What is Vinyasa Yoga
Vinyasa Yoga is a style of yoga that is practiced linking conscious breath with dynamic fluid movement. A number of Yoga postures (Asanas) are linked together in a sequence which flows together A little bit like dance. The breath is controlled and directs the timing and co-ordination of the movement in flow. For this reason, many Vinyasa or ‘Flow’ Yoga classes are a accompanied by music or a rhythmic beat. Transitions linking one posture to another are very relevant to the practice. Transitions enable the flow of movement and are key to differentiating a Vinyasa Flow practice from other great practices such as Iyengar Yoga or Yin Yoga which are more static in nature.
I principally practice and teach Flow yoga. Mountain Yoga classes will often include a combination of Vinyasa and mindful movements to target certain meridians (energy conduits) and practices where there is little or no movement only the flow of breath. The focus, pace and intensity of the practice varies from season to season to compliment our mountain lifestyle and activities. Each season, the sequences of postures are varied to support the energy in season. You can read more about Vinyasa through the Seasons in the Blog
The most widely practiced Vinyasa sequences are the Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskara). There are many variations of a Sun Salutation which are all flowing sequences of postures placed in a bespoke order so as to mobilize the spine and energize the body together with a deliberate breathing pattern and fluid transitions between postures. Sun Salutations are known and practiced in most disciplines of Yoga and are a powerful way to warm up the body and mind and if you ask me a great way to start any day. You can read more about Sun Salutations in the Blog
Origins of Vinyasa Yoga
Whilst Yoga is founded in the philosophy and concepts of ancient Hindu texts (first mentioned 3,500 years ago in the Rig Vedas), we attribute Krishnamacharya (1888-1989) as the pioneer of Yoga as it is practiced today. A scholar, an Ayurvedic medic, an athlete (yoga demonstrator) and a yoga teacher. He was the first to refine the yoga postures, sequence them optimally (‘krama’), and understand the therapeutic value attributed to specific asanas.
Krichnamacharya was the first to take Yoga beyond the spiritual seekers realm into the wider group in the world of personal health, fitness and wellness He developed a dynamic form of asana sequences which remained rooted to and aligned with the principals taught in Patanjali’s Sutras and the 8 Limbs of Yoga.
His Vinyasa yoga approach fused the practice of postural yoga (Asanas) with a direct link to breath control (Pranayama), concentrated gaze (‘Dristi’) to aid sense withdrawal (pratyahara) and deepens a moment to awareness and concentration (Dharana) to optimise a meditative effect (Dyana) and ultimately purify the practitioner with a sense of steadiness and calm (Samadhi). Therefore with right intention and attitude, Krishnamacharya began the development of a discipline that the yoga practitioner could use to manage their mental and physical health and offer therapy, while also achieving the spiritual aim of Yoga as prescribed by Patanjali’s Sutras.
All yoga styles practiced in homes and studios around the world today are rooted to the lineage of teachings and understanding shared by Krishnamacharya. Prominent students include the innovators of modern day yoga styles practiced throughout the world today:
Indra Devi the ‘first lady’ of modern day yoga
What does ‘Vinyasa’ mean?
Sanskrit is the language of Yoga and the term ‘Vinyasa’ is derived from the Sanskrit terms ‘nyasa’ and ‘vi‘ – meaning ‘to place’ ‘in a special / sacred way’.
Conceptually I understand Vinyasa to be a sequence, a pattern or a wave that has a start, a middle and an end with an intelligent quality that flows progressively. In short, a cycle or collection of cycles of change with an evolutionary quality.
The Natural world is full of Vinyasas – clever patterns, systems and cycles that unfold with ease and synchronicity:
A Year – the Earth’s annual trip around the sun – a 365 day Vinyasa.
A Month – The Moon’s orbit around the Earth – a 28 day Vinyasa.
A Day – A revolution of the Earth on its axis – a 24hr Vinyasa
A complete breath – start of the inhale to the end of the exhale – a 6 to 10 second Vinyasa
The Carbon cycle – Respiration of oceans, plants, animals and humans produces CO2 which is in turn photosynthesised by trees and plants to produce oxygen to be taken up by oceans, plants, animals and humans for the cycle to begin again. That’s a pretty cool Vinyasa.
The cycle of Seasons each year – the changes in daylight, temperature, environment and climate, and the varying rhythms of the Natural world adapting and changing through each season.
The cycle of a Tree – Beginning as a seed and maturing into a sprout, then sapling, then mature tree that in turn reproduces seeds so the cycle can continue. And then on death, the nutrients of the tree give back to the soil to optimise the environment for another tree. Vinyasas within a Vinyasa.
A life cycle from birth to death
The universal unfolding of Life itself, moment to moment and Evolution through the Ages.
These are all examples of Vinyasas…. In contrast its worth noting that where a sequence or pattern is not harmonious – unbalanced – out of sync – lacking development or to a destructive end, it is not a Vinyasa. It is by definition simply a ‘Nyasa’
It becomes apparent that Vinyasas support and nurture us. They help us feel more in flow – more purposeful -more balanced – more at peace – more alive.
I’d like to think that when we wise up, as a human race, and participate more consciously in the Flow mindset we will become more aware of the cause and effect of our thoughts and actions on our planet -our communities – our relationships – ourselves and evolve to become protectors of the balance of Nature and find a more harmonious way of living.
A conscious evolution – This is the Yoga, a sense of union, or non-separation with the cycles within us and all that is around us.
How to get more from your Vinyasa Yoga practice
Many people get on their the mat to practice Vinyasa Yoga for the physical transformation – to get a ‘yoga body’ – to challenge their balance – to build strength – to gain flexibility. There’s nothing wrong with that but it’s like taking a covert taste of the cake-mix in the kitchen when you could be at the party eating cake.
An attitude of willingness to deepen the experience of yoga in accordance to the ‘ashtanga 8 limbs’ of yoga moves the intention of the practice into one of a true Vinyasa. We can apply what we have learned above to our yoga practice and flow more mindfully linking breath and movement knowing we are not ‘working out’ we are working throughout our body level, mind level and energy level.
Each time we get on the mat, we can approach each practice underpinned with a positive intention to improve our physical and mental state and an attitude of willingness to experience the evolution with each breath by recognising the cycle of vinyasas as a moving meditation.
We can challenge ourselves to observe each conscious breath-linked movement from the beginning, middle and end of each inhale and exhale to optimise our moment to moment awareness and connect the body and mind in pure yoga.
As our practice deepens we become less attached to the outcome of a posture – we stop assessing or rating of our performance – we stop comparing with others, we simply breathe and move with ease and grace knowing only that the end of each breath gives rise to another form or movement – and the cycle or vinyasa continues until that practice ends.
And every time we leave the mat, we do so feeling transformed – changed – altered – harmonised.
A post practice glow usually leaves us feeling lighter and brighter, more relaxed and content and more SELF AWARE.
Ultimately with practice you can transform your world, not just your body. By applying and practicing the tools of yoga throughout the Flow practice we can transform it from an exercise or series of movements to a moving meditation. Through repetitive practice of a moving meditation we come closer to understanding and experiencing our truest nature – where our ego self is brought into balance with the energetic unfolding of our Universe – where we can feel more ‘at one’ with our self and the world around us – more content – more at peace – more balanced.
So what you waiting for? Roll out your mat and enjoy the ride…….. Namaste x