If you’ve ever stopped by your local yoga studio, even if to simply take a glance at their weekly schedule, chances are you’ve heard the word Vinyasa before.
The term Vinyasa Yoga can often simply refer to the sequence of postures that include:
plank pose (phlankasana) + chaturanga (high to low push up) + upward facing dog (urdhva mukha svanasana) + downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana).
This is a series of postures executed at a one breath per movement pace, and it is a common transition that is frequently used in Vinyasa Yoga classes, a particular style of yoga that is quite popular in the West.
In this article we are going to dice into the world of Vinyasa Yoga and explore:
- The Origins Of Vinyasa Yoga
- Ashtanga Vs Vinyasa Yoga
- Vinyasa For New Practitioners
- Vinyasa And Energetics
- Vinyasa And Cultivating Your Inner Fire
- Vinyasa Yoga And Accessibility
Ready to dive in?
Origins of Vinyasa Yoga
Yoga was introduced to the Western world in the mid 20th century by two disciples of Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya; B.K.S Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois.
Krishnamacharya was a yoga teacher, Ayurvedic healer, and scholar that lived in India from 1888 to 1989 and he is considered by many the “Father of Modern Yoga” due to his mainly physical-focused yoga approach that revived Hatha Yoga at a time when the practice was being lost.
Krishnamacharya developed yoga techniques that included asana (physical postures), pranayama (breath techniques), mudra (hand gestures), and meditation to harness the power and the force within each one of us.
His students, Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar were not only responsible for bringing Yoga to the West, but for developing two of the styles of yoga that are practiced to this day in yoga studios, ashrams, and homes across the world.
B.K.S Iyengar popularized the practice of Yoga as a means of exercise and developed the Iyengar style of yoga, a branch of Hatha Yoga that focuses on precision and alignment of the postures, holding them for extended periods of time in order to give beginners as well as advanced practitioners space for exploration and growth in each shape.
Unlike the Iyengar style, Vinyasa Yoga evolved from the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practice, created and taught by Pattabhi Jois.
Ashtanga Vs Vinyasa
Ashtanga Yoga involves learning a series of set sequences that students practice together, yet they do so at their own pace (Mysore Style) and its focus is on linking breath and movement and increasing the flow of prana; life force energy in the body.
For a deep dive into Ashtanga Yoga, check this article out: Ashtanga Yoga Explained
There are many similarities between Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and Vinyasa Flow, but the main difference between these two styles is that Ashtanga includes only 6 different regimented set sequences and Vinyasa flow is, well, freestyle.
From a practical perspective, Vinyasa Flow yoga classes can often be described as active, considerably vigorous, and focused on the physical aspect of yoga, and the emphasis is placed on the linkage of breath with movement.
Sequences become almost dance-like, and students often leave class with a blissful mixture of having explored the practice and “accomplished something”, as well as astonishingly relaxed.
Experienced Vinyasa teachers will guide students through skillfully designed sequences that are not only anatomically-sound, but that create a holistic experience and allow space for exploration way beyond the physical aspect of the yoga practice.
Linking the breath and the movement in a way that is sustainable unfolds more powerfully for the practitioners, and it has the potential to bring about a deeply meditative practice without sitting in stillness for an hour at a time.
The Etymology of Vinyasa yoga
When we take it back to the roots, however, looking at the etymology of the word
Vinyāsa (Sanskrit: विन्यास),
nyasa means “to place”,
and the prefix vi- translates roughly into “in a special way”
So it is no wonder that in Vinyasa Flow practices, creativity is an important element, and so is intelligent sequencing.
Vinyasa for New Practitioners
The way we have been wired to move in the modern world requires us to keep moving nonstop. The constant input from an infinite amount of sources has brought about a generation that has a hard time slowing down and pausing, sometimes even deeming self-care and rest as fruitless activities.
Luckily, every day more and more people are seeking meditation, yoga, and other wellness practices to create balance and positive change in their lives. Yet many don’t really know where to start.
The prospect of becoming less stressed, more present, and calmer is enticing, yet many hesitate to try a yoga class because they picture stillness, slow movement, and deep breathing.
