Vinyasa yoga is a term that covers a wide range of yoga styles. The term vinyasa refers to the coordination of breath and movement. This method turns a static asana, such as poses done in Iyengar yoga, into a dynamic flow (in fact, Vinyasa is often called "flow yoga" or "Vinyasa flow").
The breath is one of the most important concepts in Vinyasa yoga, as teachers should be instructing their students to move from one pose to another on an inhale or an exhale. In Sanskrit, the word Vinyasa means "connection," and most interpret this as the connection between movement and breath.
It is said that teacher Ramamohana Brahmachari read the Yoga Korunta (a purported ancient text on yoga) to Tirumalai Krishnamacharya in the early 20th century. Further, he also taught Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in the year 1927. Pattabhi Jois used this teaching as the basis of his entire method of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, which he introduced in 1948.
Unfortunately, this remains open to speculation because the existence of this oral transmission is unverifiable. On top of that, the ancient text has not been preserved. It is said that the text was written in stanzas, utilizing rhymed, metered sutras (as was common in the oral transmission of texts in the guru-shishya tradition).
The Yoga Korunta (which is the Tamilized pronunciation of the Sanskrit words Yoga grantha, meaning "book about yoga") supposedly described several different groupings of asanas, as well as many unique teachings on vinyasa, bandhas, mudras, and drishti. It also included many other general teachings.
Krishnamacharya had much influence on yoga as it is taught today. Many notable teachers were students of his, including K. Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar, and Indra Devi. He taught people to focus on the specific concerns of the group or person that he was teaching. Opening up his own yoga school, he adapted the teachings of the Yoga Korunta for the young boys that lived in the area...and these teachings are what we now know to be Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga.
There are many Vinyasa styles. Some of the most well known ones are:
- Bikram/Hot Yoga
- Power Yoga
What makes Vinyasa different from other types of yoga is that it is often faster paced, and there is a great focus on synchronizing the movements with the breath. This faster paced form of yoga will give you an added cardiovascular benefit. Most of the time, you will be inhaling when performing upward movements, and exhaling during downward movements.
Although a Vinyasa class will vary from teacher to teacher, most classes will begin with sun salutations. This is a sequence of poses where each posture flows into the next. The following is a typical sequence for a sun salutation:
- Starting in mountain pose (Tadasana), circle your arms down and then to your sides,
finally arriving upwards. With your palms pressing together overhead, arch your back and look up at your hands.
- From here, you want to get into the next pose which is standing forward bend
(Uttanasana). To get there, bend forward at the hips and bring your arms to your side (in swan dive fashion). Then, bring your hands to the floor, with the goal of getting your palms flat on the floor.
- From here, either walk or jump back into plank position (similar position to when you are getting ready to do a push-up).
- After plank position, we want to now transition into downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). To do this, press back with your hands, and bring your bottom up to the ceiling. Focus on drawing your weight back to your heels.
- Next, we want to transition into into Chaturanga Dandasana. To do this, we first go back into plank. From here, lower your torso and leg to a few inches above the floor. Focus on keeping the tailbone firmly in place with the legs vary active.
- From here, we can finally arrive at upward facing dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). From Chaturanga position, straighten your arms, bringing your torso and legs up off the floor as if you were doing a half push-up. Be sure to lengthen the sides of your body and keep your neck long.
- After this, we can push back into downward facing dog, and then jump our feet back in to arrive back at standing forward bend position. From here, bring your arms out to your sides and start straightening back up until your arms are reaching towards the sky again.
- Finally, arrive back at mountain pose.
After a few series of sun salutations, your teacher will then bring you through their own sequence of movements, aligning the flow of movement with your breath. This sequence will generally be more physically demanding then the sun salutations. Don't have any doubts though, because you should now be nice and warmed up! You will get a great cardio workout from this type of yoga.
When deciding what to wear to your class, keep in mind that Vinyasa yoga involves a lot of movement. It is suggested to wear something that you are comfortable in to easily flow from one pose to another. Here is an article on some of the newest, hottest yoga gear.
Be sure to call and ask what you should bring. If the yoga studio doesn't supply them, you should probably bring your own yoga mat, a towel, and a water bottle to keep yourself hydrated. You might even want to bring some of your own yoga props
Although the benefits of following a Vinyasa yoga program are many, here is a list of a few:
- Increase in muscle strength
- Increase in muscle endurance
- Improved flexibility
- Reduced levels of stress
- Better cardiovascular conditioning
The following video can show what a Vinyasa beginner's class would teach you:
Is Vinyasa Right for You?
Since Vinyasa doesn't follow any one single philosophy, or any strict sequence that teachers have to follow, it usually turns out to be a very diverse program. This definitely should be considered a strength because you can keep trying out different teachers until you land the one that best suits your own personality and style.
If you want a yoga practice that focuses around movement, then Vinyasa is for you. Many people in the modern world enjoy this type of yoga because it really works the cardiovascular system. Instead of having to perform some yoga poses, and then go on a run later in the day...you can rest assured that you already got in your cardio workout just by going through the Vinyasa program.
Well, what are you waiting for? Get out there and take a Vinyasa yoga class! You will be very thankful that you did. One of the best things you can do for yourself is take care of your body... we only get one, so treat it right and you will reap the rewards. Good luck!