Going with the flow
Most yoga styles include flow in their practice. It creates body heat by stimulating your cardiorespiratory system and the autonomic nervous system, resulting in maximum muscle performance and acute mental focus.
From the previous chapter, you learned the importance of warm-up in your practice. Today we will move to the next stage: The flow. Most yoga styles include a flow early in practice. In general, it builds on top of the warm-up stage, creating body heat that brings the muscles to maximum performance conditions. Your heartbeat rate will increase while expanding to maximum breathing capacity and blood oxygenation. Under these conditions, you will most likely feel energetic, while mental focus rises.
The principle of flow
Many yoga styles and teachers use flow as a critical element of the practice. In simple terms, during flow, you synchronize breath with movement. You transition between poses while exhaling or inhaling. In most cases, you inhale every time you come into a backbend and exhale when you go to a forward bend. You usually start with simple poses, and as you gain heat, you move into more active ones, pausing for a few breaths into resting positions (for example, Tadasana, Downward Dog, Warrior II).
Metabolism and energy management
Temperature is a great tool to measure the amount of energy you are bringing to your body during the practice. I like to emphasize that energy is not a spiritual term in this context. Energy is momentum built inside your body by the movement of blood, muscles contraction (and in consequence, increasing metabolism), air flowing in and out of your lungs and electrical signals running through your nerve system. In sports terms, energy is the product of your cells metabolic processes.
Metabolism is defined by biochemical processes in your body to transform food and oxygen into energy to contract muscles, digest food, repair tissue, and sustain functions from endocrine and nervous systems. When you quickly move from one pose to the next while restricting your breath, you trigger anaerobic metabolism within your cells, creating a great amount of energy. This is the cornerstone of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). This type of workout has similar benefits in regular cardio (mainly increasing oxygen consumption efficiency) while investing a fraction of that time.
Anaerobic metabolism uses fuel sources that are already within the muscles cells. Immediately, aerobic metabolism begins to replenish fuel in the cell. When this happens, heartbeat rate, oxygen demand, and body temperature increases. To optimize aerobic metabolism, you will need resting periods to facilitate access to nutrients and oxygen to cells, and allowing recycling of metabolic waste products. The aerobic metabolic processes will continue long after the flow is over. If done correctly, you will most likely be burning more calories after your yoga practice is over than if you were steady running for over 45 minutes.
Your practice will be determined by the amount of heat you create during the flow. If you want to do poses that required much strength and flexibility, you will need plenty of energy. If you already had an active day, it will be hard to create heat, so it is recommended to do a sequence of more gentle poses.
From a mental point of view, flow stimulates your sympathetic nervous system, part of the autonomic nervous system responsible for fight or flight response. Some adrenaline and cortisol get released in the bloodstream which for a short period of time sharpens your concentration to help you "get out" of the situation. From a Yoga perspective, this is an opportunity to sustain this focused-mind state to use it later in practice.
You can use energy to alter your emotional state. By tapping on the fight or flight response system, you activate your metabolism, increasing heartbeat rate and blood oxygen levels that allow you to perform better. If you are feeling down, you probably need to increase your body energy. In such a case, you want to create an intense flow stage that makes you sweat. Just make sure you are not confusing lethargy with exhaustion. If you feel exhausted, you need to rest.
On the other hand, if you feel anxious, your metabolism is already active. You will need a flow sequence long enough to sharpen your mind and elevate your mental concentration. In that case, your job will be to later in practice to reduce your body energy levels.
Warm-up and flow
Each element of the practice links to the other. During warm-up, you take the time to read your emotional state. The results of your self-diagnosis determine how your flow will be. You will have to decide if you want to boost your energy or if you want to create a relaxing space for your body to recover. Remember that yoga is about bringing balance to your mind and body. You don't want to be overexcited all the time, neither moody. A balanced emotional state allows you to make better decisions and take action efficiently.
After the flow, your body is fully prepared to explore the poses of your choice deeply. If you are doing a one and a half-hour long practice, you will probably want to create new heat during the third quarter. It will depend on the sequence. Ideally, you want to finish your practice in a relaxing state. If you create excessive heat, you will end up anxious. Deficiency in heat will end up in a nap (which in some cases is what your body was asking for). Tunning takes time; please be patient.