You’re in your first yoga class, and everything is going well; you’re following your teacher’s guidance and watching her demos. But then she gets off her mat to walk around the room, telling you to “take a vinyasa.” But you’re thinking to yourself, but what does it mean to take a vinyasa?
You freeze in confusion but don’t want to ask the teacher what she means as you see the other students moving effortlessly and in sync. So you look around feeling a bit confused and silly trying to figure out what the heck is going on.
If so, don’t worry; this is a common scenario for many yogis when first starting out, myself included. Still, you most likely left that session wondering, “what does it mean to take a vinyasa?” So let’s uncover this strange yoga lingo, so you know what to do next time.
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How do you take a Vinyasa?
You take a vinyasa by flowing one breath to movement performing the following yoga postures in sequential order: Downward Facing Dog, Chaturanga Dandasana, Upward Facing Dog, Downward Facing Dog. To “take a vinyasa” is a common short cue used in dynamic yoga classes. It is most common in a vinyasa flow class, but you’ll also hear it in similar yoga styles like Ashtanga and power yoga.
So what does it mean to take a vinyasa?
The short phrase is a cue to do a set yoga sequence consisting of specific poses; Chaturanga Dandasana, Upward Facing Dog, and Downward Facing Dog. It is four poses done in sequential order and it is part of an extended sequence known as the Sun Salutation, which originates from Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga.
You’ll likely be in Downward Facing Dog when a vinyasa teacher cues this. Yoga teachers tell you to “take a vinyasa” between sequences of standing poses in a vinyasa class. In an Ashtanga class, you also take them in between seated flows.
In a vinyasa flow class, the intention of a vinyasa is to be in continuous movement as it is a dynamic, flowing style where you move with your breath. In Ashtanga yoga, it is recommended to take regular vinyasas to keep the muscles warm.
When cueing to take a vinyasa, every good yoga teacher should give the option to skip it. This is especially important for beginners and people with injuries or health issues. This is because vinyasa practice involves multiple vinyasas, so it can be too physically demanding for some people.
Instead of taking a vinyasa, you can stay in the downward dog or drop to your knees for a child’s pose, or take a variation or modification. The latter is beneficial if you feel tired as it takes the weight off your upper body and wrists.
What are the four basic steps to take a Vinyasa?
A vinyasa features three yoga postures but four steps as you start and end in the same position.
The Vinyasa sequence:
- Downward Facing Dog: You start in the Downward dog position with the legs, arms, and spine straight and hips lifted. Your chest should be pressing towards the thighs, and your head relaxed.
- Chaturanga Dandasana: From Downward Dog, lift your heels and roll your body forwards with a rounded spine (think moving towards plank). Once your shoulders are above your wrists, lower the hips in line with your body in a plank pose. Next, bend your elbows, hugging them into your ribcage as you lower halfway to the ground until your shoulders are in line with your ears and the elbows are at about a 90 degree angle – no lower! An easy way to envision this movement is moving from high to low pushup.
- Upward Facing Dog: Keep your body off the ground, elbows at 90 degrees. On an inhale, roll over the tops of your feet, drop your hips, and straighten your arms. Press your chest forward and draw your shoulders down and away from your ears.
- Downward Facing Dog: On the next exhale, tuck your toes as you lift your hips up and back to return to your starting position.
Note that Chaturanga is an advanced posture and one that is difficult for many people. A gentler alternative is to drop the knees to the floor into a half plank, then lower the upper body.
What is a Vinyasa yoga class?
Vinyasa is a dynamic style of yoga that helps you build strength and stamina in addition to flexibility and balance. It is widely thought that vinyasa is one of the harder forms of yoga because vinyasa flows are a breath-to-movement style yoga class that often includes flowing from one advanced yoga posture to the next. But don't let that put you off!
The four-step vinyasa is just one of the components found in vinyasa classes.
The continuous flow also increases prana (life force) and creates heat within, increasing your energy levels.
In Sanskrit vinyasa means “to place in a special way.” This refers to the arrangement of the yoga postures and how the sequence links movements to the breath.
By moving as you breathe, you gain more awareness of your body and connection to your breathing, which leads to many benefits like stress reduction and improved focus.
Vinyasa vs Hatha
Unlike Hatha yoga, where you hold every standing posture for around five breaths, you continue moving in flow yoga. So, for example, you will move into one pose on an inhalation, transition to the next pose on an exhalation, etc. The point of vinyasa is to link breath to movement.
What is Vinyasa flow like?
Vinyasa can be quite hard, I won’t lie! If you are familiar with Baptiste yoga then you know exactly what I’m talking about!
It can be very physically demanding and challenging, but also playful and fun! Vinyasa flow classes follow the vinyasa krama sequencing method, where each posture builds onto the next. Therefore, the practice starts with gentle warm-up poses and a round or two of sun salutations like Surya Namaskara A or B.
Once the body is warm, you move into the standing sequences where you practice postures like Warrior 1 and Warrior 2. These sequences also include balances like Tree Pose and Dancers Pose.
After the standing sequences are complete, you might practice arm balances or inversions, depending on the level and focus of the class. Then, you’ll practice seated postures involving deep backbends and hip openers balanced out with twists and forward folds.
Finally, you’ll lay down for a few final reclined asanas followed by Savasana, relaxation, and meditation. Your yoga practice may also include pranayama breathing techniques at the beginning or the end.
Takeaway on what does it mean to take a Vinyasa
Now that you know the answer to the question of what does it mean to take a vinyasa, you’ll feel much more confident in your next class. In addition, the more familiar you become with the sequences, the better your breath awareness will be, the most essential aspect of any yoga practice!
However, don’t worry if you initially struggle with finding the rhythm of your breath. It takes time but the more you practice, the easier it will become, and the more magical benefits you will receive.
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