Fast Yoga, Happy Yoga

Look how happy he is!
That is one happy Warrior

Scientific American says that rapid thinking makes people happy — “more elated, creative and, to a lesser degree, energetic and powerful.”

…although fast and varied thinking causes elation, fast but repetitive thoughts can instead trigger anxiety. (They further suggest that slow, varied thinking leads to the kind of calm, peaceful happiness associated with mindfulness meditation, whereas slow, repetitive thinking tends to sap energy and spur depressive thoughts.)

So, those Über Vinyasa classes are giving you a nice dopamine boost in addition to the endorphin rush. (The researchers say that while the good mood is transient, “these little bursts of positive emotion add up.”) And the novelty is a key part.

I’ve always felt that I needed a bit of fast movement at the beginning of class, in order to burn off whatever stress I’ve brought. Slow hatha poses are great, sometimes, but much more amazing after a half hour of moderate/fast Vinyasa (or Kundalini). It was kind of a guilty pleasure to crank out a yoga routine faster than an aerobics class, but I would just remember Desikachar’s instruction to give students “80% what they want, 20% what they need.” [I think he’s the author of that thought.] I wanted a physical challenge! There’s an escapist bliss when the teacher is calling out poses so fast you can barely keep up. You don’t have TIME for your internal narrative/judgement/anxiety, you look up twenty minutes later and you’re in a peaceful zone without really remembering how you got there. And I needed that, then. Later, I wanted to slow down and study each pose individually, but at the beginning I was too anxious to hold one pose for long. I would give myself panic attacks trying to meditate. So I burned out those samskaras with a variety of yoga sequences, and was finally able to appreciate classical Hatha.

The researchers do say “…people generally believe fast thinking is a sign of a good mood. This lay belief may lead us to instinctively infer that if we are thinking quickly we must be happy.” So, maybe we Westerners also need to learn/remember what slow happiness is — we’re used to roller coaster laugh track fast cut variety shows. And the meditative mind is of course still, one-pointed, without variation; repetitive thought does not always lead to anxiety or depression. We can ask the yogis and their thousands of years of empirical research for some pull-quotes there.

But, if we like this research, and want to apply it to teaching yoga, the elation/anxiety/peace/depression quadrant of thinking is a nice image. We’re generally trying to lead students towards peace, with perhaps a taste of elation. So it’s interesting to think that the quantity of instructions and poses we give in one class might affect their mood as much as the selection of poses, and that a skillful meditation must skirt anxiety and low energy/depression.

If we’re trying to choose a style of yoga for ourselves, we might think about our patterns of thought: do they tend towards anxiety or depression? (Or both.) We could try something new, with variety, to transform negative into positive, or try a change of pace to experience a state of mind we’ve lost or never known.


One thought on “Fast Yoga, Happy Yoga”

  1. I remember doing yoga when I was a teenager in India. I used go to a park and do various asanas to start the day. I actually did feel at peace with myself and with the world but I was so relaxed that I couldn’t think fast at university which was not a great thing.

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