While holding postures for a long time has many benefits and it is often mistaken by “easier”, from a trauma-informed perspective, practices like Yin Yoga and Restorative yoga must be approached with care and with awareness, since the energy that is moved when in stillness must be handled with care to avoid certain unexpected activations (triggers).
What attracts some new yogis to Vinyasa yoga classes (especially younger folks that are new to the practice) is often the free-flowing nature of the sequencing, the intricate linkage of postures, and the fact that stillness, in this style of yoga, is limited.
The Vinyasa Flow style allows practitioners space to be present without the daunting prospect of “too much stillness”, which can bring about thoughts and feelings that sometimes we are not ready to acknowledge.
Vinyasa and Energetics
Even though Vinyasa Yoga is largely a movement-based practice, when explored in depth can provide a space to dive into body energetics and the layers of existence, also known as the Koshas, the 5 sheaths of consciousness:
– Annamaya Kosha (physical layer )
– Pranamaya Kosha (fluid / energetic layer)
– Manomaya Kosha (mental /emotional layer)
– Vijnamaya Kosha (wisdom / awareness layer)
– Anandamaya Kosha (divinity / bliss layer)
As practitioners move and breathe rhythmically, the energy in the body begins to move, and through mindful exploration of pranayama techniques (breathing exercises) as well as basic meditation techniques, people can reach a state of consciousness they may not have had access to before.
One of the most commonly used pranayama exercises in a Vinyasa flow class is the Victorious Breath, or Ujjayi breath, designed to build inner heat, boost vitality and increase focus and concentration amongst many other benefits.
Practitioners that are able to pair their physical practice with a steady, conscious practice of pranayama, can begin to sense that a layer is peeled, and new depths of physical, mental, emotional, and sometimes spiritual awareness can be observed with more clarity.
Inner Fire – Tapas
Tapas is one of the 5 Niyamas in the 8 Limb Path described by Patanjali, and it translates as self-discipline, which refers to your inner fire.
Your inner fire is the power within you that moves you forward toward the things that feel true and authentic to you; it’s the spark that ignites the engine and encourages you to pursue your dreams, try the headstand, or pick up a new hobby.
But the inner fire, tapas, is a double-edged sword, since that same heat has the power to burn down and destroy those things you no longer need; old patterns, bad habits, harmful relationships, etc.
As we practice the physical shapes, as we move with the breath and pay close attention to the present moment, we become more and more aware of how we feel, and with that, we make space in our lives for what feels true and authentic, utilizing the power of Tapas to discern and to grow.
It is important to remember that the fire must be tended to, and a regular practice of Vinyasa flow yoga can encourage you to do just that.
The more we practice, the more we may find space in the body, the mind, and the heart.
It invites us to be creative and to flow in a way that feels good, often shifting the focus toward the energetics and the flow instead of the “proper alignment” of shapes, and giving students opportunities to explore postures in a way that can be quite fun.
Many Vinyasa Yoga teachers in the West choose to also pair their vinyasa flow classes with thoughtful playlists that can add another layer to this moving meditation, yet others choose silence to continue to emphasize the importance of breath as the focal point.
Want some yoga music inspiration? Check these: Yoga Music: Benefits + 6 Free Yoga Playlists For Any Practice, or Healing Meditation Music | The Science & Free Playlists
Vinyasa Yoga And Accessibility
While Vinyasa Yoga is not described as sometimes advertised as yoga for all, due to the (sometimes) quick linkage of one movement to the next can be less accessible for folks that want or need modifications, whether for temporary or permanent reasons.
Yet it is truly possible to practice Vinyasa Flow in a way that adapts to the needs of the students without a one-flow-fits-all approach.
With the use of props, variations, and modifications, many teachers have now made Vinyasa yoga more accessible, hence bringing it to more people, and positively impacting the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health of many.
If you’re looking to find a practice that will both support your strength, flexibility, and physical health as a whole as well as provide you access to deeper layers of the practice, you may want to give Vinyasa Flow yoga a try.
Always seek a knowledgeable teacher that creates a space that feels safe for you and where you feel grounded and seen, and give yourself permission to have some fun.
Interested in exploring more yoga styles?
Vinyasa flow yoga is awesome, but there are a myriad of styles out there. A style for everyone. Check some out: