There’s a prevailing misconception surrounding what yoga looks like. For the most part, people will conjure up mental images of practitioners holding poses that demand rubberlike flexibility and mobility. While this impression isn’t inaccurate, it’s a limited concept of what yoga is. There’s another dimension to yoga — one that’s movement-focused and helps one find the “flow state.” This is Vinyasa yoga.
Vinyasa yoga is a form of yoga that places great emphasis on movement and flow. Practitioners of this form of yoga become adept at stringing positions together in a way that strengthens the mind and body.
Vinyasa yoga has several benefits due to how it trains practitioners to balance between holding and changing poses. Being a style of yoga, it develops mobility and flexibility. Because of its focus on movement and breath, it also improves muscle strength and movement under resistance.
Learn more about Vinyasa yoga and how it’s different from traditional forms of yoga.
Vinyasa Yoga Defined
The term “Vinyasa” is actually a combination of two Sanskrit terms — “vi” and “nyasa.” “Vi” is a Sanskrit word that means difference or variety. “Nyasa,” on the other hand, is a little harder to translate directly. The closest translation for the word would be “within a flow.”
When placed together, these two Sanskrit terms can give insight into the practice of Vinyasa yoga. The words that make up “Vinyasa” encompass the changing of movements in a manner that’s fluid.
Vinyasa yoga, therefore, is a yoga practice focused on assuming certain positions and changing them based on what is natural for the body. The incorporation of movements in Vinyasa yoga isn’t arbitrary. In fact, the reason for this comes down to how yogis have traditionally made poses and states of mind synonymous.
In traditional forms of yoga, practitioners need to hold certain positions. The holding of positions is symbolic of remaining in a certain state of mind for some time. In Sanskrit, this element of yoga is “sthira.” This means steadiness — both physically and mentally.
Being able to hold a certain position or state of consciousness also necessitates the capacity to do so. This is where the Sanskrit concept of “sukha” or comfort comes in. After all, nobody will hold a position they’re not comfortable with. The same is true for any state of consciousness.
In the philosophy of VInyasa yoga, consciousness isn’t static. In fact, even in everyday life, many would acknowledge that consciousness or mental states change. For the Vinyasa yoga practitioner, movement isn’t contrary to consciousness; it’s an affirmation of how transient consciousness is.
Within the practice of Vinyasa yoga, the transitions are symbolic, meaning one assumes a certain state of consciousness for a while then moves on to a different one.
In short, the affirmation of change through fluid and purposeful movement is the heart of Vinyasa Yoga.
The Elements of Vinyasa Yoga
Vinyasa yoga’s elements distinguish it from traditional forms of yoga like Kundalini and the more commonly practiced Hatha. Like these forms of yoga, Vinyasa yoga has three elements.
The elements of Vinyasa yoga are as follows:
Vinyasa yoga is a “flowing” type of yoga, but this doesn’t mean that posture and position take a back seat. Vinyasa yoga is still a form of yoga, meaning that there’s still a place for holding positions.
The difference comes down to duration. In traditional forms of yoga, practitioners need to assume certain positions — or “asanas” — and hold them for a long time. In Vinyasa yoga, practitioners also hold positions — but for a shorter period.
Transition is the element that best separates Vinyasa from other types of yoga. Vinyasa yoga practitioners assume one position and move to the next smoothly and purposefully.
Transitioning in Vinyasa yoga doesn’t just mean changing from one asana to the next. Rather, there’s an element of grace and fluidity to the practice. This means that the transitions need to flow naturally regardless of the speed. One example of this element in practice is the flow from downward dog to upward-facing dog.
In this flow, the practitioner begins with the high plank position, pushing at the ground to assume the downward dog position. After a few seconds in downward dog, the practitioner slowly exhales and moves the head upwards, simultaneously raising the chest and lowering the hips.
All of this takes place in one smooth and seamless flow, but the transition between the two positions will not be graceful (or comfortable) without the next element of Vinyasa yoga.
Ujjayi is Vinyasa yoga’s breathing technique. It’s done by inhaling slowly through the nose and exhaling slowly through the mouth. Usually, most Vinyasa yoga practitioners will describe this form of breathing to be rhythmic. It’s rhythmic in the sense that it syncs with certain moments in a Vinyasa yoga flow.
Ujjayi begins when the practitioner holds an asana for a few moments. During this time, the practitioner needs tension in the muscles and joints. The tension comes from pressurizing the abdomen. To do this, the practitioner needs to inhale. However, because the position must be held for a time, inhalation must be slow.
When the time to transition to another asana comes, the practitioner needs to reduce tension. This is why during the transition, the practitioner needs to exhale through the mouth. The practitioner exhales slowly and stops once they reach the next position.
Is Vinyasa Yoga the Same Across Yoga Schools?
Another distinguishing feature of Vinyasa yoga is its variety. By variety, we don’t just mean the types of positions students can learn; we also mean variation in the flows themselves.
