When you’re beginning out with yoga it can be hard to know the difference between the different styles. In this blog we’ll be covering in detail what vinyasa yoga is, and what you can expect when joining a class.
Here you can find details of the actual definition of vinyasa, history, benefits, tips for beginners, what to expect in a vinyasa class, and how to best get started. All important topics that we don’t usually have time to cover during a vinyasa class.
What's the definition of vinyasa yoga?
Vinyasa yoga has several different meanings. The word vinyasa comes from Sanskrit—the ancient Indian language that is used in yoga.
Vinyasa means linking movement with breath. During your yoga practice you can focus on bringing awareness to your breathing and using your breath as a way to guide you through the movements.
Vinyasa yoga is a dynamic practice where you move through a flow of different yoga poses.
Typically, you will flow a few times in and out of a pose, before staying there for several breaths. Doing your best to follow the guidance of your breath. This allows the body to ease gently into postures that build flexibility, strength and balance.
Another definition of vinyasa yoga means one followed by the other. There are many different yoga poses linked to together through a series of movements. With every movement being linked to a breath.
Often in each vinyasa yoga class you’ll practice many of the same postures, but approaching them in a different order and way based on the theme you’re focused on in class.
Vinyasa yoga is quite unique in the fact that there is really a balance between flexibility, strength and balance. So not only focusing on flexibility, but also learning how to use and build strength and balance in the body.
Regarding balance, you’ll get the opportunity to not only focus on finding balance with different parts of the body balancing on the ground, but also creating balance within your body.
In addition to opening up your body, vinyasa yoga also influences the more subtle levels of awareness. You start to develop concentration and focus on your breath and body, which also often begins to result in a calmer and quieter mind.
This is why physical yoga practice is often considered to be a preparation for being able to sit for longer periods of time in meditation.
What's the history and origin of vinyasa yoga?
Vinyasa yoga is a style of hatha yoga, where hatha yoga is really the umbrella term for all styles of physical based yoga. This tradition of hatha yoga comes from India.
Hatha yoga has a long history of practicing asana which are the physical yoga postures, as well as meditation where you sit in stillness and pranayama where you focus on your breathing. These in addition to a series of lifestyle choices make up the eight limbs of hatha yoga.
The origins and history of the style of vinyasa yoga can be traced back to the teaching lineage of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya—often known as the father of modern yoga. Krishnamacharya was arguably the most influential yoga teachers in the 20th century.
Krishnamacharya taught many students a style of yoga known as Vinyasa Krama. Krama means method or order. And Vinyasa Krama is a carefully crafted sequence of yoga poses that flow one after the other.
One of the principles of Krishnamacharya’s teaching that I find most notable is the balance he found between using set sequences and tailoring yoga practices to individual needs.
In his earlier teaching Krishnamacharya focused on using set sequences to help students build a disciplined practice and move in a meditative flow. While his later years, Krishnamacharya concentrated far more on the needs of each individual student, providing them personal practices tailored to their individual needs.
Some of Krishnamacharya’s most well-known students included B.K.S. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, and his son T.K.V. Desikachar. These teachers received many students from all over the world, and helped popularise the dynamic and more active forms of yoga as we know it today.
Pattabhi Jois is the founder of ashtanga vinyasa yoga, which is moving dynamically through set sequences. While Iyengar brought a different approach of using props, alignment and breaking down the pose into different elements.
You can see elements of vinyasa yoga from these teachings, which ultimately all link back to those teachings of Krishnamacharya.
What benefits can you expect from practicing vinyasa yoga?
On a physical level vinyasa yoga will support you to work on your flexibility, strength and balance through dynamic and active stretching. This supports the lengthening, strengthening and mobility of your muscles, bone density and connective tissue.
As we start to move to more subtle levels of the breath, vinyasa yoga will help increase your breathing capacity through the focus on deep and steady breathing. This can support deepening and lengthening your natural breathing pattern outside of your yoga practice, and calming your nervous system.
We also start to work on the beginning elements of meditation by sitting in stillness at the start of class, and relaxing lying on your back in Savasana at the end of class. This can help you build your concentration and inner awareness.
