Vinyasa flow yoga has gained much popularity over recent decades so we thought it was time to take a closer look. Read on to learn more about the background to this dynamic yoga style, check out the video of how to “take a vinyasa” and understand the importance of the breath in this practice. I also share some examples of vinyasa flow movements that you can easily incorporate into your own practice.
What is vinyasa flow yoga?
Vinyasa flow is a modern style of yoga that involves moving dynamically from one pose to another, using the breath as a guide to time the movements. Under the broad umbrella of vinyasa flow yoga there are many different specific styles of yoga, for example Power Yoga, Ashtanga Vinyasa, or Jivamukti Yoga.
Some forms of vinyasa flow might use a set sequence of poses, whereas in other cases the exact sequence will be up to the teacher’s discretion. Here at La Crisalida Retreats our teachers generally design their own sequences to meet the needs of our guests.
Vinyasa flow can be quite dynamic, which can help to build strength and exercise the cardiovascular system (which includes the heart, lungs and vessels). However, it can also be slower and more mindful, helping people to feel calm and centred. In this style the focus is on moving with the breath, which can help us to pay attention and increase our awareness of our breath.
Some teachers include creative dance-like movements in their vinyasa flow classes, which can help students to connect to their inner rhythms and dynamically explore their range of movement.
Brief history of vinyasa flow
Vinyasa flow emerged out of a few styles of yoga. One key influencer was Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, which was developed by a teacher called Pattabhi Jois. This form of yoga has a progressive series of fixed poses that are linked together with a specific breathing technique called Ujjayi breath and dynamic movements. Our article on Yoga breathing: how to breathe in yoga and the benefits includes an explanation of how to do Ujjayi breath.
Jois´s own teacher, Krishnamacharya, was very influential in the development of many modern styles of yoga, including Viniyoga. Viniyoga also uses the breath to move in and out of different positions. However, this style is softer and aims to respond to the individual needs of the student.
Vinyasa flow grew out of these and other styles of yoga, as a response to teachers and students liking the flow of movement from position to position, but not necessarily wishing to be confined to a specific sequence of poses.
How it differs from other forms of yoga
Vinyasa flow is different from other types of yoga in the way that it links breath to movement. It can also be more dynamic which can help to boost your energy naturally by providing exercise for the heart.
Vinyasa yoga considers the movements in and out of positions as an integral part of the practice. Whereas in other types of yoga the focus might be more on the final position. In vinyasa flow often a series of positions are linked together, whereas in other types of yoga it might be more common to do one position on both sides before transitioning to the next position.
What does “take a vinyasa” mean?
In a vinyasa flow class you might often here the expression take a vinyasa. When a teacher says this, it is a cue to take a series of linking movements. These movements help to build strength and develop stamina, as well as building up a bit of heat in the body, which can make Vinyasa Flow more of a cardiovascular practice.
A typical beginners vinyasa might involve the following positions:
- Downward facing dog
- mini plank, with knees on the floor
- lower carefully to the floor
- mini cobra
- push back to child’s pose
- and then lift up again to downward facing dog
See this video of Tania as she demontrates a typical beginners vinyasa:
A vinyasa for a more advanced practitioner might involve a similar flow but include full plank, chaturanga and upward facing dog.
Contraindications for vinaysa flow yoga
In a vinyasa flow class it is typical to move from one pose to another quite dynamically, therefore students with injuries or particularly sensitive parts of their bodies are advised to take care when practicing this type of yoga. In particular if someone has any spinal, shoulder, hip or wrist issues.
If you do have an injury it is always advisable to practice with an experienced teacher, or seek individual advice about which poses to avoid. Additionally, there are lot of ways to modify vinyasa sequences to make the practice inclusive for all. For example one can miss out the most strenuous parts of the sequence or change parts of a sequence. Vinyasa yoga can be slow or fast, and if you do have an injury but still want to practice this style it might be best to focus on slow flow vinyasa yoga.
Here are La Crisalida Retreats we offer a variety of types of vinyasa flow yoga, including classes suitable for all levels or student and classes aimed more for intermediate practitioners.
Importance of linking to the breath
The breath is one of the key aspects of vinyasa flow, as it links the movements together. Often in vinyasa flow, students use Ujjayi breath to help regulate their breathing and develop a rhythm to the practice. When students first start vinyasa flow they may find coordinating the breathing with the movements a little bit difficult. However, for many students after some time they find this second nature and they begin to really enjoy this aspect of the practice. It particularly helps one to stay calm, centred and present in the moment. As mentioned above if you would like to read more about how to breathe in yoga why not check out our article Yoga breathing: how to breathe in yoga and the benefits.
How vinyasa flow can boost your energy
Vinyasa yoga is a dynamic practice and has benefits for the heart and circulatory system (the cardiovascular system). It can help improve your energy levels by strengthening the heart muscles, and improving our circulation. A healthier heart helps to improve our overall endurance, which in turn means that we have more energy both for our day to day but also any additional activities we want to do.
Another way that vinyasa flow can help boost energy is by helping to reduce stress. This works by increasing the production of feel good hormones called endorphins. As well as helping us feel good, endorphins can help us focus, which in turn can be energising.
As a moderate to fast paced vinyasa flow yoga class can be considered as moderate-intensity physical activity, it can also help to improve your sleep. Better quality and longer sleep can improve how energetic you feel throughout the day. For more ways in which yoga can improve your health, check out our Twenty-Two Health Benefits of Yoga article here.
Music or just the music of the breath – the choice is yours
Some yoga practitioners love to practice vinyasa flow to music, with anything from soft Indian chanting, to more upbeat tunes providing a suitable soundtrack. Others much prefer to practice in silence, just with the music of one´s own breath. There are some quite well reasoned arguments against having music in yoga classes. For example it can distract from our inner focus, and be stressful if someone needs to strain to hear the teacher above the music. However, in terms of styles of yoga vinyasa flow with its fluid, rhythmic movements in my mind is more suited to music than other styles of yoga.
Personally, I have gone through periods of always having music in my vinyasa flow classes, to long periods of not having music at all. Now I tend to adopt a flexible approach sometimes playing music, and other times not depending on my class plan, background noise, the students and energy of the group.
Two simple Vinyasa sequence you could add to any yoga sequence
There are many ways of flowing yoga positions one into another. For example, one of the most simple ´vinyasa´ sequences is Cat and Cow. There is a simple explanation of how to do seated cat and cow in our article on Yoga and digestion: asanas to support a healthy digestive system.
Another very nice vinyasa sequence is moving from Warrior Two position to Triangle pose. In this vinyasa we would start from a warrior two position, on an inhale raise the front hand up, and lean back towards the back leg into peaceful warrior. Then exhale straighten the front leg and reach the front hand forward and down onto the shin or thigh to form triangle. You could flow between these two positions a few times.
You could also try adding in the vinyasa I mentioned above, in-between other poses.
How to start a vinyasa flow practice
If you are already practising yoga and enjoy more of the flowing movements in class, such as sun-salutations, you have the basis to practice vinyasa yoga. If you do not already practice yoga, I would recommend starting with a slow vinyasa flow class, or maybe combining a vinyasa class with a hatha class, so that you can learn safe alignment in the poses.
With vinyasa flow yoga there is a wide variety of classes and you might find that you gravitate to one, or another teacher. I would therefore recommend trying a few different teachers and classes.
If you would like to combine learning more about Vinyasa Flow yoga, and other styles of yoga consider joining one of our yoga retreats here on the Costa Blanca. On our yoga retreats in Spain we have a minimum of 12 yoga classes per week, including Vinyasa Flow, Hatha, Restorative and other styles.