Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa is the focused intentional sequence of form, thought movement, and breath. It traces its origins together with Ashtanga both being a physically demanding practice
Vinyasa Yoga
Year founded
circa 1000 BCE

Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa is the focused intentional sequence of form, thought movement, and breath. It traces its origins together with Ashtanga, both being a physically demanding practice that synchronises the breath with every movement to produce internal heat.

Introduction to Vinyasa Yoga: What Vinyasa Yoga is as a yoga style

Vinyasa can be a specific form of yoga practice, but in a broader sense, vinyasa is the mindful process that naturally occurs when we arrange any circumstances correctly. The physical practice involves moving through a set series of postures in which breath is synchronised with every movement to warm up the body. Within, it is meant to free the mind by recontextualising the body, sensations, form and all objects of attention.

The Sanskrit word vinyasa can be broken down into its two components. Nyasa means to sanctify and draw one’s full attention into a particular meditative focus and then release the content of the focus. Vi means to arrange or sanctify in a specific way in response to context, or lack thereof. This implies a sequence of steps and countersteps. Vinyasa then means the focused, intentional sequence of form, thought movement, and breath.

Styles of Yoga: Understanding Vinyasa

Modern Vinyasa is known today within the context of the Ashtanga Vinyasa system of yoga, a form of asana codified by yoga teacher Sri T. Krishnamacharya and his student, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, in the early twentieth century. In this form, specific series of poses are practised in a dynamic, flowing sequence that coordinates movement with the gaze and the breath.

The Ashtanga Vinyasa form also includes the breathing and meditation practices and the union and synthesis of perspectives within each of the eight limbs of yoga described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra.

Like Ashtangis, Vinyasa practitioners consider the purpose of yoga as the ability to control the mind—“citta vritti nirodhah”—as Patanjali states in his second sutra. Only when the mind is quiet and focused in a single direction can the true nature of one’s existence, the universal Self, can be revealed.

Through dedicated practice and the correct application of the Ashtanga-Vinyasa yoga method as presented by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, one undergoes a process of external and internal purification that removes unnecessary stimuli and clears the mind, eventually leading to the full realisation of all eight limbs of Patanjali’s yoga.

Vinyasa Yoga as a Popular Style of Yoga

At the beginning of the 1980s, Ashtanga-Vinyasa yoga grew among the popular styles in the west. Teachers who started out in the traditional system have since developed their own expressions of the practice using the principle of vinyasa, including power yoga, Prana Flow yoga, vinyasa flow yoga, Baptiste Flow, and many others.

The benefit to so many styles using the same vinyasa format is that once you’ve learned the concept, you will feel comfortable in many yoga classes around the world, regardless of their title.

Vinyasa Yoga vs. other yoga styles like Hatha Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga

The majority of yoga practised in the West is Hatha yoga, which involves asanas or yoga postures, pranayama (breathing practises), kriyas (internal cleansing techniques), bandhas (muscular locks and contractions), and mudras (hand gestures and seals), to greater or lesser degrees.

Often mistaken for its own style, hatha yoga is a general term that implies the physical practice of yoga. Ashtanga-Vinyasa, as well as Iyengar, Jivamukti and power yoga are all practices of hatha yoga, although many of them also involve the other branches of yoga.

Vinyasa and Ashtanga are rooted in Krishnamacharya, who standardised his asana sequences into three series, effectively developing this style. Vinyasa means “breathing-movement system”, relating to the linking of movement and breath, one breath for every movement that originated with this style of yoga.

Ashtanga is a classical system of yoga that starts with the sequence Surya Namaskar, or Sun Salutation A. The sequence begins and ends with practitioners in Samastitihi, standing upright, centred and steady at the front of the mat, and consist of repeated vinyasas.

Vinyasa Flow Yoga: A Moving Meditation

In Vinyasa yoga, transitions are the gaps as we move from in-breath to out-breath and back again. The act is meant to be contemplative, subtle, and wonderful. While transitioning in and out of asanas, we consciously practise the inhalation during expansive movements like lifting the arms overhead and moving up and out of a pose. Conversely, we practice more rooted and contracting movements like folding forward, curling the spine, or twisting in conjunction with the exhalation.

After practising asanas for some time in this manner, the patterns of breath and the physical movements associated with both inhaling and exhaling deep within the body become intuitively felt, and these flowing patterns reflexively manifest in our external movements.

