What is Vinyasa Yoga?

When most people think about Yoga, they imagine a calm and serene-looking person sitting cross-legged or doing a few slow movements. Well if you are one of them, Vinyasa Yoga is a surprise. A true testimony of meditation through movement, Vinyasa yoga is a dynamic and flowing style of yoga where each pose is synchronized with the breath.

Made up using two Sanskrit words “Vi” (meaning special) and “Nyasa” (meaning placement), this form of yoga focuses on a specially placed sequence of poses that are connected by breath.

Although it is a great exercise to build flexibility and get the heart pumping, Vinyasa yoga is much more about being mindful of one’s body and setting a rhythmic flow. With a focus on the breath as an anchor it helps open up the body and move in conjugation to facilitate the flow of  Prana or the life force, thus reducing stress and releasing held-up energy.

Types of Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa Yoga is essentially a breath-led yoga where the transition from one asana or pose to another is guided by inhalation and exhalation. Based on the focus on different elements, the practice of Vinyasa yoga can vary widely. Each type however ensures that the core principle of breathing and fluid movement is maintained.

Below are some of the yoga practices that come under the umbrella of Vinyasa yoga.

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a style of yoga practice that was developed by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in the early 20th century. Often confused with Ashtanga Yoga which is the “eight limbs yoga”, Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga consists of a series of 6 sets of poses or asanas where each pose builds upon the previous one.

The primary series called Yoga Chikitsa focuses on building a strong foundation in the body with basic postures such as forward bends, twists, and standing balances. The intermediate series also called Nadi Shodhana introduces more challenging postures like backends and arm balances. There are four advanced series called Sthira Bhaga each of which includes complex poses, transitions, and flows.

Baptiste Vinyasa Yoga

Baptiste Vinyasa Yoga is a style of yoga created by Baron Baptiste that includes a series of sun salutations, standing poses, balancing postures, backbends, and inversions. The practice entails exercising in a heated room (typically 31-35 degrees Celcius). The main pranayam or breathing technique used in Baptiste Vinyasa Yoga is Ujjayi.

The yoga style is known for its emphasis on alignment and self-awareness as well as its focus on strength, balance, and flexibility. This restorative style of yoga helps the practitioners to release physical and mental stress, increase energy and cultivate inner peace.

Power Vinyasa Yoga

Power Vinyasa Yoga is a rigorous form of Vinyasa Yoga that involves more vigorous movements and breathing compared to other forms of yoga. The practice is done in a heated room to promote detoxification through sweating.

The focus of this yoga practice is to create a sense of empowerment and transformation through fast music to increase the pace of the movements. Power Vinyasa Yoga can help improve strength, endurance, and overall physical fitness as well as improve mental focus and reduce stress.

Hot Vinyasa Yoga

Hot Vinyasa Yoga is a style of yoga that is practiced in a heated room (35-40 degrees Celcius) while incorporating a rhythmic flow of poses and breathing of Vinyasa Yoga. The use of heat is to warm up muscles, increase flexibility and detoxify through sweating.

The practice includes a series of sun salutations (Surya Namaskar), standing poses, inversions, backbends, and arm balances which are performed in a continuous flow. The practice leads to building up of strength as well as physical and mental endurance. It is important that a practitioner stays hydrated and takes breaks between the flows to ensure a challenging but comfortable experience.

Jivamukti Yoga

Inspired by the traditional Hatha yoga and incorporating the flow of Vinyasa yoga, Jivamukti Yoga is a holistic practice that includes asanas, meditation, mindfulness, chanting, and spiritual practices. This yoga style emphasizes on the connection between the physical body, the mind, and the spirit.

Apart from the vinyasa yoga style movements, Jivamukti Yoga uses music, chanting and has an emphasis on spiritual teachings and philosophy. With physical fitness, this yoga technique also promotes mental clarity and spiritual growth.

