Vinyasa Yoga Basics
Vinyasa Yoga is a flowing, dynamic sequence of poses that is one of the most popular styles of yoga in the United States. Also sometimes called "Vinyasa Flow Yoga," this type of practice involves synchronizing the breath with a continuous flow of postures. The fluid, almost dance-like movements increase flexibility, strength, and stamina, as it calms the mind and improves overall health.
The literal translation of the Sanskrit word "vinyasa" is "to place in a certain way." It refers to a certain sequence of poses that are performed in a particular order. Today, it also refers to the style of yoga that focuses on breathing in conjunction with body movement.
History of Vinyasa Yoga
This popular, flowing style of yoga developed as a sort of "free-form" offshoot of the more methodical Ashtanga Yoga system. Ashtanga Yoga is a powerful and dynamic style of yoga developed in the 20th century by the guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Ashtanga incorporates the sequence of linked poses called a vinyasa, but where Ashtanga has a strict structure and precise set of rules, Vinyasa Yoga is creative and exploratory.
Vinyasa Yoga contains many, if not all, of the poses included in the Ashtanga Yoga series, but it does not require its students to perform them in exactly the same sequence. For example, in Ashtanga, students are not allowed to move to the next series of poses without first mastering their current one. Vinyasa Yoga breaks those rules, often including poses from various Ashtanga sequences in one class.
These days, many different popular styles of yoga fall under the "Vinyasa Yoga" heading. These include, but are not limited to, Power Yoga, Flow Yoga, Anusara, Jivamukti, and other unique styles, such as Hot Vinyasa (performed in a heated room) and Prana Flow.
In 2008, a survey showed that over 15.8 million Americans practiced yoga. It's also estimated that the percentage of people who practice yoga increases up to 25% every year!
Components of a Vinyasa Yoga Practice
Because of the great amount of creativity allowed, Vinyasa classes can vary greatly from teacher to teacher, and even from city to city. The one thing that will not change, however, is the emphasis on linking movement with breath. Vinyasa Yoga is performed using a deep breathing technique, which is called "Ujjayi Pranayama" (ooh-JAH-yee prah-nah-YAH-mah) in Sanskrit. This phrase translates to "Victorious Breath," but is also sometimes called "Ocean Breath" because of the sound it makes.
When practicing Ujjayi, practitioners breathe through the nose to completely fill and empty their lungs. Each movement in a Vinyasa practice is partnered with either an inhalation or an exhalation, creating a flowing link between breath and movement. The poses are sometimes held for several breaths, but when moving between poses, Ujjayi breath provides the connection.
Vinyasa Yoga classes may incorporate music, meditation, or chanting. They will typically include a broad range of poses, including standing and balancing postures, twists, backbends, inversions, seated poses, and forward folds. Every class will end with Corpse Pose (Savasana), the final relaxation posture. These classes are often vigorous and demand (and produce) a lot of strength and stamina, making them great classes for those who want a "workout" style of yoga. In general, Vinyasa classes place less emphasis on absolutely precise alignment, in favor of finding one's unique ability to "flow," even when presented with challenges.
"Take a Vinyasa"
Another key component of Vinyasa Yoga classes is the actual process of performing a vinyasa. This refers to a specific sequence of poses that are performed between other poses, in order to keep a continual flow of movement throughout the practice. A vinyasa can be thought of as a shortened Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara).
Many teachers will instruct their students to "take a vinyasa," or "flow through the vinyasa," to transition from one pose to the next. For detailed information on "taking a vinyasa," check out the iSport guide, How to Do a Vinyasa in Yoga!
Yoga meets you where you're at. But stay open to the understanding that the more you do yoga, doors open, and the invitation is to simply explore.
Benefits of Vinyasa Yoga
Vinyasa Yoga can be a challenging, sweaty practice! The steady and continuous flow of postures builds internal heat, which can help to detoxify the body. This yoga style's fast-paced and athletic, strength-building approach also helps to improve cardiovascular and respiratory health, and increase bone density. Many practitioners also discover reduced stress and improved sleep.
In addition, the constant and continual awareness of the breath while you move through the poses calms the mind and increases focus. Vinyasa is often considered a "moving meditation." Many practitioners discover that the ability to "flow" through a challenging yoga class has benefits off the mat, as well — resulting in a greater ability to "ride the waves" of life with more ease and focus.
Go with the Flow
Vinyasa Yoga is diverse, creative, and challenging on a mental, physical, and spiritual level. Because there is so much freedom within this style, you might want to try several different teachers until you find one that you enjoy and relate to. But most importantly, have fun, let go, and find your flow!