In a vinyasa yoga class, the movement flows from one posture to the next and is coordinated with your breath.Cara Dolan/Stocksy
If you’re looking for a yoga class that’s likely going to make you sweat, stretch your muscles, and build strength, vinyasa yoga might be for you.
A vinyasa yoga class can often be rigorous and athletic, and participants work up a sweat, explains Jen Fleming, a yoga instructor and teacher trainer in Atlanta, who is certified by Yoga Alliance, the world’s largest nonprofit yoga association that certifies teachers and schools. “People do vinyasa yoga for a variety of reasons, but one of those is usually to get in better shape,” she says.
By Definition, Vinyasa Yoga Is About Combining Movement and Breath With a Flow
The word “vinyasa” comes from the Sanskrit word nyasa, which means “to place,” and the prefix vi, which means “in a special way.” (1) In yoga, it describes a style in which the transition from one pose to the next is coordinated with the breath and flows from one posture to the next, says Shala Worsley, a yoga instructor at the Asheville Yoga Center in North Carolina, where she also leads yoga teacher training programs. Worsley is also certified by Yoga Alliance.
Although vinyasa yoga can be a set sequence of poses that are performed the same way in the same order every time, as in ashtanga, it more often varies from class to class, in terms of which poses are included, the order, and the transitions, Worsley says. “Vinyasa classes [with the exception of ashtanga vinyasa] can be very different depending on the part of country, the yoga community, and the training and philosophy of the instructor,” says Worsley.
Even though vinyasa classes can vary in speed and difficulty, the common denominator is that the movements are supposed to be synced with the rhythm of your breath and flow, she explains. Vinyasa is actually a type of a broader category of yoga called “hatha,” which is categorized by the coordination of movement and breath. The “flow” in vinyasa classes distinguishes it from other types of hatha yoga, according to Rishikul Yogshala, an international yoga education organization. (2)
It means that each inhale and exhale is supposed to trigger a different movement of the body. For example, exhaling might be the signal to raise your hips up into a Downward-Facing Dog pose from a Child’s pose. The following inhale would signal moving into the next pose of the sequence.
“Eventually you might get into some poses that you hold for a certain number of breaths, perhaps slowing down the breath before moving into the next position,” Worsley says.
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Popular Styles of Vinyasa Yoga Include Ashtanga and Power Yoga
There are kinds of yoga that fall under the umbrella of vinyasa. Many vinyasa classes are taught under the umbrella of “flow” or “power” (see more on it below), while others are branded by the individuals who started doing those styles. And in some cases those instructors have to be specially trained to be recognized as a teacher of that school of yoga. A few of the more popular styles include:
• Ashtanga Ashtanga yoga has roots in ancient Sanskrit texts (where the origins of all yoga practices date back to). (2) But in the 20thcentury in the United States, K. Pattabhi Jois is recognized as popularizing a specific version of this type of yoga. (3) It’s vinyasa because it links movement to breath, but unlike most other forms of vinyasa yoga, in Jois’s style of yoga the exact same poses are performed in the exact same order every time. (2)
• Baptiste Yoga Founded by Baron Baptiste, this approach is rooted in three pillars: asana (the Sanskrit word for “yoga poses”), meditation, and inquiry — with the latter two pillars intended to help participants get mentally, as well as physically, stronger. (4,5) Classes are designed to be challenging and active, but also accessible to everyone, according to the brand’s website. (4) There are more than 170 affiliate Baptiste yoga studios around the United States. (4)
• Jivamukti Yoga This type of vinyasa yoga incorporates physical yoga with spiritual development. Chanting, breath work, spiritual teachings, eclectic music, and meditation are part of this flowing yoga class. Jivamukti offers six types of classes, with a slower-moving option for beginners. (6)
• Power Yoga The term “power yoga” is claimed to have originally been coined by Bryan Kest. Though the phrase is now used generically, Kest describes power yoga as a version of ashtanga yoga, containing “elements of physical exercise, mindfulness, moderation, and meditation,” per his website. (7) If you sign up for a power yoga class, expect to work on strength and flexibility, says Worsley. “You’ll get warm and possibly work up a sweat in a power yoga class.”
• Slow Flow Some classes are titled “slow flow” or “slow vinyasa” (