In Yoga, Better Breathing Through ... Beatboxing?
Those who have taken a yoga class understand how each pose facilitates breath.
Ask yogis how controlled breathing has affected their health, and they’ll reel off the benefits. And if you’re hesitant to accept mere anecdotes, scientific evidence backs up their claims.
Recent clinical studies show that pranayama, a type of rhythmic breathing used in yoga, can reduce sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, addictions, and PTSD symptoms, while improving mental quality of life.
This summer, Ben Rivet and Tori Reynolds, founders of the Go W/ the Flow project, found an unconventional way to take pranayama to the next level. In May, the pair left their home base in Dayton, Ohio and began a two-month tour of the West Coast to share their distinctive yoga program: a 90-minute class in vinyasa—a quick-moving, flowing style of yoga—that combines Reynolds’s improvised teaching with Rivet’s unique style of live and looped acoustic guitar.
“Yoga means union,” explains Reynolds, who is currently being certified in the 500-hour Live Love Teach program. “Our mission and hope was that our class would bring people together, get them moving, get them to breathe more, and as a result, prompt them to become actively involved in their communities.”
Rivet agrees that the effects of yoga flow from the mat into a person’s lifestyle and out into the community, including greater self-control, increased mindfulness, and improved mood. “This is how a community grows,” he says. “You have a large group of people who are taking care of themselves, which frees them to take care of other people.”
In other words, the moment you take responsibility for, listen to, and connect with your body, you can start to take responsibility for and get involved with the world around you.
This love for community and passion for yoga is what led Rivet and Reynolds to take their Go W/ the Flow class on the road. The tour, which started in Vancouver and ended in Denver on Aug. 6, offered a combination of studio and community yoga classes. Participants had to sign up and pay for studio sessions, which were usually more intimate and intense, while the free community classes could take place anywhere from street corners to parks and even coffee shops.
The goal was to share this experience with as many people as possible. So if Rivet and Reynolds could find a place to lay their mats, they made it happen.
In addition to connecting participants with their environment, each class is designed to give participants a burst of heightened energy and, most importantly, get them reconnected with their breath.
That’s where Rivet’s music comes in. According to Reynolds, the music is what makes a Go W/ the Flow class special. Each class provides a live soundtrack Rivet improvises to match the flows and rhythms of the class.
Having tried it in Seattle last month, I can tell you this is not a typical yoga experience. I am no yogi, but this class allowed me to connect with my body in a new way, and I owe all of that to the driving force behind the class: the music. I was able to hone in on what my body was feeling and act accordingly. Meanwhile, the breathing allowed me to forget my surroundings and turn my focus inward.
Rivet lays down a groove on his acoustic guitar and then stomps a pedal that “loops” the beat, causing it to play over and over again, and freeing him up to play something else along with it. He uses these loops and rhythms to pace the breathing for the class: four counts in, four counts out. He also shapes the music around what the class is doing. When a pose gets hard and you think you can’t go on, he builds the music. When it’s time to relax and clear your mind, he backs off. The effect is motivating. It encourages participants to dig deep and, just as the name of their class implies, go with the flow.
“This isn’t a practice to do all the time,” Reynolds says. "It’s meant to revitalize your yoga experience and allow you to hit the reset button. Whether you are an experienced yogi or a beginner, this is meant to be a growing experience.”
The response from the tour has been unprecedented.
“It’s rare that a teacher takes the time to emphasize the importance of breath the entire class and to keep everyone’s breathing in sync,” says Christina Johnson, a six-year practitioner who took Reynolds’ class at Hauteyoga in Queen Anne, Seattle. “Ben understands something that is missing from most classes that incorporate music—that the music can facilitate breath. Go W/ the Flow couldn't be fully realized without Ben's music.”
Johnson credits the class with advancing her practice and ability to breathe.
“I generally don't hold poses for quite as long in my vinyasa classes,” she says. “But through the tempo Ben created and Tori's queuing for breath, I accessed the deepest part of my practice and found energy in poses that I usually exhaust in when practicing. Classes often speak to the importance of breath, but Tori and Ben have structured their class so that it is the fundamental element."
As for me, though I entered the class feeling anxious and rushed after getting lost in Seattle transit, I left it feeling inspired, strong, and connected. Like many others who have taken the class, I felt “high on breathing,” as Reynolds describes it.
Go W/ the Flow has found an unusual way to teach the importance of breath, something I think many of us of tend to forget about. As yoga increases in popularity, it’s important to remember its purpose and what it can do for our bodies. To reap the healthy benefits of yoga and feel the calm that it brings, we must remember to breathe.
“When we are stressed, we hold our breaths—taking a deep breath when you are doing something extremely challenging resets your focus,” Reynolds says. “Whatever you are looking for in your yoga practice, you’re not going to find unless you really breathe.”
Go W/ the Flow’s summer tour may be over, but classes will resume on August 22. To find out more about where you can experience a Go W/ the Flow class, visit http://practiceyogadayton.com/web/gwtf/calendar/.
Lauren Hardy wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Lauren is a former YES! editorial intern.
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