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What is Vinyasa Yoga?

by Cris Puscas

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Whether you are interested in taking up yoga or already have some experience under your belt, you probably already know that there are various types of yoga you can practice and teach.

And, without a doubt, you likely came across Vinyasa Yoga, a widely popular style nowadays.

Without having a fixed system of movements, Vinyasa Yoga is a dynamic style that focuses on linking the breath with the movement. Its freedom appeals to both teachers and students of all levels.

If you are interested in deepening your knowledge about this style of yoga or want to start teaching it, here, we’ll take a closer look at Vinyasa Yoga. Find out what makes it different from other styles, what are its benefits, and why you should be teaching it.


But First, What is Vinyasa Yoga?


practising vinyasa yoga outdoor

Photo credit: Yash Yoga School

To begin with, there are several definitions of the word itself. Some sources affirm it means “connection”; others translate it from Sanskrit as “to place in a special way” (“nyasa” – to place; “vi” – in a special way); and there are those who say it’s just “flow”.

With this in mind, it’s not surprising the term Vinyasa is used so broadly. And there’s quite a bit of confusion this can cause. Choose whichever definition you like better, the important thing to understand here is that Vinyasa always links the breath with the movement. The focus is on the inhale and exhale while moving from one pose to the next.

For this same reason, some yoga teachers use it to describe a gradual progression of postures connected by inhalations and exhalations (usually from Chaturanga to Up Dog and then to Down Dog).

Therefore, when yoga instructors started to base a whole class on these principles, the Vinyasa style made its appearance in a lot of studios all around the globe. According to one expert, Reejo (a teacher certified by the Yoga Alliance), a lot of the confusion comes from its similarities to other styles.

The technique of the Vinyasa Flow is the same as in Hatha, and many asanas are shared with Ashtanga too. But probably the main distinction of Vinyasa is the order of the postures that often changes.

For example, Ashtanga uses some predefined sequences, but two Vinyasa classes are rarely identical. Also, while Hatha tends to focus on one pose at a time with rests in-between, in a Vinyasa Flow the poses string together to make a sequence.


History of Vinyasa Yoga


There are only four original types of yoga: Njana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Raja Yoga.

Each type of yoga that we practice today has evolved out of different teaching lineages.

Vinyasa Yoga has its roots in the Ashtanga lineage, which was taught in India in the first half of the 20th century and later became popular in the West.

A modern yoga style, Vinyasa Yoga has no official founder. However, being born out of the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga tradition, it is based on the teachings of Sri Krishnamacharya.

According to Krishnamacharya, the movements between each asana are just as important as the postures themselves. Therefore, rather than focusing on getting into the posture and then breathe, in Vinyasa Yoga, the aim is to keep the deep breathing and body consciousness consistent throughout all movements during the practice.


The 4 Elements of Vinyasa Yoga Flow


vinyasa yoga flow

Photo credit: True North Vinyasa

The first two elements of the Vinyasa Yoga Flow are Sun Salutations A and B. They are the core of the Vinyasa style and are the perfect example of linking body movements with our breath. Generally, our body should be flowing upwards when inhaling, and towards the ground when exhaling.

The third element is represented by the Vinyasas, or the transitions.

When a teacher tells you to “take a vinyasa”, they ask you to transition from one position to another, by doing a certain sequence, depending on what asanas you are coming out of.

There are many ways to create variety with vinyasas, as well as with the Sun Salutations A and B.

The fourth element is the breath. Especially in the first part of the class, the counting of the breath is very important, and the teacher counts the number of breaths you should hold the pose for.

This is called Ujjayi breathing, also known as the ocean breath, in reference to the sound it produces. The lips must be sealed, and the air has to go through the throat. A good tip to get used to this is by breathing with your mouth open but closing it in the middle of the inhalation or exhalation.

Other breathing techniques to perform – recommended by Reejo, are:

  • Anuloma Viloma. The alternate nostril breathing is quite simple to practice in order to start your day well balanced. In this technique, you inhale through one nostril, retain the air, and exhale through the other nostril. The tradition is to adopt the Vishnu Mudra while doing it.
  • Kapalbhatti. It could be interpreted as an inverted breathing technique in which the exhalation is more active than the inhalation. The base here is to emphasize on releasing the air, assuming that all the disorder in your body and soul is also being liberated from your system.
  • Bhastrika. This breathing exercise is used to energize the body and mind. Think of it as a cup of coffee without the negative effects of caffeine. To perform it, you have to use your diaphragm and expand your belly as much as you can when inhaling; the exhale should be through the nose, forceful and fast.


What to Expect From a Vinyasa Yoga Class


vinyasa yoga class on the beach

Photo credit: Rishikesh Yog Nirvana

Vinyasa allows for a lot of variety. However, a Vinyasa class will most likely include Sun Salutations.

The class may be fast or slow and depends on the style in which the teacher was trained.

Some classes may also include warm-up stretches, but this is not mandatory.

During the class, vinyasa can be used as a noun. When your teacher tells you to “go through the vinyasa”, it makes you need to do part of the Sun Salutations, a series of 4 poses that have variations depending on your level. An advanced practitioner would do plank, Chaturanga Dandasana, Upwork Facing Dog, and Downward Facing Dog.

With no set rulebook or philosophy to teach Vinyasa Yoga, the classes leave room for a lot of freedom and the teachers’ personalities will shine through.

