ten reasons I hate flow (and why i’m teaching it anyway)

Yoga flow is so popular it might be THE most popular type of yoga class in America.

However, I have my quibbles – which I’ll share here!

First: what is yoga flow?

Yoga “flow” isn’t very concretely or explicitly described in the mish-mash, hugley historied, highly varied body of yoga practice. But in general, most “flow” in yoga parlance means moving relatively fluidly from one asana (pose) to the next. This can be done slowly and in low-intensity poses or a class so vigorous and strenuous the practice begins to look like gymnastics. And of course – anything in between.

In America, yoga “flow” is often associated with vigorous, sweaty, aerobic movements. It tends toward aerobics. There can be a very fitnessy tone to all of this – some classes pump up the volume with 120 bps pop hits and lots of “push yourselves!” languaging from instructors. That kind of thing.

Here’s why I’ve hated flow – and then I’ll tell you why I’ve ended up offering it anyway:

One: yoga flow isn’t accessible.

I dislike the broad-stroke use of “accessible” these days but, the point applies here.

So let’s take students who want a very swift moving, sweaty class where they get up and get down and all that. Your average flow student.

Well, those activities are prohibitive to many, many practitioners.

You could INVITE anyone at all to such a class and tell them to rest when they need to – but they are likely going to feel left out, frustrated, or even embarassed.

I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, just design an accessible flow.” But no – you can’t just slap the word “accessible” on a class and make it so.

A sweaty, fast, athletic flow and a truly accessible class – where everyone has the time, care, and attention to succeed in each asana – are just diametrically opposed. End of story.

Two: flow sacrifices alignment.

This is deeper and more subtle than you might thinking. Let’s take pristhasana – lizard pose. In lizard pose we come into a deep lunge with our hands on the inside of the forward leg. Back leg can either be lifted, or knee-down.

In lizard many people think the goal is to get their forearms to the ground. So this means they will let the knee travel well past the foot to get that front thigh and hip lower, or they’ll let the forward leg fall open for the same effect.

Some teachers would call that “cheating” the pose but I think that’s a crummy thing to say.

It isn’t that it’s “wrong” to let the knee travel, or to let the hip open so you can get foreamrs closer to teh ground. It’s just a really different benefit and strength exercise than if you’re setting up pristhasana in a more traditional way. Keeping the knee in alignment and welding the front shin to the front arm is very hard work – but it’s beautiful work for the thighs and pelvic floor.

In a slower class, there are opportunities to gently remind students of these possible elements. In fact you can talk about it WHILE you’re in the pose!

In a flow class – there’s no time whatsoever.

Which means:

Three: flow lends itself to injury.

Understand: if you take any class whatsoever, you’ve signed a waiver, you’ve spoken with your trusted practitioner about the suitability of yoga practice. It is your right, responsibility – and freedom! – to care for your body during class. Even the most strenuous, ludicrously athletic class is not to blame for student injury – as long as there is not a nefarious power imbalance (which happens in some yoga guruship situations, sadly).

But.

The truth is, MOST people in a flow class will try to keep up. MOST people in a flow class will get tired and push themselves rather than taking a break. It’s not because they’re bad people or Try Hards. It’s wired into people to try to “keep up with the group”.

So while we risk injury any time we exercise – and we risk injury if we avoid mobility work, as well – I think a swift flow class is a bit more risky than a slow-moving one.

Four: flow classes are hard on the instructor.

There are certainly instructors who like talking nonstop and/or even shouting during class. Most of us however want to practice alongside our students and in concert with our students.

Flow classes generally mean we can’t really be with you the way we can, in a slower class. We have to focus more on what we’re doing as an instructor, rather than how all of us in the room are – well, one!

Five: flow curriculum takes more time to write.

If as an instructor I put together the same flows over and over, students become bored. If I make them too tricky, students become frustrated.

Not to mention I just have to do a lot more designing and writing, simply because a flow class has more asana in it than a slower-paced class.

Now keep in mind it is my job to write curriculum and do I know that. 🙂 However most yoga instructors are already being paid very little by hour. This is why a lot of instructors do the same flows over and over!

 

Six: flow encourages habituated movement – and that can be hard to revise.

I spent about a year in a flow class performing repetitive shoulder motions that ended up causing me relatively serious injury. I’m still recovering – a decade later.

I used to blame the instructor but a few years ago I realized that it wasn’t her fault. There’s no way my $20 tuition – in a room full of people! – could cover personalized, highly technical body mechanics expertise.

The truth is, it’s all well and good to tell someone to “listen to their body” but the me of all those years ago, didn’t know I was doing anything wrong.

It took quite a while for me to build better shoulder motion. I’d habituated myself to poor movement. That’s honestly no one’s “fault”! Not even my own. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

But it takes a while to fix movement (or lack of movement!) that we’ve trained ourselves in. Flow class doesn’t give us time to refine. (So if you take flow… make sure you’re studying alignment as well!)

Seven: flow foments the fitness hierarchy that so quickly takes hold in many yoga studios.

Most yoga studios aren’t that great to hang out in because you quickly realize there’s kind of the “in crowd” – you know they are young, fit, slim, strong, and wearing the right clothes. Everyone else is a sort of “lesser” practitioner, crumpling into the “easy” yin yoga class in their cheap sweatpants.

It’s not that flow is inherently snobby, it’s that WHEN YOU DESIGN A FLOW CLASS, the jocks are going to show up. That’s cool! I love jocks. Just be careful as some of them have attendant ideas that work against yoga as a whole.

Yoga cliques are interesting. I’ve written about them before!  Of ALL the yoga classes generally offered, flow classes are the ones that lend themselves to cliqueishness – which is why I am wary of them.

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So if that’s how I feel about it… why am I teaching a flow series?

First and foremost: my Members asked me to! I adore them. They are the REASON we have this beautiful space!

Secondly.

After I thought through my own education and my feelings on the matter – those things I’ve been writing about there –

I realized that I am smart and resourced enough to design a flow class that disrupts or at least ameliorates the harm so often done, in fitspo yoga.

I also realized that by offering a more liberated flow class – I offered healing in more than one auspice!

After all, I’m often bitching and complaining elucidating on the harms in perpetrated in ableist and fitness culture. Why wouldn’t students show up with all kinds of f’d up ideas? Why not engage with these harmful modalities, since they’re already in the room?

I don’t need to avoid the toxicity of some yoga spaces and classes.

I can confront that stuff head on!

(And this post, is a part of that!)

So once again: great big huge booming thanks to my students – who above all, are helping me grow.

I appreciate you –

and I look forward to sweating on the mat with you!