On an emotional level, you are likely to feel calmer, more relaxed and less stressed after your practice. With consistent regular practice it’s likely that you also become more aware of your inner dialogue and mindset that you have during your yoga practice and in daily life.
As you start to practice yoga more regularly, you’ll start to notice patterns in the inner dialogue you have during your yoga practice. This can be interesting to explore and bring awareness to how these patterns and inner dialogue may be showing up in other aspects of your life.
Can beginners’ practice vinyasa yoga or is it for more advanced yoga students?
The majority of vinyasa yoga classes are designed for all levels of practitioners—from beginner to more advanced. If you’re joining for one of the first times a vinyasa yoga group class guided by a teacher it’s always worth mentioning that your new. That way the teacher will be able to give the cues and options that you might need as a beginner.
A great way to try a class and see if you like it is to start with following an online video tutorial. On a platform like YouTube there are many beginner vinyasa yoga classes that you can try.
Often a beginner vinyasa yoga class will be at a slightly slower pace, to allow you more time to move in and out of the poses. Also, the postures themselves will be explained in a bit more detail.
Due to the flowing nature of the practice, it can be difficult when beginning yoga to know if you’re doing the poses correctly. Take the time to tune into your body and allow yourself to be your own guide. If something doesn’t feel good in your body find an alternative, or ask a teacher if you can for support.
At the beginning it can feel hard to find your way into unfamiliar postures, while also focusing on a deep and regular breath.
You might find when practicing new yoga poses and flowing dynamically between poses you need to bring all your focus on the yoga pose itself. And that’s ok!
As you practice the same yoga poses more often you’ll start to get familiar with how to physically approach the yoga pose. And this will make it easier to tune into some of the more subtle elements like your breath.
Based on the ease of your breath you can decide to lean in or ease off from your practice. There are usually several options given for each pose, allowing you to fit the practice to what your body feels like on a particular day.
The best advice overall is to choose a style of yoga that you enjoy. So, if you enjoy the dynamic style of vinyasas yoga and surprise of what pose is coming next then try out practicing vinyasa yoga! And over time as you keep practicing it will get easier.
If you are though someone that prefers as a beginner to focus on the detail and move more slowly focusing on alignment, perhaps a vinyasa yoga isn’t for you. You could try slow flow or hatha yoga class, or vinyasa beginners to have more explanation and time to explore a pose.
What can you expect in a typical vinyasa yoga class and sequence?
Each vinyasa class you join will likely include a different sequence of yoga poses. There are some common yoga poses like warrior 1 pose (Virabhadrasana 1) that you’ll find in many vinyasa yoga classes. But the order you approach the poses and focus of the class overall will likely be different.
Depending on the length of the class and teacher you follow, the build-up of the sequence and will be different. But generally, the overall flow will be like a curve of a wave broken down into different stages.
There’s a gentle stillness at the beginning of the wave as you sit in stillness watching your body and breath. Then as the wave starts to slowly grow, we start to move the body with gentle and slow flowing movements.
In the middle part of the wave will be the most dynamic part where we work with more intensity. You may move through a series of sun salutations and standing poses, holding many poses for just one breath. We then perhaps start to hold these more active and challenging poses for several breaths. Reaching at the top of the wave your peak pose where the heart rate is raised.
And then we start to gradually come down the wave. You may practice some seated poses and hip openers. Flowing slowly down to twists, inversions and gentler lying down restorative poses. Finally finishing your practice at the bottom of the wave where we come back to stillness for a short relaxation and meditation.
Depending on the length of your vinyasa yoga practice and teacher, the practice may look a bit different. But typically, there will be this flow of starting out slow, gradually building intensity, and then slowly easing back down to stillness.
How can you get started?
So now you’ve heard enough about the theory of vinyasa yoga, it’s time to try it out! After all yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory.
Depending on your own personal circumstances you can choose if you prefer to start vinyasa yoga classes via free online videos, group classes, introduction workshops or private yoga classes. And as you get more experience it can be useful to get guidance from a qualified teacher.
If you're interested in first trying out some online yoga classes you could try out the below short vinyasa yoga practice. Or access more free of Irene's online classes at Antara Yoga's YouTube channel.
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