What Is Vinyasa Yoga? What It Is, How It Works & Styles to Try
Vinyasa Yoga: Flowing Breath with Movement
Flow/ Vinyasa Yoga
Almost every yoga studio offers vinyasa yoga classes, or classes that have the word “vinyasa” or “flow” in the title, and essentially this means that there is as much focus on the movement from one pose to another as it does on the posture itself.
It looks very pretty and choreographed to the outside viewer and feels more like a dance than a static movement to static movement practice. The key is to match the breath to the movement, combining the third and fourth limbs of yoga, to set a pace that fits the purpose of the class and the students’ ability – often either inhale and move, exhale then move or move, inhale/exhale one or more times; move, inhale exhale one or more times.
While there is cuing for alignment and safety in a vinyasa practice, it requires a slightly higher level of physical fitness due to the almost constant movement and need to match the breath as well as accomplish the poses. Additionally, there is not much time in any given posture to make adjustments, so many who are new to yoga may feel rushed or even frustrated if they are not familiar with the poses being called and feel like they are just barely getting into a pose before they are told to move to the next one.
In the West, Vinyasa is often the standard, and most styles of yoga have a flow element to them at least at certain times during the class.
Who Created Flow/ Vinyasa Yoga?
Like Hatha Yoga, no one single teacher created or popularized Vinyasa Flow style yoga. It evolved over time from Hatha-style practice, a natural evolution as practitioners moved more quickly from one posture to the next, incorporating pranayama.
In the 1980s and 1990s, teachers like Pattabhi Jois, Beryl Bender Birch, and Shiva Rea incorporated Vinyasa-style sequences into their classes and popularized the style in the West, but they were all influenced by Krishnamacharya, who emphasized the importance of linking breath with movement.
What Styles of Yoga Are Considered Flow/ Vinyasa Yoga?
Like Hatha Yoga, there are probably more styles of Vinyasa yoga than has ever been collected or categorized in one place. The differences are minimal as all incorporate flowing from one pose to the next, incorporating the breath.
Here are just a few of the most popular:
Ashtanga Yoga was created by K. Pattabhi Jois in the 1930s and popularized by his son Manu Jois. It is from this lineage that almost all American-born styles of yoga evolved.
The practice primarily consists of a set of six series of postures linked by pranayama. The Primary Series, or first series, is the most popular and commonly practiced. The idea is that the focus turns inward because it is known which poses happen and in what order so it is easier to find flow. In most classes, Ashtanga is taught in the Mystore-style format, which allows each student to practice the series at their own pace while the teacher walks around the class and makes adjustments. It is expected that the students will memorize the sequence and will practice it daily to master the rigorous poses.
Power Yoga was created by Beryl Bender Birch in the 80s and is heavily rooted in Ashtanga practice, however, there is no prescribed poses or order of postures. Instead, creative sequencing is allowed and the style was designed to provide a “workout” style practice that was popular in gyms at the time.
Created by Larry Schulz, a former student of K Pattabhi Jois, Rocket Yoga is based on Ashtanga Yoga but designed to be a little more fast-paced and fun. Creative sequencing is also allowed and music and heat may play a role as well depending on the teacher.
Created by Ana Forrest in the 1980s, Forrest Yoga is a slow flow practice with a focus on healing from trauma that is usually taught in a room heated to between 80 and 85 degrees (nowhere near as hot as the 105 degrees typical of Hot Yoga or Bikram Hot Yoga but still noticeably hot). Forrest also incorporates martial arts, drumming, and ceremony and, for the record, has nothing to do with trees.
Created by Sharon Gannon and David Life in 1984, Jivamukti style yoga combines Vinyasa flow with chanting, meditation, and Yogic teachings with the goal of creating harmony between oneself and the universe through compassion. There is a hefty focus on the study of Sanskrit, ancient texts like the Bhagavad Gita, veganism and ahimsa, the first of five Yamas, as well.
Anusara yoga was founded in 1997 by John Friend, but he is no longer affiliated with the organization into which it evolved. Anusara means “flowing with grace” or “following your heart,” and is based on sequences that follow what they term the Universal Principles of Alignment.
It’s worth noting that that there was no shortage of drama within the organization and that there are a number of “anusara-inspired” studios and teachers who do not wish to align themselves with the current organization. John Friend went onto create other styles of yoga as well, including ParaYoga and Shri Daiva Yoga, both of which focus more on breath work, meditation, chanting, and the cultivation of spiritual energy, or Kundalini.
Tripsichore Yoga is a challenging style of yoga focusing on performance and creativity that was created by Edward Clark and Nikki Durrant in the 80s. An advanced style of yoga, it is often taught in workshops and intensives and frequently “performed” in front of an audience.
Mandala Yoga is a flow style of yoga that also incorporates breath practice and the elements. A spiritually focused practice, students are invited to infuse postures and flow with their own personality and energy as they explore postures that speak to different chakras and elements and move around the mat in the shape of a mandala rather than facing the front of the mat at all times.
Prana Yoga is another spiritually focused yoga that incorporates flow with breath practice, visualization, meditation, and chanting and is based on the concept of prana, or life force, that is found in Ayurveda. Many teachers incorporate prana yoga into their classes, but Shiva Rea is know for the practice of Prana Vinyasa flow that she teaches.
Kripalu Yoga, created by Swami Kripalu offers practitioners three levels of practice to choose from so that their focus can remain on fostering a deeper relationship with themselves through flow, breath practice, and meditation. Modern psychology and wellness related teachings are often incorporated into Kripalu classes and workshops.
Integral Yoga is based on the teachings of Sri Swami Satchidananda, and is designed to help practitioners integrate all aspects of their being—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual—into a harmonious and balanced whole. The practice emphasizes the importance of self-awareness, self-discipline, and self-transformation, and encourages practitioners to approach their practice with an open heart and an open mind.
Who Is a Good Candidate for Vinyasa or Flow-Style Yoga?
Depending on the style of class, Vinyasa or flow-style classes can be a good fit for practitioners of any level of fitness. I generally recommend taking a few beginner classes first – flow or hatha – that are identified specifically as beginner classes so that people who are new to yoga can take their time, feel no pressure, and learn the names and shapes of the poses without feeling rushed.
Some of the styles of yoga listed above are physically demanding, requiring great strength and cardiovascular health while others may be slower and allow for a gentler approach. The experience will rest heavily on the teacher’s choices, so it’s a good idea to check in, ask questions, and voice any concerns you may have about your physical fitness level and/ or injuries in advance so that you feel comfortable.
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Tips for Choosing the Right Type of Yoga for You
Vinyasa style yoga matches the breath with the movement, so the transition between poses is often just as important as the pose itself. A pace is set by the instructor, and this may be challenging to beginners who are unfamiliar with the names of poses being called and those who are not already physically fit.
If you’re looking for a style of yoga that is good for the cardiovascular system, this is it! Depending on the teacher and the style, Vinyasa Yoga can be quite a workout as well as a tool for spiritual introspection.
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Written by Valeria Weber Williamson
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