“There is a grace in wild variety
Surpassing rule and order.”
~ William Mason
My first Vinyasa yoga class came as something of a surprise. I was a traditionally trained Hatha yoga teacher and my self-practice was Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga. I didn’t know that I was looking for or needing anything else. I was used to the set sequence of postures and the regular rhythmic movement of Ashtanga. I found it simultaneously challenging and calming, and that felt like enough.
In my first Vinyasa class, however, my initial thoughts of “What is this?” were closely followed by “I love it.” In this article, I'll explore what this style of yoga is all about, where it came from and why, like me, you might just find yourself falling in love with Vinyasa yoga.
What Is Vinyasa Yoga?
Also known as Flow yoga or Vinyasa Flow yoga, Vinyasa yoga is a dynamic flowing style, which has significant benefits for strength, flexibility and balance. The word, vinyasa, can be translated from Sanskrit as “to place in a special way,” which explains its emphasis on movement into and out of postures. Vinyasa yoga comes from the same lineage as Pattabhi Jois’ Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga: a rigid, disciplined style of yoga dating back to 200 B.C.E., which always follows a set sequence, or “series,” of postures.
Unlike Ashtanga Vinyasa, however, there is no set sequence of poses. There is space for creativity, adaptation and modification to suit the class, the teacher and the intention. Going to a Vinyasa yoga class can feel like taking your body through a new dance each time.
After years of rigid, structured Ashtanga yoga, my body and mind were thrilled by the freedom of movement and variety. I found it liberating to move in different ways. With my breathing, I was able to access spaces in my body that I’d previously not connected with. I felt challenged and alive.
(More on The Power of Vinyasa.)
Key Sequences of Vinyasa Yoga
The key sequence of Vinyasa yoga is often referred to as “a vinyasa.” What exactly this includes does depend on the teacher, but in a typical class, a vinyasa will mean the yogi moves through the following:
Chaturanga Dandasana (Exhale)
Upward-Facing Dog Pose or Cobra Pose (Inhale)
Downward-Facing Dog Pose (Exhale)
From here, the sequence may transition into a range of seated and standing poses, sometimes linking them together in a graceful sequence. Sun Salutations and variations on Sun Salutations often feature heavily in Vinyasa yoga classes. Many teachers will structure their class to build strength and flexibility for a challenging “peak” or “apex” pose, such as an inversion or an arm balance. Classes may also be themed around a physical focus; for instance, hip openers or backbends, or they may be more holistic.
What is consistent, though, is that with every breath comes an instruction. Every movement happens with a breath, and the breath provides the link between body and mind. The power of Vinyasa yoga lies in the simplicity of this formula of movement, breath and mind. There is as much focus on the transitions between poses as there is on the static poses themselves, making it an incredibly immersive practice. In many ways, it is a mindful, dynamic meditation.
(Try another flowing series of poses in A Vinyasa Sequence for Beginners.)
Who Is Vinyasa Yoga For?
As with all styles of yoga, Vinyasa yoga can be modified for different body types and people. However, modern Vinyasa yoga classes do tend to be more athletic and active than other styles, which might come as a shock for those who expect yoga to be a very gentle or even passive practice.
Vinyasa yoga is ideal for anyone wanting to build strength, and improve their flexibility and physical well-being, while experiencing the holistic benefits of a mindful yoga practice. Because it is more dynamic, Vinyasa yoga can be a good introduction to yoga for people used to a lot of physical activity, especially if they’re worried yoga will be boring or too easy!
The creative nature of Vinyasa yoga means that you are likely to find far more variety between classes and teachers than in a more regulated style — something worth bearing in mind if you don’t love the first Vinyasa class you try.
So, Should You Give Vinyasa Flow a Go?
Yes! I wholeheartedly recommend it. It may take some experimenting to find a teacher and style that suits you, but that said, I don’t think I’ve taken a Vinyasa yoga class that I haven’t found some benefit in. Even if you usually prefer gentler styles of yoga, it’s good to know and experience the full range of practices that are out there. It can be surprising, too, how deep a practice it can be when you remain present and mindful in the transitions as well as the poses. What’s more, the savasana after a powerful Vinyasa class feels second to none. Enjoy!
(Read on for this and more styles of yoga in Me and My Many Yoga Days.)