One of the most popular and intrinsic forms of Yoga practiced today, especially on the Western front is Vinyasa. This aspect of yoga is embedded within various systems such as Ashtanga, Hatha, Hot, Baptiste, Jivamukti, Power, and other methods. Because vinyasa in itself is a universal technique, it is inherent in almost every form of Yoga. Vinyasa has offshoot into its own focus and is often referred to as Vinyasa Krama.
This all body, all mind, and all-heart expansion experience – a beautiful, moving dynamo acts as a cleansing medium to dig deep, purify, and come out stronger than you have ever imagined yourself to be. It is seen as a meditative expression that precisely equates to the original means and goal of Yoga: Liberation from suffering.
What is Vinyasa?
Definitively, the Sanskrit term Vinyasa means ‘linking mechanism’ or ‘joining link’. Breaking it down, Vi means ‘in a special way’ or ‘variation,’ and Nyasa means ‘to place within prescribed parameters.’
By integrating the functions of mind, body, and breath in the same time frame, a practitioner will experience the real joy of yoga practice. Each of the important postures (asanas) is practiced with many elaborate vinyasas (variations and movements). Each variation is linked to the next one by a succession of specific transitional movements, synchronized with the breath.
The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga, Srivatsa Ramaswami.
Vinyasa yoga is an intelligent entrainment of the body, mind, and breath within a specific sequence of postures placed in a certain way (vinyasa) for the achievement of a distinct goal. This describes the common term vinyasa krama which refers to the ‘step by step progression’ or ‘process’ through which postures flow.
The deliberate and skillful design of postural sequence dictates a practice that is effective, practical, safe and potent. It is important to note that by linking the breath with movement (vinyasa), there unfolds an efficient, moving meditation.
The four parameters of Vinyasa Krama are:
Jivana Prayatna (Effort of Life/Breathing)
Saithilya ( Smooth and Long Breathing)
These parameters are referenced in the Yoga Sutras, Ch. 2.46, ‘steadiness and comfort characterize the yogic posture (asana)’, and Ch. 2.47, ‘by making the breath smooth (and long), and focusing the mind on the breath, the perfection of the posture is obtained.’ Srivatsa Ramaswami highlighted that Krishnamacharya suggested focusing mind particularly on the breath rather than the asana or posture, according to one of Ramaswami’s loyal student.
‘Vinyasa flow’ – a cue that initiates a certain progression of postures that acts as a transition between asana families or as a transition in between postures. It carries a sense of clearing the mat which then readies for the continuation of practice.
A popular ‘yoga flow’ utilized:
Intention is a key aspect in Vinyasa. When arranging something in a special way, it also refers to placing the hands in a certain way. The two hands are the extension of the heart and its placement is a process to respect, to meditate with. When your intention is one pointed, like a beautiful dance, the hands guide so the rest of the body follows and rickshaws into precise alignment.
The vinyasa form is synonymous to a freestyle version of Ashtanga or Bikram. Compared to Ashtanga or Bikram which has a set sequence, Vinyasa’s flexible structure interweaves dynamic postural variations and transitions to create a ceremonial dance. Vinyasa yoga pays homage to the transient nature of life and tunes the practitioner into what is changing and what remains the same. Comparatively, Ashtanga and Bikram practices tune the practitioner on the nature of his own being that is in constant metamorphose while experiencing the same routine.
Other key elements includes the resourcefulness of counter-poses, accessibility of postures, and focus on meeting the group or individual needs so to provide an appropriate yoga blueprint for maximum efficiency.
Counter-poses: Poses that neutralize the spine and move in an opposite direction than the asana prior. For example in a lateral bend to the right, the counter-pose is lateral bend to the left or when in a deep backward bend, an effective counter-pose is a gentle twist.
Accessibility of Postures: Vinyasa is great for an all-levels practice, where beginners and advanced may practice in the same class, each having space to go deeper within their appropriate skill level.
Group/Individual needs: The original Yoga is adapted to the individual or group needs in focus. This is what makes Yoga such an amazing, universal science at the same time, extremely personal.
Vinyasa looks at the divine balance of the Universe and provides a way to mirror the intelligent order of Cosmic Harmony. By retracing the pathways of energy from our senses to our Inner most Self, through the vinyasa method one can enter into a very deep concentration and thus prepare the way for meditation to be effortless and present.
