Yoga Essentials: What Does Vinyasa Mean?

Yoga can be a confusing topic for beginners. With a seemingly endless array of terms and poses, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. In this article, I’ll show you the meaning and history of vinyasa.

Close your eyes for a second. I want you to imagine the unfurling of a plant’s petals as it transitions from bud to a beautiful flower. Can you feel the sense of flow that’s present in this motion?

Now think of the rolling tides of the Atlantic, the shifting sands of the Sahara or the continuous dance of the planets.

What links all these phenomena? They all have a sequence of planned and progressive motion. And that’s the essence of a vinyasa – sequential motion.

As you’ve probably guessed, however, that’s just the most simplistic explanation for a deep and important yoga topic. So let’s dive into the details.

The Literal Meaning of Vinyasa

Let’s start with the Sanskrit roots of vinyasa. The term has two components – Nyasa and Vi. Nyasa means “to place,” while the translated meaning of vi is “in a special way.” Put these together and it’s clear that vinyasa means an ordered transition between two or more poses.

In other words, vinyasa is a sequential movement between poses. When joined together, this creates a state of flow that focuses on impermanence. Most importantly, it’s the difference between simple stretching and true yoga.

That’s the classical meaning. But Sanskrit words often have more than one meaning- especially when used in modern yoga practice.

Some people now use vinyasa to refer to a specific sequence of poses. A common example is Chaturanga-Up Dog-Down Dog. You’ll sometimes hear instructors ask their class to “perform a vinyasa,” which usually refers to a pre-planned series.

It’s important to understand that the true meaning of vinyasa is much broader than a few planned sequences. Instead, it is a set of actions that systematically allow a student to move from one point to another. Any sequence performed in a dynamic manner in combination with the breath is a vinyasa.

In fact, this means it can be applied to anything – from yoga poses to your relationships. But that’s beyond the scope of this article.

Why is it Important?

At first glance, vinyasa seems like a simple concept. But its simplicity hides the fact that it’s an essential component of true yoga practice.

As Srivasta Ramaswami wrote in his book, merely stretching the limbs is not practising yoga (I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea). Instead, poses, breathing exercises and movement must be combined if you want to experience the health benefits of yoga.

What is Vinyasa Flowing Yoga?

The term “Vinyasa Yoga” can also refer to a form of yoga practice that focuses on body movement flow in combination with breathing. This is usually performed in a sequence of planned asanas that are combined with the breath. It’s become one of the most popular types of yoga in the US, as it promotes fluid movement to increase stamina, strength and mental health. The combination of poses also may mean Vinyasa increases your heart rate which can help with weight loss.

When Did This Type of Yoga Become Popular?

It’s difficult to say when Vinyasa Yoga first became popular, but it (fittingly) developed as a progression from Ashtanga Yoga. Ashtanga was created during the 20th century, but is less free-flowing and creative than Vinyasa Yoga.

What’s the Difference Between Vinyasa and Ashtanga?

Vinyasa yoga and Ashtanga use similar poses. The biggest difference is that Vinyasa Yoga doesn’t require the student to always perform each pose in the same sequences. This allows the instructor or student to create new and creative sequences, rather than needing to master one sequence before moving to the next.

Due to its popularity, there are now several branches of Vinyasa yoga. If you’ve taken part in a Prana Flow, Power Yoga or Anusara class, you’ve already got some experience with Vinyasa Yoga.

What Happens During Vinyasa Yoga Practice?

One of the strengths of this type of yoga is that the teacher can be creative, so there’s no set format for a class. The only thing that doesn’t change is your movement during practice must be linked to your breath.

Your instructor will teach you how to perform a type of deep breathing through the nose. Every body movement is combined with either an exhalation or inhalation. You can breathe while holding the pose, but it’s essential to use your breath to link asanas.

Vinyasa Yoga is also where the term “take a vinyasa” comes from. This is usually a form of the Sun Salutation and is used to provide an additional link between poses.

Bottom Line

The classical meaning of vinyasa is a series of sequential body movements connected with the breath. While you’ll often hear instructors say “take a vinyasa” while referring to a specific sequence of poses, vinyasa can mean any dynamic sequence that’s combined with the breath.

Vinyasa Yoga is a modern type of yoga class that’s become increasingly popular. It focuses on combining poses and breathing into dynamic sequences – although it allows for more creativity than its predecessor Ashtanga Yoga.

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