Under the influence of the widespread health and fitness trend in today’s society, more strong, fast-paced vinyasa style yoga classes are being offered. After sampling 14 classes during a 5 day stay in New York City last year, I was left asking, “Where’s the pause? When do you stop to absorb the benefits of the practice?” Not all 14 classes begged this question, but I did find that the more popular classes at the bigger studios were very much of this flavor.
Admittedly however, I also found this style of practice quite addictive and rearranged my teaching timetable to include more fast-paced vinyasa, more strengthening and challenging poses. At the time I thought I was balancing this beautifully within the classes I was teaching by focusing on coordination of breath and movement, on building poses from the ground up, even when moving through them relatively quickly, and by constantly encouraging people to move at their own pace, modify and pause when needed. Of course, people in group situations aren’t always able to go against the ‘norm’ in the room.
I also thought that by teaching and practicing restorative yoga, and gentle, mindful, breath-centered yoga as often as the strong vinyasa style, that both my teaching and practice were balanced. However, from an Ayurvedic perspective, I was still very much out of balance. I discovered for myself that it was possible to do too much yoga!
How do you balance your practice?
1.) First consider your lifestyle as a whole. Yoga might be just a class you attend 2 or 3 times a week, or it might be the way you live your life. Perhaps you sit at a desk most of your day and already have a regular meditation or reflective practice; then 2-3 vinyasa classes a week could be the perfect balance for you. On the other hand, if you are constantly rushing about to meetings or running errands, skipping meals, at the gym most days or just constantly on the go, then you might consider balancing this with a slower class, restorative yoga or a style that focuses on breath and relaxation.
2.) Consider your physical needs. If you have sciatica, scoliosis, knee, hip, neck or shoulder pain, seek out the opinions of experienced yoga teachers and other health professionals you trust to help you decide for yourself what style of practice will support healing and provide you with the other qualities you need from your practice such as challenging poses or a structured practice.
3.) Consider your psychological needs. These needs might be closely connected to your dosha. If you have a tendency toward feeling flat, lethargic or depressed (for example if you have a kapha imbalance), consider developing the intention to challenge yourself with an up-beat class with music and a light, fun atmosphere. However, if you are tired, drawn out and stressed (a possible pitta imbalance), have the courage to give yourself a break and a take the slower-paced, yin or restorative class. Or perhaps you need time alone, and opt for home practice rather than a class.
4.) Consider your spiritual needs. Too much or too little spirituality can really throw yoga out of balance very quickly. This is very much a personal, intuitive consideration that is strongly connected to your overall lifestyle. Fast vinyasa classes are often labeled as ‘spirituality lite’, but at some stages in life, this is what’s needed for balance.
5. Check in regularly. What you need for balance today might be different from yesterday. Be willing to adapt your practice to your needs and as well as balance, you will find that you also open yourself to greater levels of adaptability and flow.
What does your yoga practice look like right now? Is it heavily weighted toward vinyasa or perhaps it is primarily chanting and meditation for you at the moment? Does your practice feel balanced to you? How do you know?