That said, you might not resonate with the first teacher you train with. Or, as a teacher, you might realize some students will not return to class. That’s perfectly fine, as it may take a bit of trial and error to find the best class in which to relate to your teacher.


Benefits of Vinyasa Yoga


asana in sitting vinyasa flow

Photo credit: My Yoga People

Just like most yoga styles, Vinyasa Yoga lowers stress levels, promotes relaxation, and improves your energy levels.

Here are some of its remarkable health benefits:

It can be considered strength training. Because the poses are done in quick succession, Vinyasa Yoga is an excellent way to build muscle strength and improve your fitness. As you progress, you will also have more endurance.

It will help with balance and stability. Just like many other yoga styles, Vinyasa is great for improving your balance. Studies have shown that people with low vision significantly improved their balance after a course.

It is an athletic and aerobic style. The fast-paced moves will get your blood pumping and you’ll certainly break a sweat. A study has shown that the movements and challenges a Vinyasa yoga class poses make an ideal low-intensity cardio workout.

It lowers the stress levels. Another study has shown that women taking up Vinyasa Yoga lowered their stress levels and anxiety. And they also quit smoking.

It’s a lot of fun. Movement makes you feel good and a Vinaya class can be fun. This will not only affect your mood after the class but will help you have more fun, in general.

And, lastly, Vinyasa Yoga doesn’t take long to learn to teach initially. Unlike Iyengar Yoga, which requires a minimum of four years of study before someone can teach the style, completing a 200-hour Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training course is enough to start teaching. And the teacher may only have two years of experience. However, learning to teach it well takes time and effort. Mentorships are rare but skilled teachers will have quite a few years of experience under their belt.


Yoga Styles Based on Vinyasa

acro yoga

Photo credit: Vinyasa Yoga Ashram

Another part of the confusion about what Vinyasa is comes because it is commonly used as an umbrella term for other flowing and dynamic yoga styles. These styles include Jivamukti, Power Yoga, Baptiste Yoga, Forrest Yoga, Acro Yoga, Aerial Yoga, among others.

Below, you’ll find more information about some of these types of yoga.

Power Yoga can be understood as hardcore Vinyasa since it’s faster and more intense than traditional yoga. It focuses more on building strength and less on the spiritual aspects of yoga.

It was developed in the USA in the 1990s and, unlike traditional yoga where instructors work based on a fixed set of asanas, Power Yoga gives teachers more flexibility to arrange postures according to their preferences. Definitely a very challenging style!

Aerial Yoga is a hybrid type of yoga that combines traditional yoga poses, Pilates, and dance with the use of a hammock. It was developed in 2014 by Broadway choreographer and former gymnast, Christopher Harrison, in New York.

It makes a fun and refreshing complement to regular floor-bound yoga practices and it’s safe for everyone to try with the help of an instructor. The two main benefits of Aerial Yoga are spinal decompression and lymph drainage, which greatly enhances detoxification.

Acro Yoga is a physical practice that combines yoga and acrobatics. Through this type of yoga, you can overcome fears and connect with the people around you in a playful way. It includes many types of partner and group acrobatics, making it a great way to enrich an existing relationship with your significant other, a good friend or just to make new ones.


Who Should Practice Vinyasa Yoga

asana in vinyasa flow

Photo credit: Yoga Vidya Mandiram

We’re making Vinyasa sound too good to be true, aren’t we? It’s a great yoga style if you truly enjoy a full body and mind experience, but it comes with some challenges as well, that practitioners have to overcome in order to stick to the mat every day.

Reejo agrees that the most challenging part of Vinyasa is the transition from basic poses to the more advanced ones (remember you still have to control your breath while standing in the hardest asanas).

A considerable degree of flexibility and strength is required to start performing the most difficult postures. Thus, a good dose of patience is the key to master Vinyasa. New practitioners may have to take it slow and spend a year or two with not so rigorous classes, to build up the foundation of flexibility and strength necessary for advanced sessions.


Why Should You Teach Vinyasa Yoga?

vinyasa yoga training in india

Photo credit: Rishikesh Yoga Teacher Training Center

Vinyasa Yoga is an easy yoga style to teach. Or a challenging one.

It depends entirely on you, as the teacher. You may choose to stay on your mat and demonstrate the flow for the students to follow; or you may choose to be active, walk among the students, and verbally guide them.

If you choose to stay on your own mat, teaching Vinyasa Yoga is easy. But you won’t see much of what your students are doing. Even worse, you won’t be able to adjust your class to their level.

Whereas when you are actively helping them, you choose to truly serve them, but at the same time, making Vinyasa Yoga teaching more challenging. However, it can make the difference between them returning to your classes over and over again and choosing to simply watch a video at home.

As a teacher, your responsibility is to ensure the flow. And you must keep your students safe from injury or strain. You may want to break down the flow into easier parts before you put everything back together.

Even if you teach yoga online, paying attention to each student, observing, adjusting, and modifying while on a video call is quite a challenge but the rewards are plentiful.

Also, if you prefer to practice gentler styles, it doesn’t make sense to want to learn how to teach Vinyasa Yoga (unless, of course, you want to challenge yourself).


Are you looking to learn how to teach a gentler yoga style? Then join a Restorative Yoga Teacher Training and take your practice to a new level.

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