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What is Vinyasa Flow Yoga?

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

This year is the 25th year that I have practiced yoga which is quite a milestone (if I don’t say so myself!) It has led me to reflect on why I still practice… why I practice the styles I practice and what keeps me coming back to the mat.

I often get asked when teaching why Vinyasa Yoga?

I haven’t always practiced Vinyasa flow, in fact this style came to me part way through my yoga journey, but tends to be now my style of choice. For me the beauty of Vinyasa Flow Yoga is that I can work with purpose and intention. I can build classes around a specific part of the body I want to work, a muscle group, a particular pose or theme. Or I can link all these aspects together to create a class that is whole. Linking physical, philosophical and spiritual theory all together. The word yoga remember comes from the root ‘yug’ which means to join together. It was first seen in the ancient texts in the context of yoking horses together.

Working with intention like this is important for me. The word ‘intention' comes from the latin ‘intendere’ meaning 'to stretch’. When we work with intention or purpose we stretch ourselves beyond our habitual limits. All yoga asana stretch our physical body and when practiced with curiosity stretch our mind bodies too!

What is the Vinyasa Flow in yoga?

I think often the ‘vinyasa flow’ in yoga is a little bit misunderstood. The word vinyasa comes from the Sanskrit term ‘nyasa’ meaning to place and the ‘vi’ prefix means ‘in a special way’. The word doesn’t have to apply to linking yoga poses together it can be used when talking about steps on your path, or musical notes in a sequence.

Many teachers (and I am guilty of this myself) refer to ’the vinyasa’ as a chain of poses that tends to be downward facing dog - plank - chatturanga - up dog - returning to downward facing dog. But actually all sequences of poses in a flow can be a vinyasa, it doesn’t have to be these specific poses. It can be any progressive sequence that unfolds harmoniously where the practitioner is placing their body in a special way.

Is Vinyasa Flow for beginners? Vinyasa flow can absolutely be practiced by beginners. Every teacher teaches in different ways, with my teaching I offer levels or ‘kramas’ of poses so that there is always a simpler version of a more challenging pose. I think the most important thing to remember if you are new to the mat is to work to your own level by listening deeply to what your body requires. I believe we are all always beginners in yoga, even if we have been practicing for a lifetime. It is a vast practice that is always unfolding, we are always learning more about the body, there is new research constantly being applied to yoga and so if you are newer to the practice, try and keep this in the back of your mind.

What is the difference between vinyasa yoga and regular yoga? First of all we need to define ‘regular yoga’. I think most people today would define regular yoga to be something that is hatha based, but then this is where it gets complicated as these labels of styles have (in my opinion) got a bit muddled. When people talk about hatha yoga today they tend to mean a slower paced practice where poses are held longer, but really all yoga is hatha yoga. I will discuss the meaning of the word Hatha in another article. But to answer the question, vinyasa yoga is flow based - where poses are linked together in sequences and build to a peak of some sort. Vinyasa yoga is breath led and movement based, that movement can be quite vigorous.

What are the 4 vinyasa yoga styles? Well that is a tricky one as again there are lots of different styles of flow yoga that could be considered to be ‘vinyasa’. But I would say the most common flow styles that are practiced are Ashtanga, Jivamukti, Vinyasa Karma and Prana Flow. My style of teaching is Vinyasa Krama as I get to be creative with my classes and create sequences according to my purpose. Theming classes is really important to me as I believe it helps students connect to the practice more deeply. Watch this space yoga teachers for my workshop coming soon helping you learn how to theme classes…

What are the benefits of practicing Vinyasa Flow Yoga?

The benefits are endless! The more I learn and study over the years the more I understand from a scientific viewpoint how beneficial this practice is. To name a few benefits....

  1. Improves functional mobility and your bodies range of motion - this in turn will help to reduce injury in the body and improve your posture.

  2. Lifts your mood! There are certain poses in particular that can help to lift your mood e.g. backbends, as these help us to work against postural habit and open us up to the world. We can also use the breath to help us let go of any baggage we are carrying - that could be conditioning in the mind body or the emotional body.

  3. Increases lunge capacity - a strong respiratory system is so important - not only can it work to help overcome respiratory illnesses but breathing a full in-breathe helps with our bodies physiological function creating what is known as the thoracic pump. Our main respiratory muscle, the diaphragm, contracts creating this pump. This in turn helps lymph and blood flow around the body.

  4. Strengthening the immune system - vinyasa flow yoga is a vigorous practice that helps to activate the lymphatic system - flushing out the bodies toxins, boosting white blood cell levels that fight infections and help prevent disease.

  5. Improves focus - when we are fully present on our yoga mat - linking movement and breath we are 100% focused on the present moment. This awareness that we cultivate on our yoga mat resonates through other areas of our lives. Enabling us to see more clearly in life and respond to lives challenges with clarity.

  6. Helps sleep, calms the mind, reduces stress - Fluidly moving of the body as we do in vinyasa yoga helps us to release tension in the body but also to create a flow state in our lives. The connection to the breath acts like a meditation tool, calming the mind.

  7. Keeps your heart healthy - this is a dynamic practice which gets your cardiovascular system working. Postures focused around the chest help to open up the muscles and tissues around the heart increasing circulation.

  8. Enhances core stability - moving your body through sequences as we do in vinyasa where often we are holding our own body weight helps us to build core strength and stability. This in turn improves balance and makes us feel powerful.

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