Benefits of Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa yoga benefits the physical as well as the mental state of a user by incorporating movements, breath control, and mindfulness during motion. The benefits are elaborated below:

  • Improvement in Flexibility – Vinyasa yoga incorporates various standing poses, sitting poses, back bends, forward bends, inversions, and balances which provide the body a much-needed stretch as well as improve the flexibility and range of motion.
  • Increased Strength – Vinyasa Yoga flow uses the body as resistance weight and helps in building strength. The asanas emphasize on use of arms, shoulders, core, and leg muscles especially while performing a pose or while transitioning from one pose to another.
  • Better Cardiovascular Health – The core of Vinyasa yoga is breath-led movement. Continuous movement while breathing deeply and in a rhythm improves heart health and the cardiovascular system.
  • Stress relief – Employment of breathing techniques such as Deep Diaphragmatic breathing and Ujjayi while performing the poses activates the para-sympathetic system that causes the body to relax and calm down. Incorporation of continuous movement also ensures that the practitioner is mindful of the present moment and the thoughts are not scattered.
  • Boost in Energy Levels – The continuous movement and rhythmic breathing while performing Vinyasa yoga increases blood flow and improves oxygenation. This boosts energy levels in the body.

Vinyasa Yoga Sequence Flow

Vinyasa yoga poses for beginners include simple standing, sitting, and bending poses to focus on flexibility and build up the body’s strength and rhythm to move with the breath. Following is the sequence of poses for beginners.

Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

A Girl Performing Vinyasa Yoga - Mountain Pose or Tadasana

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, spine straight and arms relaxed by your side. Distribute your weight evenly through both feet.
  2. Engage your thigh muscles and your quadriceps by lifting your kneecap slightly.
  3. Engage your lower abdominal muscles by lengthening the tailbone towards the ground.
  4. Lengthen the spine upwards, roll back your shoulders, and push the chest out.
  5. Keep your chin parallel to the floor and relax your face and jaw.

Forward Fold (Uttanasana)

A Girl Performing Vinyasa Yoga - Forward Fold Pose or Uttanasana

  1. Raise your arms above your head while inhaling.
  2. Breathe out while bending forward from the hip while keeping your spine straight and place your hands on the floor beside your feet or on a block if reaching the floor is difficult. Bend the knees slightly if there is any discomfort, especially in the lower back.
  3. Release tension from the neck and shoulders by letting your head hang.

Half Forward Fold (Ardha Uttanasana)

A Girl Performing Vinyasa Yoga - Half Forward Fold or Ardha Uttanasana

  1. From the forward fold position, inhale and lengthen your spine while lifting your body halfway.
  2. Keep your hands on your shins and thighs.

Plank Pose

A Girl Performing Vinyasa Yoga - Plank Pose

  1. From half forward fold pose, exhale, and step back into a high plank pose.
  2. To do this, keep your hands directly below your shoulders and straighten the body.
  3. Engage your core while in this position

Chaturanga Dandasana

A girl performing Vinyasa Yoga - Chaturanga Dandasana

  1. From the high plank pose, gently lower your body on your hands.
  2. In this pose, keep your elbows close to the rib cage and hold for a few breaths.
  3. Remember to breathe deeply while in this pose without straining your lungs.

Upward Facing Dog Pose (Urdva Mukha Svanasana)

A Girl Performing Vinyasa Yoga - Upward Facing Dog Pose

  1. From Chaturanga Dandasana asana, slowly inhale and lift your chest while straightening your arms.
  2. Lift your upper body off the ground and tilt your head to look up.
  3. Draw the shoulder blades down the back towards one another. Keep the knees off the ground and the glutes relaxed.

Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

A Girl Performing Vinyasa Yoga - Downward Facing Dog Pose

  1. From the Upward Facing Dog pose, press your hands firmly on the mat and tuck your toes.
  2. With an exhale, lift your knees and hip off the mat while straightening your legs so that your body is in an inverted V shape.
  3. Adjust your hands to be shoulder-width apart and your feet hip-width apart with the heels touching the ground.
  4. Let the head hang heavy between your arms and ensure the neck is relaxed.
  5. Breathe a few times in this pose to get adjusted.

