What is Vinyasa Yoga? Everything You Need To Know

Vinyasa yoga is all about movement and the flow of energy as you sync the body and the mind together through motion and breath. This form of yoga embodies a yogic philosophy that in order to achieve true balance we must accept the change that happens around us and embrace it. We move through our poses as a way to accept the fluctuation of the world and join the body, the mind, and spirit into one. 


A vinyasa yoga yoga class emphasizes movement. As you work through a sequence of postures, you’ll move from one pose to the next without pause, and utilize your breathing to move from one posture to the next. The appeal of practicing this form of yoga is found in its inconstant nature since one vinyasa class will be very different from the next. This contrasts with other yoga styles such as Bikram Yoga, which incorporates the same 26 poses in each class and is expected to be taught in that order without deviation. 


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What Is Vinyasa Yoga?

The core belief of vinyasa yoga is based on having a momentary view of the world. The change that happens around us becomes reflected through our movements in a vinyasa class. You hold a pose, you keep that pose for a brief duration, and then move on to the next. Achieve that posture, hold, and enter another. Your breathing is also a vital part of the transitions that are made between the postures. 


One of the major advantages of vinyasa is the ever-changing nature of the classes. This allows you to focus on all parts of the body to condition it through variable strings of poses. It also prevents injury from repetitive movements that could occur when you are performing the same actions and poses over and over each day. 


Breathing

Your breaths are just as essential in vinyasa as they are in many other forms of yoga because your breathing is one of the main catalysts of transition. Breathwork connects one pose to the next in a continuous flow, hence the name “vinyasa flow” that is given to these classes. The breathing process is vital to the transitions in a vinyasa yoga class, and these transitions are considered just as important as the poses. Every transition is given the same credence as every posture. 


Therefore, you must practice the transition with the same dedication as you would the pose. Without a commitment to both, you will not be able to enjoy the full benefit of the vinyasa style. In order to fully commit, your breathing must have the same focus and attention as your body as you move through poses. Every move corresponds with your breathing, as you inhale and exhale through the nose in a cadenced pattern. This breathing process is referred to as the “ujjayi” technique, and it serves to synchronize the breath with each movement from one posture to the next. 

woman in backbend

Suggested Skill Levels For Vinyasa Yoga

Much like hatha yoga, vinyasa is an ideal choice for anyone who is just starting out with yoga. But while hatha and vinyasa both incorporate multiple introductory postures to the class, vinyasa is a much quicker, more active style by comparison. Hatha classes tend to be slower and focus on the fundamental poses in a deliberate, meditative manner. 


Vinyasa introduces similar fundamental poses through continuous movement. There is slightly more repetition involved to focus on learning the simple poses without a lot of variation. 


This is not to suggest that every vinyasa class is fast-paced. Every class is different, every instructor emphasizing certain facets of the style in contrasting ways and varied speeds. One instructor might choose to teach a faster, more active style while another might place more importance on alignment over pace. If you are just getting started and want to try a vinyasa course, ask your studio which instructors or classes appeal most to your sensibility. 

Common Vinyasa Yoga Poses

Since vinyasa is the meeting of movement and breath, you can expect to do sequences of postures that reflect this approach. The following are some poses that are essential to the vinyasa style:


Sun Salutation (Surya Namskara

One of the more popular sequences associated with vinyasa is the sun salutation. Whether you choose  surya namaskara A or surya namaskara B, either one is a classic vinyasa string of poses and movements that exemplify the style because of the flow of movement from one pose to the next


Vinyasa Progression

The typical vinyasa sequence will typically incorporate three specific postures: chaturanga (chaturanga dandasana), upward facing dog (urdhva mukha svanasana), and downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana). While these are components of a typical sun salutation, these three postures are used most often in vinyasa sequence sets. They can be practiced separately or combined as a string of poses within the larger vinyasa flow. They are also often used to transition between different combinations of poses throughout the flow, as they put the spine in a “reset” position before beginning a new sequence.

woman practicing yoga

Reasons To Practice Vinyasa Yoga

Strengthening

Since vinyasa is about flow and movement, this style can help to build strength, particularly around the core and the upper body. This can lead to improved posture and help to keep your metabolic rate strong and consistent. This is especially beneficial for older adults who may start to lose muscle mass as they age. The active nature of vinyasa yoga helps target these areas in the body. 


Alignment

This is important for anyone who spends a majority of their time in a seated position throughout the week. When we are inactive for extended periods of time, we can start to adapt to unhealthy positions in the body. Poor posture is chief among these examples. But the poses associated with vinyasa flow yoga can help to realign the back for better posture. This, in turn, promotes healthy blood circulation, improved functionality of the nervous system, and lengthening of the spine to combat curvature. 


Cardiovascular Health

Vinyasa is one of the best ways to get the blood flowing so it's a great way to keep your cardiovascular system engaged. When your heart-rate is up, you are giving oxygen-rich blood to all of the organs and systems that need it most. This can make you feel more energized and more in tune with your body. 


Weight Loss

Even a slower-paced class can help burn calories. But the fast pace of most vinyasa classes will work towards burning more calories than you might expect, especially for beginners who may be working harder to go through the transitions and hold poses that are unfamiliar at first. The consistent motion of vinyasa combined with the types of postures being held and the length of time devoted to each pose all play a role in giving you quite a workout. 


Final Thoughts

Vinyasa is a style of yoga that invites anyone to participate and provides the types of benefits that a typical workout can offer. But be sure you're taking the class that fits you best with respect to the pace of the class.  While beginners are welcome, it's never a good idea to take a class that feels too fast for your current skill level. You can fall behind easily and that will only serve to discourage instead of encourage you along your journey. 


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