Yoginis tune into Nature’s codes that exhibit natural cycles of evolution and seasonal change. Every practice yields for focused intention while moving towards a deep awareness of the nature of self and respecting the processes of Life/Death/Life. This existential phenomenon mirrors Nature, so the maxim speaks ‘As above, so below, as within, so without.’ Life is animating with a great mysterious power and so to understand activity is through action itself. The precise action that reflects the universal pulse of creation and destruction with its ebbs and flows, waves and points, masculine and feminine, presence and absence, light and dark and the underlying thread of Consciousness that interweaves through it all.
Vinyasa helps to connect our mind and body. For most of the time we are in our heads, minds, thoughts, day-dreams and rarely are we working in unison with our body. We may have the idea to go and exercise and dream about running this marathon, but when you come back to the present moment you find your body still sitting there. Why is that?
This is why it is meditative and extremely beneficial for those who have an active mind, which is pretty much all of us. Thus, we are yogini’s in training.
In all yoga, the breath is quintessential, for breath carries prana or life-force energy that is the all animating quality of life. Without the breath, we cease to exist. When our breathing is choppy, shallow, jerky, or in any other way disturbed, it creates a disturbed (Kshipta) dull (Mudha) or distracted (Vikshipta) state of mind. Through vinyasa practice and exploration of other breath techniques, we learn how to control our breathing by becoming aware of it. This breath regulation through the exercise of pranayama, one of the eight limbs, strengthens our connection with the Universal Energy. It is the unifying force that integrates the mind and body to join as one.
One cultivates this through awareness of the breath. There is a science to breathing but for now, the breath should be smooth, long, refined, as indicated in Ch.2.50 in Pantanjalim’s Yoga Sutras. Pranayam and the balanced breath invites the expansion of energy and becomes the revitalizing etheric Intelligence that grounds one into the present moment.
When the mind wanders, focusing on the breath fortifies a single pointed focus. In Sanskrit this is called ekagra state of mind and with practice of mind in this way, it opens the way for mastery of the mind or Nirrudah to naturally unfold.
Breathing patterns are subject to change according to the practitioner. This feedback system indicates if we have gone too far or if we are not fully engaged in our practice. The breath should be smooth, long and refined, and made continuous so as to even be motionless.
There are general rules that orient the breath in a certain way, so for example inhales are cued with expansive movements such as back extensions and extension of any of the limbs, while exhales are joined with contracting movements such as forward folds and twists. Also, on the inhales, postures are held through an uplifting action, while the exhales ground the practitioner to move deeper into the pose. Meanwhile, the ratio of the inhales and exhales are equivalent to the physical movements while practitioners settle into, hold and exit each posture.
By redirecting our breath, the nervous system is strengthened, bodily movements are initiated, capacity to repose into a relaxed state of consciousness is increased, and application of a balanced foundation for practice while establishing a rhythmic sonority throughout.
For example, if you are in a standing position and the next asana is extended mountain, the inhalation extends your arm out to the side and up, and on the exhale, you lower the arm out to the side and back down. It does not take two breaths to raise your arm up, and three breaths to lower the arm down, although if you are a beginner this may happen and with practice, breath-movement synchronization is accomplished. The goal is matching the breath with each movement. The breath is even, and steady and so the physical gestures also become smooth and steady.
The breath-extension technique utilized in Vinyasa is known as Ujjayi. It translates to the Victorious breath and is an oceanic quality by contracting the back of the throat which creates a hissing resonance as the air travels through the narrow vocal chords.
Asanas are the physical postures that strengthen, balance, elasticize, invert, and relax the body in space. The root word –as– means ‘to sit.’ The idea is that when practiced, asanas become a meditative seat. There are two core means for perfecting asana. They are sthira (steadiness) and sukha (ease). Hence, the Sanskrit phrase II-46 sthira sukham asanam. The perfection of asana leads to freedom from the pairs of opposites and any suffering that comes with experience of the two extremes, hot-cold, dark-light, masculine-feminine, and evil-good.
