Introduction to Vinyasa Flow Yoga

Beginners' Yoga Class. Blend Images - Dave and Les Jacobs/Brand X/Getty Images

Vinyasa yoga, in which movement is synchronized to the breath, is a term that covers a broad range of yoga classes. This style is sometimes also called flow yoga, because of the smooth way that the poses run together and become like a dance. The breath acts as an anchor to the movement as you to flow from one pose to the next in time with an inhale or an exhale.

The literal translation of vinyasa from Sanskrit is "connection," according to Ellen Stansell, Ph.D., RYT, and scholar of yogic literature and Sanskrit.

In terms of yoga asana, we can interpret this as a connection between movement and breath.

A cat-cow stretch is an example of a very simple vinyasa because the spine is arched on an inhale and rounded on an exhale. A sun salutation sequence is an example of a more complex vinyasa. Each movement in the series is done in time with an inhalation or an exhalation. 

What To Expect From a Vinyasa Class

This style allows for a lot of variety, but will almost always include sun salutations. Expect movement, not just stretching. Whether the class is fast or slow, includes inversions, or is very alignment-oriented will depend on the individual teacher and the particular style in which he or she is trained. Some classes include some warm up stretches at the beginning while others launch straight into standing poses. Some very popular yoga styles, including AshtangaPower Yoga, Jivamukti, and CorePower make use of the vinyasa method.

If a class is simply identified as vinyasa it may make use of aspects of any number of traditions. The one thing you can be sure if is the flow between poses. The rest is up to the teacher.

What Does “Go Through Your Vinyasa" Mean?

When vinyasa is used as a noun, it describes a series of three poses that are done as part of a sun salutation sequence.

When the teacher says, "go through the vinyasa at your own pace," she means do a plank, chaturanga, and upward facing dog (or their equivalent variations) using your breath to measure when to move to the next pose. If you start to get tired and this affects the quality of your poses, it's very acceptable to skip the vinyasa and wait for the class in downward facing dog.

Is Vinyasa Yoga for You?

Vinyasa’s strength is in its diversity. There is no single philosophy, rulebook, or sequence that teachers must follow, so there is a lot of room for individual personalities and quirks to come through. This makes it essential that you find a teacher you enjoy and can relate to. If your first flow class doesn’t rock your world, keep trying different teachers. If you appreciate having things a little loose and unpredictable and like to keep moving, this style is definitely worth a try.

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