arm balancing and back bends. You
find in sequencing a Vinyasa Flow class that you stay closer to Ashtanga roots,
and trying to have a well rounded class that draws from all of the groups of
asanas , with both progressions and counter poses.
Sea: In an hour and a half class, just time wise, when do you switch into
the lunar cycle?
That’s about learning how to work with the clock, because this is a
challenge in Vinyasa Flow.
It’s a good way to shape the wave, maybe, to go by the clock.
Yes. In this you have to learn through your own practice. It’s good to have
a sense of when you’re going to reach the zenith of your practice, if you’re in an
hour and a half structure, you want to peak within an hour, so that there’s a half
hour at least of counterposes, inversions, and Shavasana. It’s good to actually
give yourself markers that are based on the clock so that you know that you
need to be winding down by a certain time, because you know that whatever
you plan , you’re going to have to inevitably let go of some poses. And that’s a
part of the improvisational nature of teaching. You can use the wave as a kind of
map, as you’re navigating the flow, to know if you’re a lot farther away than you
thought you were going to be to getting towards back bends, and you’re going
to have to really cut to the chase, and either let go of the complex pose that you
thought you were heading to, or be able to think on your feet in that moment of
what are the essentials that are going to take you there.
A one hour class is much different and you just pare down the sections.
Yes. So please see the sequences to have a greater understanding of
how this will actually flow in a practical sense. They illustrate what the actual
poses are and describe choices of modifications.
And thus ends the Wave. The crowd roars.
Yes. Thank you. Namaste. So much more to come.