Asanas are grouped into certain classes. They consist of standing postures, seated postures, postures for the core, balancing postures, inverted postures, reclining postures, twists, supine (lying on the back) postures, and final relaxation postures. All asana practices are so the yogini can meditate with spine erect, and merge with Infinity without being distracted by the body or the mind.
Five core aspects
Awareness. Awareness of sensations in the body, where the body is positioned in space, contact points, breath and more.
Alignment. Structural and energetic alignment of the pose
Energy Lines. Exertion of muscular effort (the energy line that flows from the outside-in) in a specific direction as well as the reciprocal organic energy that expresses itself from the inside-out.
Co-ordination. Synchronization in of breath and movement
Control. Deliberate and conscious control of movements in space while entering, holding, and exiting the posture rather than jerky, ballistic or collapsing momentum.
Bandhas are internal practices that regulate Energy known as prana within the body. The Sanskrit definition is ‘to lock, tighten or bind.’ During postural practice, through subtle, muscular contractions, the physical body tightens and the energy is locked into place. Stagnant, blocked, under-active, or over-active Energy experienced in one area more than others disturbs the equalizing, free-flow of prana within the body. There are three main bandhas that are practiced within Vinyasa:
Muladhara bandha – Root lock. Contraction of the perineum floor, the muscle between the anus and gonads.
Uddiyana bandha – Navel lock Contraction of the navel, in and upwards towards the chest cavity.
Alandhara bandha – Throat lock. Slight contraction of the throat while chin drops into sternum.
The bandha gesture is more of a subtle tightening rather than a forceful contraction. When the three bandhas simultaneously work together, they create the maha bandha or ‘great lock.’
As in Ashtanga practice, the focus point or gazing place is known as drishti. There are 9 gazing places that change in correspondence with each posture.
Asanas are sequenced according to a well-rounded, deliberate design. The intention is to strengthen the physiological system and the conducive activity of the spine by exercising the spine in 6 directions: extension, flexion, lateral bends and twists. By flowing through the different categories of asanas, while the asanas themselves may vary, each class of asana is worked on creating balance, flexibility, strength, detoxification, expansion, inversion and relaxation throughout the entire system.
The most common sequence can be found in a diagram that resembles a bell-shaped curve. The bell curve correlates to the increasing difficulty through which one flows in preparation for the peak pose. Next, one practices cooling postures into final relaxation. Classes are sequenced according to theme, anatomy, intention, or by intuitive instruction of their teacher (from the guidance of their teacher).
General outline of how a vinyasa flow can be sequenced
Centering Meditation. Grounding into the present moment and preparing for practice.
Intention setting. Breath-extension (pranayam) technique, warming the body. Often a mantra is used to unify the class.
Warm up practices. This includes, but is not limited to, Surya Namaskar A/B- often with variations, and alternative exercises following the mobilities of the spine, and other joint rotations.
Strength forming segment. This includes standing postures, lunar sequences and balancing poses.
Challenging sequence. This includes inversions, arm-balances and abdominal strengthening.
Opening sequence. This includes floor postures that opens the lower body. This includes hip-openers.
Deepening sequence. This includes intense backbends and hip-openers. This section may include alternative arm balances.
Restoring section is the cooling down phase. This includes postures lying on the back known as supine poses.
Finishing postures. This includes final resting and relaxation postures. This includes restorative poses ending in savasana or ‘corpse pose.’
T. Krishnamacharya (1888-1989) is known as the ‘Father of Yoga.’ He dedicated forty years of his life to study scriptural texts, chants, aryuvedic medicine, vedic astrology, yogasana (yoga posture), pranayam (breath-extension exercise) and other energetic disciplines learned from masterful teachings from sages and gurus upon various regions in India. Later, he rooted his forum in Mysore at the Maharaja Palace, where he took on a number of students and began teaching. Three students that marked the precipice of modern yoga were Pattabhi Jois who expounded on Ashtanga Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar who expounded Iyengar Yoga, and T.V.K. Desikichar who carried out the therapeutic application and accessibility of Vinyasa method. Krishnamacharya examined the vinyasa form as a principle approach towards harmony within all relations and domains of life.
Another active yogi whose name is Srivatsa Ramswami studied directly under the teachings of Sri Krishnamacharya, for 30-years, and authorized a compilation of Vinyasa Krama in ‘The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga.’