Most forms of yoga have asanas and sequences that are set in stone. Hatha yoga has a set sequence of asanas and so do other types of yoga like Kundalini, Yin, and Bikram. All of these types of yoga have their asana sequences guided by tradition. Very little deviations from tradition can disrupt the intended effects of the practice.
By contrast, Vinyasa yoga isn’t the same across schools. There are no predetermined sequences. As a result, flows in Vinyasa yoga can vary day to day.
The variation has its basis in the Vinyasa yoga philosophy. Movement within Vinyasa is ever-changing. For this reason, practitioners can practice one flow and perform it a different way in the next.
Where Did Vinyasa Yoga Come From?
The story of Vinyasa began in 1916 when Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya traveled to the Himalayas. There, he set on a quest to master what was called “Eight Limbs Yoga.” This style of yoga is what many today call Ashtanga yoga, a style of yoga that resembles Vinyasa but has lesser transitions between asanas.
Mastering Ashtanga for seven and a half years, Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya returned to his native land India to share what he learned. One of his students was his son, T.K.V. Desikachar. Desikachar took what he learned and taught it to other students using a more individualized approach. According to him, yoga is an individual practice.
Desikachar’s style represented the earliest seeds of Vinyasa; although it wasn’t until the late 1970s when the practice would take on the Vinyasa name.
One of Desikachar’s students, K.S. Patthabi Jois, mixed Ashtanga yoga with Desikahar’s yoga. It was then when Jois called the new style of yoga Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga. As time passed, Vinyasa yoga became its own type of yoga, becoming a form of moving meditation that’s tailored to the individual.
What Are the Benefits of Vinyasa Yoga?
All types of yoga — including Vinyasa — give any practitioner the benefits of flexibility and calmness. However, for its unique emphasis on breathing and movement, Vinyasa yoga outshines others in the following ways:
People often confuse mobility and flexibility as being the same, but they can’t be any more different.
Mobility, unlike flexibility, is the free movement of joints along their natural axis of rotation or articulation. In other words, a person displays mobility by being able to assume positions actively. Flexibility is simply the ability of tissues like muscles to lengthen passively.
Flexibility has no movement component to it. This is why all types of yoga can improve flexibility. When it comes to Vinyasa, mobility also improves because of the movement component. A practitioner moves much more freely using the flexibility he or she has developed in Vinyasa yoga.
Vinyasa yoga benefits the cardiovascular system through its Ujjayi breathing technique. As mentioned earlier, the Ujjayi technique involves controlled inhalation and respiration. Controlled breathing reduces the sympathetic response, otherwise known as the fight or flight response of the nervous system.
Better Cardiovascular Health
The relaxation of the nervous system creates more relaxed blood vessels. Circulation improves with the relaxation of the blood vessels. With improved circulation is better heart health. This is one way Vinyasa yoga benefits the heart.
The other way Vinyasa yoga creates a healthy cardiovascular system is through repetitive intense movements. Some of the flows in Vinyasa yoga like the Surya Namaskar (Sun Salute) activate many large muscles. This causes the heart to pump forcefully but at a healthy rate.
Improved Muscle Tone and Strength
In Vinyasa yoga, muscles need to take the body through certain planes of motion and hold positions. This leads to improvements in muscle tone and isometric strength. Isometric strength is important because it is foundational. Without it, a person cannot move other objects or his or her body weight. Vinyasa yoga is a safe and healthy way to train muscles to hold tension, aiding in strength and structural development.
Novelty and Fun
Not everyone finds holding static poses appealing. For these individuals, there’s fun in movement and variety. These are two things Vinyasa yoga won’t fail to deliver.
As mentioned earlier, Vinyasa yoga classes and flows will differ greatly. Even on a day-to-day basis, students will notice vast differences in sequences. The result is a fun yoga practice fueled by novelty.
In addition, the series of movements and positions add to the fun. Movement is enjoyable for a vast number of people. While there’s a place for holding positions in Vinyasa yoga, it’s a style of yoga that’s meditation in movement.
What Does a Typical Vinyasa Flow Look Like?
A Vinyasa flow will consist of three stages — an initial pose, a transition, and the final pose. In most classes, students will repeat these unless the head of the class introduces a different pose following the final pose.
To illustrate what a flow looks like, we’ll take the tabletop to low lunge as an example.
To assume the tabletop position, practitioners must be on all fours. The palms must be directly under the shoulders and the hips and thighs must be at a 90-degree angle. The knees must be apart by a comfortable margin from each other.
In this position, the student must inhale slowly. Just before moving to the low lunge, the student exhales and brings one foot next to the palm on the same side. Once the foot makes contact, the student brings the chest up.
The resulting pose is the low lunge pose. The student can repeat these steps with the other side or add another pose after the low lunge.
Google “Vinyasa Yoga Near Me?” and Experience Vinyasa Yoga the Zuda Yoga Way
Vinyasa yoga is founded on the principle of life’s ephemerality. Life changes, and so do the poses in Vinyasa yoga. With every breath and asana, Vinyasa yoga is an affirmation of the nature of life.
Are you in search of a Vinyasa yoga class? Find your flow with us at Zuda Yoga.