All You Need To Know About Vinyasa Yoga
Vinyasa yoga refers to a wide range of yoga classes and tends to be the most popular yoga style practiced in the U.S. Many yoga classes will label themselves with a unique name, which ultimately is a Vinyasa style yoga class. If a yoga class is called a ‘power’ yoga class or a ‘flow’ yoga class, it is likely a Vinyasa style yoga class.
In a Vinyasa yoga class, the instructor will lead the participants in a series of movements often described as a dance-like flow. This dance-like flow is a composed series of poses that are linked by breath. Ultimately, what a Vinyasa yoga practice is, is a series of yoga postures connected together with the inhales and exhales of one’s breath.
You will find Vinyasa yoga practiced in all kinds of spaces around the world. Vinyasa yoga is practiced outside, within a yoga studio, in one’s home, and everywhere in between. You do not need much to practice Vinyasa yoga, just the ability to pause a moment to breathe and move.
In this article, we will cover the history of vinyasa yoga, the benefits of vinyasa yoga, and compare vinyasa yoga to other yoga styles.
History of Vinyasa yoga
Vinyasa yoga is a style that was borne from the oldest yoga style, Hatha yoga. One of the biggest differences between the two yoga categories is that Vinyasa yoga is more about the flow between poses instead of just the final alignment of the pose.
Although there is no one founder or guru that christened Vinyasa yoga, Vinyasa yoga is more closely derived from Ashtanga yoga which was borne out of Mysore, India. Although Vinyasa yoga is more free-flowing, you will find traces of the Ashtanga yoga style throughout the practice.
The first mentions of Vinyasa yoga can be dated back to 1500 BC, where the first sun salutations (Namaskaras) were described in the Rig Veda, which is the oldest collection of Hindu scripts. However, it was not until the early 1900’s that Sri T. Krishnamacharya read the Yoga Karuna and began promoting the Vinyasa Krama, a way of connecting mudras, pranayama, bandhas, meditation, asana, drishti, and mantras. It was after this, that yoga was brought into the western world, particularly the Vinyasa style. Vinyasa yoga is actually a very young and new style of yoga compared to other more traditional and ancient styles.
The Sanskrit translation of ‘vinyasa’ is ‘to move with intention’. Broken down even further, ‘nyasa’ translates to ‘to place’ while ‘vi’ translates to ‘ in a special way’. Just by looking at the meaning of the word you can tell that the purpose of Vinyasa yoga is to connect your mind-body through movement with breath.
Today’s Vinyasa yoga is about flowing seamlessly from one pose to another with the breath. It does not follow any set sequence because the purpose of the practice is to listen to your mind-body and release anxiety & tension.
What is Vinyasa yoga?
Vinyasa yoga is a form of yoga that sequences asanas in a fluid and continuous way. Each movement is intricately linked to the breath. This connection with breath allows for the release of tension within both the mind and body.
Often, Vinyasa yoga gets associated with ‘fitness’. In many scenarios, beginner yogis will take a Vinyasa yoga class as a way to lose body fat or work out. The truth is, Vinyasa yoga does tone the body and will often raise the heart rate, but it is so much more than just a fitness class.
As with other styles of yoga, Vinyasa yoga is ultimately done to lead the practitioner towards a deeper understanding of themselves. The goal of any true yoga practice is to reach Samadhi, a deep state of meditative consciousness and enlightenment. The goal of the physical side of the Vinyasa yoga practice is to ultimately lead you to a better mental and spiritual state.
The terms ‘vinyasa yoga, ‘vinyasa flow, and ‘flow yoga’ are all essentially synonyms for the same style of yoga. Steady and easeful breath is characteristic of Vinyasa yoga and intended to create a state of effortlessness. Vinyasa yoga is the epitome of a ‘moving meditation’. As you move your body, you are removing yourself from the chaos of the world around you.
In Vinyasa yoga, you flow from one asana to the next as a way of focusing your energy and awareness on your breath. The goal is to abandon your conscious mind and tap into a deeper state within yourself. By tapping into a deeper state within yourself, you find peace with your current life state.
Benefits of Vinyasa yoga
Like with other forms of yoga, both mind and body benefit from practicing Vinyasa yoga. The fluid connection of breath and movement found with Vinyasa yoga, allows for a deep release throughout both body and mind. In some cases, medical professionals will even recommend Vinyasa yoga as a way to lower stress and strengthen the body.
