Updated: Aug 7, 2020
The term Vinyasa is made of two Sanskrit words, ‘vi’, which means ‘specially’ and Nyasa, which can mean ‘to place’, ‘special order’, and ‘attention’. It can therefore mean many things, but in Yoga it is best interpreted as to place in a special way.
In a Vinyasa class, you will be guided from asana to asana in a dynamic sequence using your breath. The continuous movement gets your heart going and your body temperature rising in this Yang practice – no matter how slow you go!
Who is its founder or guru?
Vinyasa Flow (as its own practice away from Ashtanga) has no clear lineage, hierarchy and no leading guru.
So is it the same as Ashtanga?
No. Although, it was inspired by Ashtanga Yoga.
Ashtanga was developed by Sri Krishnamacharya who taught it to Patthabi Jois. Jois spread it to the West by teaching many Western yoga teachers in Mysore, India. Jois taught that Ashtanga Yoga Asana Practice was moving meditation and that the movements between each posture were as important as the postures themselves. So rather than taking time to get into postures and hold them for periods of time like in Hatha Yoga, in Ashtanga, students are guided to keep the deep breathing and proper alignment consistent through all movement in the class. Each posture is held for five complete breaths and the transition between postures should take no more than one breath. These are the same principles practised in Vinyasa Yoga.
In Ashtanga, however, there is a specific sequence of postures (Primary and Secondary Series) and they are always practised in the same order. You cannot progress in the series until your teacher says that you are ready for the next pose.
In Vinyasa, there are any number of different sequences. It is possible that even with the same teacher, no two classes will be the same. It’s normal to have music played at Vinyasa, not so much at an Ashtanga class.
In Vinyasa Flow, most of the sequences start with either Sun Salutations A or B till you get to downdog and then there is a flow of other postures (often Warriors and other standing postures) and then it finishes the last part of Sun Salutation A or B. You can think of Sun Saluations A or B as being the sandwich bread, and all the other postures as the fillings (credit to Arhanta Yoga for this handy metaphor).
So what do people mean when they say, do a ‘vinyasa’?
A ‘vinyasa’ with a lower-case v is referring to the transition between one asana and the next. Usually, that means going from plank, to chaturanga, to updog, to downdog. However, it can mean any fluid transition. So, you can bring your knees down instead of chaturanga, you can do cobra instead of updog, but you can also do tabletop and cat and cow in between postures. As long as the transitions are flowing with the breath and specially placed.
Chaturanga dandasana means four (chatur) limb (anga) staff (danda) pose (asana). In English, we call it low plank.
You go into a high plank, then you lower your body down until the elbows are in line with the shoulders. You can bring your knees down to lower down.
Usually in Vinayasa, we place the hands down, step or hop back to plank and lower down all in one exhalation.
Is it only for really fit people then?
Not at all. There are many variations in the postures and the practice can be slow or fast. In all honesty, teachers tend to go at a pace they think suitable for the students who come to class. And in Scotland, that is a wide variety of people.
Do I need any yoga experience to practice?
Most teachers, including me, make a real effort to accommodate beginners in any class. It really is down to whether you can be patient with yourself while you are picking it all up.
In my classes, I like to help people to find the strength and body awareness to be able to flow in the best way for their body without feeling lost or that their body is not suited to this pose or that. So we’ll do classes where we spend more time on the transitions, the postures, and the different modifications and then we put it all together and flow in a meditative way.
It’s not the kind of class where you will be left to fend for yourself, or where you are expected to just jump in and know it all. I’m there leading you, looking out for you and making sure you find what works best for your body so that you can really enjoy it!
In gentler or slower Vinyasa Flow classes, you will probably be fine to begin without a yoga practice and no real physical fitness and you will pick it up over a few weeks. I would say that about all of my classes.
To go to a stronger or power flow, you may enjoy it better if you have practised yoga before, or done a beginner’s course, or if you have good physical fitness.
With the exception of restorative yoga, I would always recommend doing a beginner’s workshop or series if you have never practised yoga before. You don’t have to, but it is really beneficial to get all the postures broken down in detail. But don’t worry, as I say, us teachers are there looking out for you and making sure you are taking care of your body.
But I’m more Yin than Yang!
Snap! Vinyasa is my favourite kind of yoga, but I am totally Yin. I love Restorative and Hatha Yoga, but because it is the opposite of my nature, I get a real benefit from heating my body up and moving more. This helps me in my life to not be so careful and deep all the time. Vinyasa inspires me to be lighter, warmer and more fun. We should never be too much of anything – hence the whole idea of balancing Yin and Yang.
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