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What Is Vinyasa Yoga & Who Is It For?

Vinyasa Yoga is a popular style of yoga where postures move from one to another in perfect connection with your breath.  This combination of movement and breath is commonly called “flow” yoga because the process is so smooth that it can feel like there are no pauses. 

Vinyasa is also an exciting style of yoga because instead of repeating the same movements over and over, as you would in Bikram, your Vinyasa class is different every time. This is a big benefit if you’re someone who gets bored easily. 

It’s also ideal for those who want to get in shape. The flowing movements without stopping means you’re more active, your heart rates going to be higher, and you’ll end up burning more calories in your class. Vinyasa is often confused with power yoga for this reason but the two are not the same. 

Below we’ll answer the question “what is Vinyasa yoga?”. We’ll cover the benefits, styles of Vinyasa, what to wear to your class, and more! 

Vinyasa Yoga Explained

Woman doing vinyasa yoga

Contrary to popular belief, Vinyasa is a Sanskrit word which means to put in a special way, and not movement accompanied by breath. 

The word precedes yoga as a physical exercise. It is about mindfulness in your decisions and movements. You can practice with everything, including everyday tasks, such as hiking and completing projects.

Vinyasa yoga today is a type of yoga that can also be called “Flow Yoga.” 

It comprises a thread of postures performed simultaneously, one after the other. It has variations each time because the poses are not fixed or defined. Its nature differs from Bikram Yoga which is the same 26 poses each time. 

How it’s done:

Vinyasa Yoga has several transitions that work together seamlessly. They include movement from the Rag Doll to the Mountain Pose, Chaturanga to Upward Dog pose, Closed Hip to Open Hip poses, and Backwards to Forward Bends. These ensure that there is a flow when practicing yoga.

The steps usually done are as follows:

With Vinyasa, your last pose will determine your next pose because it’s a flow from one to the other. 

Here’s a basic three pose sequence to start your practice. 

Once you’re on your yoga mat, get into Chaturanga Dandasana, four-limbed staff pose, and make sure you’re stable and secure. 

From Chaturanga Dandasana, secure your hands on your yoga mat and jump or step both feet behind to be in a push-up placement. 

Make sure your body is parallel to the floor, and your shoulders are parallel with your elbows. Draw your belly button to your backbone to guard your lower back.

Inhale and then pull your chest forward, balance your hands and feet, and then come into Upward Facing Dog. From this position, exhale, fold your toes, boost your hips, and push into the Downward Facing Dog.

With widely spread fingers, form a straight line between your elbows and middle fingers. Make your legs straight and lower your heels to the ground. Relax your head by placing it between your arms. Gaze towards your navel and through the legs. Hold the position for as long as you feel comfortable and then move out of the flow.

If you move into a standing position, take deep breaths till you hop on top of the mat. If you are sitting back down, inhale, gaze between your hands, twist your knees, exhale, and then sit back down softly.

Srivatsa Ramaswami, one of the biggest authorities on Vinyasa, describes Vinyasa Krama as a systematic technique to teach, practice, adapt and study yoga. 

According to him, it’s the yoking of body and mind that occurs with the breath as a harness. In Sanskrit, Vinyasa Krama means ‘sequence and movement methodology.’ It combines mental peace (samadhana) and union (yukti) through breathing.

Vinyasa Krama has highlights such as emphasizing comfort and stability in any pose, synchronizing breath movements, Ujjayi breathing that is smooth, soft, and slow, arranging asanas into precise sequences, breathing control exercises, and meditation practices.

Vinyasa Yoga parameters are set with respect to yoga asanas. There are three Vinyasa Yoga parameters; Steadiness, Comfort, and Smooth and Long Breathing. 

Steadiness, also called Sthira, states that the practitioner must keep steady for a pose to be a yogasana whether they are standing on their feet (tadasana) or their head (sirsasana).

Comfort, also called Sukha, details paying attention to breathing for relaxation and joy. Smooth and Long Breathing (Prayatna Sithila) prescribes long and smooth breathing during yoga. In Vinyasa Yoga, taking slow breaths is vital, which is six breaths per minute. 

Vinyasa Flow Yoga Characteristics

woman doing downward dog

The term Vinyasa comes from Vin, which means to place, and Yasa, which means in a special way. In Sanskrit, it comes from Vi, meaning variation, and Nyasa, meaning within prescribed parameters. 

It means to move with purpose. It encourages you to move intentionally to keep the body and mind connection through breathing continuously. 

The Vinyasa postures connect to each other through the breath. This is why it’s also commonly referred to as “Flow Yoga”. The positions link and they flow together.

Transitions connect different postures. They are the middle part. They can appear as postures, too, because they move together gracefully. Being skilled in transitions is as important as skills in asanas. 

Breath is a crucial component of Vinyasa as well. Ujjayi breath is the breathing method used. It involves inhaling and exhaling rhythmically through the nose to enable relaxation. Ujjayi breathing has synonyms like snake breathing, ocean breathing, snoring breathing, and ujjayi pranayama.

Inhalations usually go with moving upwards and exhaling with moving downwards.

Sequences and postures are generally repeated several times within a parallel session.