Less tension in muscles
You will find more flexibility by practicing vinyasa yoga. This increased flexibility releases the tension throughout the muscles of the body. Vinyasa yoga incorporates a more dynamic form of stretching which utilizes the movement of muscles rather than static holds.
The constant flow found in Vinyasa yoga helps bring oxygen to all parts of the body. As you move oxygen throughout the body, tension gets released through the fascia, tendons, and bigger muscles. This letting go of tension and tightness throughout the body also leads to better sleep.
The breathing techniques used in a Vinyasa yoga practice help slow your heart rate. This, in turn, helps calm and relax both the body and the mind. It takes your body from being in a stressed and active mindset into a restful and intentional place.
By practicing Vinyasa yoga you train yourself to keep a calm and steady breath, which in turn trains your brain and body to remain calm and grounded in stressful situations. When you practice Vinyasa yoga regularly, it helps you manage your stress in everyday life.
Builds strength and mobility
Vinyasa yoga often gets used as a form of exercise because of its natural ability to tone muscles, build strength, and increase mobility. The truth is, this type of yoga practice is a powerful way to both strengthen and increase mobility.
Through the flow aspect of vinyasa yoga, students find greater mobility through their joints. When you create better mobility within your body, you are able to move through daily life with less pain.
Helps you feel more content
A true and good Vinyasa yoga practice is about meeting yourself where you are. It is about slowing down so that you can be your best self. Vinyasa yoga will help you develop a sense of self-acceptance and overall gratitude for the things you have in life.
After a Vinyasa yoga practice, you will feel a sense of contentment and relaxation. Your breath is slowed which allows you to be happier with where you currently are.
Better connection to yourself
Vinyasa yoga will give you a better connection to yourself. As you do your Vinyasa practice, you inevitably become aware of any pain or discomfort you are experiencing within your body. It also makes you aware of what is important to your mind. Whatever keeps coming up in your mind, you can then face and move forward from after your practice.
Vinyasa yoga is all about accepting and starting where you are. There is a wide variety of options in each pose for Vinyasa yoga so that anyone can gather the benefits of a vinyasa flow.
Relieves physical pain & cleanses the body
Because of the intentional breath and often used ujaii breathwork, Vinyasa yoga moves oxygen throughout the body. This stimulates muscle recovery while also cleansing the body and jumpstarting the immune system.
As mentioned above, Vinyasa yoga increases the mobility of your joints which in turn relieves physical pain. Plus, when you take a Vinyasa yoga class, the fluid movement releases the stiffness within the body.
What to expect from a Vinyasa yoga class
A typical vinyasa class will start slow and then move into a fast-paced flow, breath-based class. It is not a system or set of sequences as you will see in other styles. And unlike other styles of yoga, Vinyasa does not have a clear lineage, hierarchy, or leading guru.
Although you will find many variations in the postures from Vinyasa yoga class to Vinyasa yoga class, you will usually find sun salutations incorporated into the warm-up part of the class. Ultimately, when you go to a vinyasa yoga class it will vary from teacher and studio.
A focus on linking breath with movement
The true signature of a Vinyasa yoga class is steady movement matched with the breath. You will find that inhalations match with upward and expanding motions while exhalations match with downward and sinking motions.
A common breathwork practice found in vinyasa yoga is called the ujjayi pranayama. This breath practice, also known as wave breathing (because the exhale can sound like a wave), is done to help control the breath within the body.
A more fast-paced flow
Typically, you will find that a Vinyasa class will have a bit of a quicker flow. This means that you move from one post to another a little bit quicker than you would in say a Hatha or Ashtanga class.
Because for a majority of the class you move with each inhale and exhale, a Vinyasa flow will often build heat within the body. You can feel you heat rate rise, which is part of the challenge to keep your breath in control.
Unique class sequence
Another signature of a vinyasa yoga class is that no class is quite the same. Usually, you will find creative and innovative flows leading you into the more obscure postures. This means every class you go to will be a little different.
Like many other styles of yoga, the feel of the class greatly depends on the teacher. Finding a teacher you connect with can be one of the most important factors for vinyasa yoga.
Asana and ‘vinyasa flow’
As already mentioned, vinyasa class will consist of a mixture of creatively linked yoga postures. The combination of yoga poses will often start with mediation or breathwork, a warm up (which can include the sun salutation sequence), peak pose, a cool down, and then your savasana.
In most vinyasa classes you will find a set sequence of three postures. These three postures are also found in the sun-salutation. You move from chaturanga to upward facing dog, to downward-facing dog. Often this vinyasa flow serves as a transitional flow, meant to reset the spine and clear the mind for the next round of poses.
