What it Means to Go Through Your Vinyasa

In flow yoga classes, teachers often instruct students to "go through your vinyasa" or "take the vinyasa of your choice." What are they talking about? Isn't vinyasa just another word for flow yoga? Turns out, vinyasa has two common usages in contemporary yoga. When used as an adjective, it does describe the kind of yoga where you move from one pose to the next in a dance-like way, synching your movements to your breath. When used as a noun, however, vinyasa describes the two poses that are done between plank and downward facing dog as part of the sun salutation sequence. If that's about as clear as mud, read on for specific examples.

The beginner's version of the vinyasa is:

plank → knees, chest, chin → cobra → downward facing dog

while the advanced version is:

plank → chaturanga dandasana → upward facing dog → downward facing dog

Let's look a closer look at the beginners' sequence first and then on to the more advanced sequence.

Beginners Version - Plank Pose

Plank Pose
Ben Goldstein

Begin in a plank position. This is usually arrived at by stepping or jumping from the front of your mat. If plank is too much for you, you can always drop your knees to the floor.

Knees, Chest, and Chin

Knees, Chest, and Chin in Vinyasa Flow
Knees, Chest, and Chin - Ashtanga Namaskara. Ann Pizer

Exhale to lower to your knees, chest, and chin to your mat. Your butt stays high in the air and your elbows point straight back along your sides. This pose is a good warm up for backbends and helps you develop arm strength.

Cobra Pose

Cobra Pose in Vinyasa Flow
Cobra Pose - Bhujangasana. Ann Pizer

Inhale and slide forward to a low cobra pose. Don't move your arms. As you lower your hips to the floor, your chest will come forward and lift up off the ground. Try to make this lift come from the strength of your back, not pushing down into your hands. Keep little to no weight in your hands while you anchor your pelvis and the tops of your feet to the mat.

Downward Facing Dog

Downward Facing Dog in Vinyasa Flow
Downward Facing Dog - Adho Mukha Svanasana. Ann Pizer

Exhale and curl your toes under as your straighten your arms to push back to downward facing dog. You can come through all-fours or a child's pose in transition if you want to. 

Advanced Version - Back to Plank Pose

Plank Pose to Prepare for Vinyasa
Plank Pose. Ann Pizer

Now let's take a look at the advanced version, which also begins with plank pose. During a sun salutation flow, advanced students will sometimes jump back from utanasana straight into chaturanga. In that case, skip the plank pose. 

To prepare to lower from plank, shift forward onto your tip toes. 

Chaturanga Dandasana

Chaturanga Dandasana in Vinyasa Flow
Chaturanga Dandasana. Ann Pizer

Exhale and bend your elbows straight back to lower to chaturanga dandasana. Your body is in one straight line and your shoulders should be no lower than your elbows. It's a tough position to hold but try not to rush on to the next pose.

Upward Facing Dog

Upward Facing Dog in Vinyasa Flow
Upward Facing Dog - Urdhva Mukha Svanasana. Ann Pizer

Inhale and straighten your arms, drop your hips, and roll over the toes to the tops of your feet into upward facing dog. You can flip the feet one at a time if that works better for you. Press into your hands and feet to keep your thighs lifted off the floor. Keep your shoulders moving away from your ears. 

Downward Facing Dog

Downward Facing Dog end the Vinyasa Sequence
Downward Facing Dog - Adho Mukha Svanasana. Ann Pizer

Exhale, roll over the toes and shift your hips up and back to downward facing dog.

What's the Vinyasa of Your Choice?

Do the version of the vinyasa that you are most comfortable with. Even if you have a very competent chaturanga, it's nice to warm up with a few rounds of knees. chest, chin at the beginning to class. Some flow classes have a lot of vinyasas. If you get tired and you form starts to slip, go back to the beginners' version or skip the vinyasa altogether. You can stay in plank or downward facing dog while you wait. Chaturanga is a tricky pose and injuries are more likely to happen when you're tired, so play it safe.

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