What Are The Benefits Of Vinyasa Yoga?

woman on couch with kids jumping around - benefits of yoga

Like all yoga styles, Vinyasa has a ton of benefits. In fact, there are so many that it would be hard to list them all so here are the most notable…

Stress Relief. It balances your mind, body, and emotions. It relaxes anxiety by bringing focus on internal stimuli.

Balance and stability. Ashtanga-based yoga has proven to improve balance and lessen the risk of falling in many people.

It improves heart health by reducing blood pressure and stress.

Better posture. Vinyasa Yoga’s first pose helps in the correct alignment of the body, from head to toe.

Cardiovascular workout. The quick movements and physical effort of Vinyasa yoga make it a low-intensity cardio workout.

Strength and endurance training. The poses are challenging and fast-paced; thus, they can create muscle strength for improved fitness.

It increases lung capacity. It can help asthma and other respiratory conditions for people who have breathing issues.

Better focus and concentration. It helps to sync your mind and body through breathing techniques. This helps you tune out distractions and increases your ability to concentrate. 

It improves flexibility. Most of us have become more and more inactive as we work on computers. This causes serious muscle inflexibility over time. 

When you do Vinyasa Yoga frequently, it helps to stretch every muscle and tendon. This helps offset the inflexibility caused by your desk job.  

It also strengthens your immune system. When your mind is relaxed, you’re not stressed, and your tension is lowered, your immune system can function properly. 

Better lymph drainage. Your lymphatic system depends on your movement for proper drainage. If you’re not moving, it’s not draining. By doing yoga,  using your muscles, and compressing your system, your lymphatic system gets toxic components out of the body much more efficiently.

Other Approaches To Vinyasa

young woman doing ashtanga yoga pose

Slow Flow

It’s also known as slow Vinyasa. It takes longer because the teacher helps you get into and out of different yoga poses. The slowness makes it friendly for beginners.

Ashtanga

It has roots in olden Sanskrit texts. In the 20th century, Ashtanga became popular in the United States by K. Pattabhi Jois. It has the name Vinyasa because it connects breath with movement. However, in Joi’s yoga style, people do particular yoga poses in an exact order every time, unlike Vinyasa.

Jivamukti Yoga

This form of yoga combines physical yoga and spiritual development and involves eclectic music, spiritual teachings, breathwork, chanting, and meditation.

Power Yoga

Bryan Kest coined the term “Power Yoga.” It is a type of ashtanga yoga. He describes it as having elements of mindfulness, meditation, moderation, and physical exercise. It generates warmth and sweat.

Baptiste Yoga

Baron Baptiste created it. It has three pillars, which are meditation, asana, and inquiry. The classes are active and challenging in their design, but also available for everyone. Baptiste Yoga helps in both mental and physical improvement. The United States has more than 170 Baptiste yoga studios.

Vinyasa Yoga is suitable for beginners if they do the Slow Flow variation. Otherwise, you should have done some yoga before joining a class because the yoga teacher will follow a sequence rather than focusing on proper posture. Also, it can be a little fast-paced compared to other yoga styles.

Why Is Vinyasa Yoga So Popular?

Vinyasa yoga’s popularity has grown for many reasons. The first is that no two classes are the same. While you may be completing similar poses in each class, they won’t be in the same order each time. This makes Vinyasa fun for anyone who prefers a little variety. 

Next, the benefits it has on you today and the long term benefits of practice are hard to ignore. 

During your class, you’ll connect your mind and body through your breath. You’ll relieve stress, get a workout, and leave feeling much better than when you came to class. Over the long haul, you’ll improve your health that much more because of the lower stress and increased physical activity. 

Another reason it’s popular is that there are tons of Vinyasa studios which makes it easy to get started. If you do a quick search in your town you’ll almost definitely find at least one studio teaching Vinyasa. 

If you want a yoga class that’s adaptable, enhances creativity and flexibility, and gives you a good workout, you might just love Vinyasa Yoga. 

What To Expect In Your First Vinyasa Yoga Class

In a primary class, you will go through two series: Sun Salutation A and B. 

The yoga instructor will guide you through each position so you learn how to coordinate the series with your breathing. The breathing is usually paced to a 4-count inhale, then a 4-count exhale.

The movements progress following the three nature rhythms: a beginning, a middle, and an end. The class also has a three part system. In each class you’ll warm-up before the yoga starts, then move into the asanas, and finally, end with relaxation practices.

For a beginner, it’s crucial to arrive in comfortable yoga clothes. Also, arrive earlier. If you have any worries or you need adjustments, inform the teacher before the class begins. Bring some water and a towel if you’re doing it in a hot environment. 

On a side note, beginners should try classes like Restorative Yoga, Gentle Yoga, and Yoga Foundations before Vinyasa. These classes cover the basics, such as what a Chaturanga is, the alignment of poses, breath work, and sun salutations. Also, students can ask questions and get more form tips.

Summary

If you’re in the mood to add some variety to your yoga practice, like the concept of building muscle strength, and you’re familiar with basic yoga poses then Vinyasa Yoga might be your next favorite thing. 

It’s a well-established form of yoga dating back to the Vedic era. And comes with benefits that you can’t ignore. You’ll experience a better mood, higher energy, and an overall improvement in your physical fitness from day one. 

With that said, I recommend you give it a shot. There’s a strong chance there’s a studio in your town where you can take a class or if you’re already good at yoga, you can find a Vinyasa flow class on YouTube and follow along. 

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