As we move in and out of poses in union with the breath, we may experience a sense of seamlessly joining our inner world of experience with the external world of perception and our interactions with others. As we do, the practice takes on a deeply meditative quality.

Key Yoga Poses in Vinyasa

Sun Salutations

Surya Namaskara or sun salutation serves as the foundation of an Ashtanga Vinyasa practice. There are two forms of Surya Namaskara: form A and Form B. Both begin and end in Samastitihi and typically move into an upward salute, forward fold, halfway lift on the inhale and then step back to chaturanga. The quality of the movement in and out of each pose is key to the effectiveness of both sequences.


The full form of chaturanga is like a well-aligned push-up position. Beginners learn by stepping back into a high plank in which the arms are vertical with the elbows slightly bent. The final form is a low plank position with the elbows bent and close to your sides, feet about hip-width apart, gazing to the front.

Downward-Facing Dog

The sixth form in Surya Namaskara is Adho Mukha Svanasana, or downward facing dog pose—the perfect counterpose to Upward Facing Dog Pose. In Ashtanga-Vinyasa, practitioners spend more time in this pose than any other single asana.

On exhalation, the feet are pulled back, hips are raised, and hands press down. The head gradually falls through the arms to complete the form, while the legs and arms continue to activate and fingers and toes keep spreading. The gaze is meant to be held on the point on the floor between your feet or at your navel.

Upward Facing Dog

Also known as Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, Upward Facing Dog pose starts at the inhale. From Chaturanga, you will pull the spine forward and roll onto the tops of the feet as you backbend. The hands are pressing down to straighten the arms without locking the elbows. The heart area floats up high and the pelvic floor will feel as if it’s being pulled way up into the body.

Child’s Pose

The deeply restorative Child’s Pose, or Balasana, is important to the practice to reestablish smooth heart rate. It is also an excellent pose to take on when stressed, tired, or on one’s moon cycle. In child’s pose, you are sitting on the mat with the legs folded back and the feet under the buttocks. Folding forward at the hip joints, you are resting your forehead on the floor and arms are relaxed either reaching up along the floor over the head or draped along the sides of the body.


Backbends are the epitome of the prana family, expressing a sense of extension and expansion up and out. A central physiological aspect of backbends is that we literally “open the heart” to do the poses.

While we may think that backbends are just bending the spine backward, the way to go deeply into backbends and really feel their benefits is to work up and through the body to lengthen and stretch the front of the body from the pelvic floor and to avoid compression of the vertebrae.

Backbends include Locust pose or Salabhasana, lying on the belly and lifting the head, chest, arms and legs. Bridge pose or Setu Bandhasana is another common backbend, which can advance into Urdhva Dhanurasana or Upward Bow (Wheel Pose).

Camel Pose or Ustrasana is an accessible backbend found in the Ashtanga Intermediate Series, while Reclining Hero Pose or Supta Virasana is a restorative backbend that may be used as a form of sitting meditation.

Vinyasa Yoga for Yogis of All Levels

Vinyasa Yoga, a dynamic and evolving art form, is suitable for yogis at all levels, from beginners to the advanced. It is a practice that engages not just the body but also the mind, nurturing seeds of aesthetic satisfaction and flashes of understanding and compassion. This practice goes beyond physical movements; it's an insightful journey into the interconnected nature of all things, mirrored in the constant rhythm of our breath—the inhale and exhale that have accompanied us from our first to our last breath.

The essence of Vinyasa practice lies in the vinyasas, which create and maintain heat for performing asanas. This synchronisation of breath with fluid movement warms the blood, aiding its cardio-vascular circulation and cleansing as explained by yoga instructor Pattabhi Jois. As the blood thins, it flows freely, easing joint pain and flushing out toxins from various parts of the body. This detoxification, evidenced by the sweat produced during practice, leads to a healthier, stronger, and more energised body.

Remember, sweating is not just a byproduct but a goal in Vinyasa Yoga; it symbolises the elimination of impurities and the purification of the body. Once the body is purified, the purification process extends to the nervous system and sense organs, culminating in a state where controlling the mind becomes achievable.


The Art of Vinyasa: Awakening Body and Mind through the Practice of Ashtanga Yoga by Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor

Pick Your Yoga Practice: Exploring and Understanding Different Styles of Yoga Book by Meagan McCrary

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