Forward Fold (Uttanasana)

A Girl Performing Vinyasa Yoga - Forward Fold Pose or Uttanasana

  1. From Downward Facing Dog pose, slowly step ahead while breathing deeply.
  2. Slowly inhale and roll up the spine keeping your head and neck relaxed till you are again standing. While standing, elevate your hands so that they are above your head.
  3. Ensure that the knees are straight or just slightly bent while transitioning.

Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

A Girl Performing Vinyasa Yoga - Mountain Pose Pose or Tadasana

  1. With arms stretching overhead after coming out of Uttanasana, slowly exhale to bring your hands to the heart center or beside your body.
  2. As the hands move beside the body, breathe out completely and relax your spine, arms, core, and legs.

This is one set of the Vinyasa Yoga practice. The practitioner can perform multiple sets according to their convenience. With each set, the flow of breath and the movements should be focussed on.

FAQs

How many calories are burnt in Vinyasa Yoga?

The number of calories burnt will depend on the type of Vinyasa Yoga being practiced. On average, a person weighing 70kg will burn around 400 calories from practicing Vinyasa yoga flow for 1 hour.

What is the difference between Vinyasa Yoga, Hatha Yoga, and Ashtanga Yoga?

Hatha Yoga is a gentle style of yoga that focuses on aligning the mind and body by practicing static poses which are held for long periods of time. It is practiced at a slower pace with controlled movements and stretching. The focus is on controlled movements in Hatha Yoga.

Vinyasa Yoga is a dynamic flowing style of yoga where the movements are synchronized with the breath. The pace is fast with poses following each without breaks in between. Vinyasa Yoga is a good choice for a vigorous exercise which is not physically demanding. The focus is on the breath in Vinyasa Yoga.

Ashtanga Yoga is a physically demanding form of yoga that has a fixed set of six series of postures, each with a specific order and purpose. It is a good choice for practitioners looking for a challenging form of yoga. In Ashtanga yoga, the focus is on the posture and the fixed sequence.

Can Vinyasa Yoga help with weight loss?

Vinyasa yoga can be a great form of body flow or exercise to achieve weight loss. The practice demands synchronized movement with breath without pauses which leads to the burning of calories. Also, the practice involves holding poses which helps in building muscles, which in turn improves strength and metabolism.

Improvement in metabolism in general leads to the burning of calories even when one is not rigorously exercising. Vinyasa Yoga also has certain bending and twist-based poses which stimulate digestion and improve gut health. A healthy gut in turn helps in maintaining a healthy weight.

It should be noted that Yoga should be practiced as a form of exercise with a broader goal to achieve a healthier mind and fitter body.

Can Vinyasa yoga be practiced during pregnancy?

Vinyasa Yoga can be practiced during the first trimester of pregnancy by modifying the poses and the environment to ensure there is no discomfort. The following should be taken care of while practicing Vinyasa Yoga while pregnant:

a) Make sure that you remain hydrated and are not overheated while performing the poses. Prefer to do yoga in well-ventilated rooms with breathable clothing. Avoid practices of Hot Vinyasa Yoga or Power Yoga which have vigorous movements and a heated environment.

b) Modify the poses for your comfort. It is absolutely fine to replace poses that cause strain on the body, especially the abdomen with simpler movements that promote relaxation and reduce stress. Include props in the practice such as yoga blocks or cushions for support.

c) Always perform these exercises under the guidance and monitoring of an expert. Before starting the practice, do refer your doctor to ensure that the yoga experience is a safe and blissful one.

Overall, Vinyasa Yoga is a great form of exercise that promotes mindfulness, strength, and flexibility while reducing stress. So, if you want a vigorous yet soothing flow-based exercise, make sure you try this form of yoga once.