Vinyasa yoga compared to other yoga styles
Vinyasa yoga tends to be more physically-aware and physically-demanding than other forms of yoga. The intention behind Vinyasa yoga is to have both a calming effect on the mind while strengthening the body.
Vinyasa compared to Hatha
Vinyasa yoga tends to be a more fast-paced than Hatha yoga. Hatha yoga & Vinyasa yoga will have similar postures and both will likely move through sun salutations to warm up the body. Typically, Hatha is recommended for beginner yogis looking to build up their stamina. Both styles provide unique flows depending on the teacher leading the class.
Vinyasa compared to Ashtanga
The Vinyasa yoga class was borne out of Ashtanga yoga. Although there are similarities, such as sun salutations within the flow, there are some stark differences between the two styles. Ashtanga yoga has a very specific set of poses for each class, while you never know what poses you may do in a Vinyasa yoga class. Both classes lead the movement through breath, but only in a Vinyasa class will you explore different poses.
Vinyasa compared to Restorative
Restorative yoga is focused on restful and restorative yoga poses, whereas Vinyasa yoga is all about heating up the body to reach a peak yoga pose. The two styles will vary greatly in the types of poses you experience. Restorative yoga will also have a much heavier use of props throughout the entire class.
Vinyasa compared to Iyengar
An Iyengar yoga class will hold postures much longer than a Vinyasa yoga class will. You will also find a heavy focus on alignment in an Iyengar class, while in a Vinyasa class there will be a heavier focus on fluidity. Three is heavier use of props in an Iyengar style yoga class compared to a Vinyasa style class.
Vinyasa compared to Kundalini
Kundalini yoga is very different from Vinyasa yoga. Vinyasa yoga is a primarily movement-based style yoga class while Kundalini is mainly done seated with a focus on igniting the energy within the chakras.
Vinyasa compared to Yin
Yin yoga is a less dynamic yoga style. In yin yoga, you hold postures for 3-7 minutes, whereas in Vinyasa you will flow with each inhale and exhale. Yin yoga is all about opening up the small muscles and fascia in the body through long holds. In comparison, Vinyasa yoga will engage and activate the body, and stretch through dynamic movement.
Vinyasa compared to Bikram
All Bikram yoga classes are heated, while only some Vinyasa classes may heat the yoga space. Bikram yoga also has a set sequence of postures, compared to the free-flowing Vinyasa flow style.
How to start a practicing Vinyasa yoga
Applying a Vinyasa style to your yoga practice will have effects on your daily life. One thing to always be aware of is moving or doing your Vinyasa practice from how you feel on that day. Your mind-body is constantly changing and more often than not, you need to listen to what your mind-body needs.
Go to a yoga studio’s Vinyasa yoga class
Many yoga studios will offer a vinyasa yoga class. Some other class names that could indicate a Vinyasa style class include ‘flow yoga’ or ‘power yoga’. Your yoga instructor will guide you through the asanas and help you connect the right breath with the right movement.
Connecting the breath with the movement is crucial to getting the benefits for your mind-body in yoga, but figuring it out can be confusing at first. This is why going to a yoga class can be a great way to get the full benefits.
Remember, each yoga class is going to have a little bit of a different vibe. Be sure to look at the description of the yoga class before you go. Don’t be afraid to call the studio to ask any questions. If you do not resonate with the first Vinyasa yoga class you go to, try a few others to see if they resonate better.
Start a small home, personal yoga practice
You don’t need much to practice Vinyasa yoga, just space to move. Sometimes you may want props to support you in your practice. Yoga props can help you find more advanced asanas as well as help you sink deeper into poses. However, you can often use items around your home as a substitute for yoga props. For example, use a stack of books instead of a yoga block, or just utilize any blanket as your yoga blanket.
Start with a beginner flow and just breath and move. There is no wrong way to do a Vinyasa yoga flow. Allow yourself to move as your body needs and calls you too.
In closing, Vinyasa yoga is a forgiving style of yoga because the only true ‘rule’ is to move by your breath. As long as you are flowing to the power of your own breath, you are sure to gain the benefits from your practice.
It is important to remember that a Vinyasa practice is so much more than just a sequence of poses. Your Vinyasa practice is about learning and listening to your inner, deeper self. It is about finding meditation through breath and movement so that you can radiate the sense of connection in your daily life.