Why I love Vinyasa Class

In the early years of my yoga practice, I did a lot of flow and Ashtanga classes so later when I started doing Vinyasa class it felt similar, yet different. I loved it. As with Ashtanga Yoga, it was supposed to be like a moving meditation but the sequences of poses flowed like a dance to me. Unlike Hatha or Ashtanga Yoga where the poses are held steady for a longer time, in Vinyasa there is a constant flow and an emphasis on the sequencing that links each posture to one another allowing the body to move freely guided by the breath. The poses are familiar but the sequences can change with each class and you have to listen intently to the teacher’s verbal cues and be aware of your alignment. My body feels open and relaxed after a Vinyasa class because of improved prana(Qi) flow and blood circulation.

Vinyasa Yoga seems to have originated from Ashtanga Yoga. Both employ flows and transitions with a vinyasa (linking sequence between poses). However the two practices are quite different. Ashtanga uses the vinyasa (with the signature jump-backs and jump-throughs) while Vinyasa adopts more of a Sun Salutation type vinyasa (eg. plank, chaturanga, upward dog, downward dog linking sequence between poses). In Vinyasa Yoga, the sequences of poses also vary. The movements are more fluid and allow for more creativity as compared to Ashtanga Yoga where the 6 series of postures adhere to a set sequence in a predetermined order of postures practised in a progressive manner. As a philosophy, Vinyasa Yoga recognises the temporary nature of things so poses are not held for long but you enter a posture, stay for a while and then move on. You can think of it as a freestyle Ashtanga Yoga. The similarity is that both practices emphasize an alignment of the movement with the breath.

As challenging poses are done in quick succession, Vinyasa Yoga can build strength and endurance providing a good cardiovascular ‘workout’. A defining characteristic of Vinyasa classes is the variety of sequences offered that changes with every class. Generally, no two classes are alike. Practitioners who are familiar with yoga poses will enjoy the challenge. Sometimes inversions and arm balances can also be weaved into the flow sequences. Due to its intensity and variations, the mind has to be alert to follow the teacher’s verbal cues while observing good alignment when transitioning through the poses. I find that it helps improve my balance, concentration and focus. 

So if you are new to yoga, it may be better to start off with Hatha Yoga to learn the poses and correct alignment in a slower-paced class. But if you want to try out Vinyasa Flow, why not? Just do both. With regular practice and guidance from a good teacher, you will get the hang of it and pick it up. Maybe you will enjoy it as much as I do. And now I love teaching it too.

Author: Nam Yogi

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History of Yin Yoga

Yin yoga is a slow paced practice based on the Taoist concept of Yin and Yang, opposing forces in nature which are complementary.  It is about finding balance in our practice, being able to step back, let go and go slow.

Incorporating principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the yoga poses are held passively for extended periods of time using minimal muscular effort. The postures could be held from 1 to 5 minutes or even longer. The sequences of long-held poses work on applying moderate stress to the deeper connective tissues – ligaments, joints, tendons, bones and fascia – to lubricate the joints and increase joint mobility as well as to stimulate Qi flow along energy channels known as meridians in TCM or nadis, its equivalent in Hatha Yoga. Yin Yoga also helps in cultivating stillness and improving flexibility particularly in the lower body – hips and pelvis – to prepare one for sitting long hours in meditation. It is not a complete practice on its own but useful in complementing the Yang or more active yoga styles to balance the body.

Long-held poses are not new. These practices have been around for thousands of years and were practised in Hatha Yoga in India.  In China, Qigong which also involved long-held poses and breath work were also practised in Taoist temples in China to cultivate internal strength of martial arts practitioners. In his book, Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar had also recommended holding various poses for longer periods of time eg. Supta Virasana (reclining Hero Pose) for 10 to 15 minutes which is Yin-like in nature. The original form of Hatha Yoga emphasised both the strong muscular Yang type of yoga as well as the softer practices of working on the deeper tissues like the joints and ligaments. However, with the modernisation of Hatha Yoga, the softer side had been de-emphasized or relegated to Restorative Yoga which catered to people who were unwell. 