Vinyasa Yoga on Youtube
World renowned Vinyasa Yoga Instructor Shiva Rea guides an all-levels energetic, vinyasa class at Wanderlust in this incredible video. She interweaves philosophy, practice, mantra, mudra (energy seals) and heart wisdom through the vinyasa method, taking others on a journey inside themselves.
The influential yogini master Seane Corn guides a yoga detox vinyasa flow in this video. She imparts her wisdom to a healthier, more blissful life. This vinyasa flow induces an increase in energy and blood circulation, a calmer mind and deep cleansing.
Internet sensation Yoga with Adriene guides an awesome Yoga flow emphasizing awareness, breath, and foundation in this video. She provides optional variations to build into your practice. This 40-minute sequence is great for strength building, focus, expansion, and flexibility. She also provides many other videos that provide a complete breakdown of postures found within the Vinyasa method.
Books on Amazon
The Complete Book of Vinyasa: The Authoritative Presentation – Based on 30 years of Direct Study Under the Legendary Yoga Teacher Krishnamacharya. By Srivatsu Ramaswami. An amazing written work that dives deep into the traditional and authentic teachings of the yogi legend T. Krishnamacharya as learned by his disciple Srivatsu Ramaswami. This is an extensive catalogue that brings light to the Vinyasa method and includes yoga postures with pictures, breath-extension techniques, philosophy, and other rare quality yogic wisdom.
Price — $13.67
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Da Capo Press; Pap/Com edition (July 7, 2005)
Pioneering Vinyasa Yoga: The Adventure and Daily Practice. By Doug Swenson and forward by David Swenson. This written work outlines a holistic approach to an overall balance lifestyle while inspiring an integrative yoga practice through detailed yoga routines, breath practice, yoga diet, internal cleansings, meditation techniques and much more.
Price — $24.95
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Doug Swenson (June 15, 2017)
Yoga Mat Companion: Anatomy for Vinyasa Flow and Standing Poses. By Ray Long MD, FRSC. Ready to take your practice to the next level? Explore this insightful index of precise anatomical alignment within Vinyasa yoga postures that will carry you gracefully throughout your yoga flow.
Price — $19.75
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Bandha Yoga; First Edition edition (December 22, 2010)
Vinyasa Yoga Teachers in the US and their Instagram’s
Shiva Rea #shivarea108. International, master yogini Shiva Rea founded Prana Vinyasa, her uniquely framed Vinyasa yoga method that is devoted to sparking the awakening within to tap into a Universal energy that is available to everyone.
Dashama Konah. #dashamalove. International, master yogini Dashama Kohan founded Pranashama Institute. Dashama is well versed in the Vinyasa method fused with profound influences of Buddhism, Ashtanga, Martial Arts, Meditation and other spiritual elements and now has teacher trainings and holistic retreats in amazing places all over the world.
Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training and Certification Process
There are many teacher trainings that provide yoga certification in the vinyasa system. Unfortunately, there are many schools that provide RYT 200 & 500HR certification, but out of alternative business motives and thus students resort to teaching an incomplete form of Yoga.
The key is to research extensively which local or international trainings may you connect with and you feel are best. The vinyasa method is often presented in a variance of ways according to the teacher and the lineage they studied under. Many vinyasa practices are fusion based schools that integrate a number of theoretical and practical elements that will make the teacher and their method stand out. At the same time, there are very traditional vinyasa schools based all over the globe. Be mindful to learn from a school that is dedicated to teaching the right principles, practice and philosophy of Yoga rather than studios that just want to do business. You will find the most rewarding teachings and most transformational journeys source from the goal of the school or studio is not about finances but about the appreciation and respect for Yoga.
Locate an instructor who has a disciplined practice and a thorough understanding, training, and experience teaching on the complete origins and practice on Vinyasa yoga.
Resources for Further Reading
Learn more about designing transformational yoga sequences with this written work. Amazing for teachers and beginners who want to explore closely the mechanics and artistry that goes into designing a yoga flow.
An amazing resource that contains original texts from T. Krishnamacharya as well as other written applications on the light of Vinyasa and Ashtanga. Familiarize yourself with the universal language of Vinyasa within different systems such as Ashtanga.