In the 1970s, martial arts champion Paulie Zink introduced Toaist Yoga to North America. He taught a combination of Hatha Yoga and Taoist Yoga to improve the flexibility of his martial arts students. Then in the 1980s, Paul Grilley started studying with Paulie Zink. He was a yoga teacher and ran his own school. Grilley had earlier studied anatomy with a medical doctor, Dr Gary Parker. In 1989, he met Dr Hiroshi Motoyama, a Japanese scholar and yoga practitioner. Dr Motoyama had researched the physiology of TCM and compared the Chinese meridian theory to the Indian yoga concept of energy channels, nadis. Grilley synthesised these ideas of Taoist Yoga, anatomy and meridian theory and started teaching entire Yin Yoga classes. In deference to his teacher, he called it Taoist Yoga. It resonated with many people because of its physical, mental and emotional benefits.

One of Grilley’s students, Sarah Powers, who is also a yoga teacher coined the term ‘Yin Yoga’. She suggested it to Grilley. Powers developed her own style of Yin Yoga incorporating Buddhist philosophy and concepts. She added dharma talks on mindfulness and meditation to her courses. In her book Insight Yoga, she introduced Yin Yoga sequences with breath work to enhance flow of Qi along the meridians. Her style of yoga also integrates a flow or Yang practice influenced by her Ashtanga background. By 2009, Yin Yoga classes were available throughout North America and Europe.

In Singapore, Paul Grilley’s disciple, Jo Phee, is a pioneer of Yin Yoga here. She had been teaching Ashtanga and flow classes but later she switched entirely to teaching Yin Yoga and has been conducting Yin Yoga teacher training courses since 2013. In those days when we attended her Yin Yoga classes, they were 90 minutes long and it was a welcoming respite from her challenging 90-minute flow classes. Not many studios offered Yin Yoga classes then. While we held the poses on the mat, she would sometimes talk to us and explain the meridian system, the benefits of stilling an active mind and play music that sometimes made us want to cry. We aspired to be more flexible so we endured the long holds. It is gratifying to know that now many practitioners are aware of its many benefits and enjoy the Yin practice.

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Online vs Studio

Is it really a case of one being better than the other?

This isn’t your regular pros and cons of online vs studio classes.

Covid-19 saw the rise of many online fitness classes, and that included yoga of course. Till today, online yoga classes continue to be a thing. We’ve heard many people say “Oh we don’t have to go to a studio because we can just do yoga online.” And to that we say, to each their own. Some individuals can learn even more with the Internet (yes we love the Internet too) as compared to studio classes. Why? Because with $0 you could play and rewind the video a dozen times to really understand how to do a pose.

And you know what? You can totally do both! Do online, do offline, get knowledge from everywhere. You are your best teacher, you know what is best for YOU. We are just here to provide guidance if you seek it, to give you a little nudge in the right direction, or a push if we feel you can take it.

Taking classes in person means we are building a relationship with you. It becomes a two-way street. To us, teachers are like parents. Imagine you spent so much effort, time and money to raise your child, and your child leaves and forgets you when they come of age. We as teachers feel the same way when students come for some time and eventually give up. Thus the money you invest (which encompasses the time and energy you spent working to earn that money, and the opportunity cost of not spending on something else like your favourite food) helps you commit to your practice, because most people do not want to waste their effort and money. Your sustained practice makes you improve and grow over time, and our teachers feel their efforts are worth it. A win-win situation.

Not to forget the most notorious of all, the adjustments. Self practice at home can mean more danger especially if you do not have the foundational techniques and correct alignment. No one is there to correct you, you have to be self-aware. But this doesn’t mean studio classes are safer either. When a class gets too big, some students inevitably become neglected. When teachers are overworked, the risk of mistakes and accidents increase. A push too hard and a bone breaks or a ligament tears. Short of a support or a spot and someone falls. Thus we make it a point to keep our classes small and focus more on health rather than pushing ourselves overboard. Too many times have we seen practitioners suffer from irreversible injuries. When did yoga become the Olympics?! Thus we focus on sustained safe practice, where we strive to help students prolong their practice till the age of 80 or even 100. We need more Teresa Hsus!

Do note that even with the greatest care, accidents still happen. But with a low student-to-teacher ratio we minimize that risk as much as possible.

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