The First Class, Yoga Practice

What is vinyasa? Part 1.

The word vinyasa means connecting breath with movement. Often times, you’ll hear it in two places. 1. Describing the style of the class. 2. A sequence of poses, usually as a transition from one flow to another. Today’s post will break down the first: The Vinyasa class.

The Vinyasa class

When you see vinyasa on the schedule, you can expect that it will be a flowing, moving practice rather than a static practice or one with lots of starts and stops. Vinyasa classes are designed as a sequence of poses that make sense together. For example, a flow may have 3-5 standing poses that are all forward-facing hips (such as warrior 1 –> warrior 3 –> warrior 1 –> revolved warrior) as those poses smoothly transition from one to the next versus a standing pose, followed by seated, followed by supine.

Generally, the breath that connects poses are inhale for upward/forward/opening motions and exhale for downward/backward/closing motions. If you ever lose your breath while practicing, think about the direction of the movement and jump back on the breath train. This connection of breath with movement is what gives this style of practice a meditative feel.

Within vinyasa as a class descriptor, there is also a wide variety of styles. Some of this depends on the studio and how they market their classes. More than anything, you can get a better idea of the style of class based on the teacher’s background.

Power Vinyasa is usually a faster moving practice that emphasizes a lot of strength poses and requires more stamina. You may be asked to stay in warrior legs longer, balance on one leg for a series of poses, or take difficult transitions like handstands and arm balances. I’ve found that any class with “power” in the name expects some amount of previous experience and a certain level of fitness. Often times, a power class will feel more like fitness yoga since it focuses so much on strength.

A general Vinyasa class is probably medium paced. (Again, classes are very much dependent on the teacher, so ask around or look at the studio’s website for teacher info.) You might stay in some poses for a breath or two before moving on to the next. It can be creative, balancing strength and rest, working toward a peak pose, or cover a little of everything. Look for the class to start to wind down 2/3 of the way through for calming stretches and eventually to savasana.

Slow Flow Vinyasa classes are exactly how they sound. They move slower, demand more mental capacity to stay in poses longer, and can be just as challenging as their faster-moving sister classes. The slower pace requires longer, deeper breaths to last the full transition from one pose to another. You may actually feel more sore after a slow flow class because it asks you to engage deeper core muscles to carefully move between poses.

I personally stay away from power vinyasa classes. They’re fun every once in a while, but I find I end up doing more harm to my body by over-straining certain muscle groups or joints. I remember I went to a heated power class once, and we did so much in the hips without any relief in between. Maybe it was a poorly sequenced class or my body wasn’t primed for that much hip work, but I had to rest my hips for a few days afterward.

There are also a number of “branded” vinyasa classes out there, like Baptiste and Forrest, which are named for their creators. Then, there is the original vinyasa class, ashtanga, which is a traditional practice that inspired the many modern vinyasa classes that we see today.

For beginners, I’d say start by looking at the teacher’s bio or ask studio staff who they would recommend. Someone who teaches a little slower, has simpler sequencing, and emphasizes body placement and breath will do better with beginners. Save classes with more complicated, creative sequencing and big transitions for when you’re ready to put your foundational skills to the test. The most important thing is to LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. If you need a break, take child’s pose. Just because someone across from you is doing headstand does not mean you too should jump into it. All in good time. This is a lifetime practice.

If you have any questions about vinyasa classes, leave me a comment!

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about vinyasa as a sequence of poses used as a transition.

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  1. Pingback: What is vinyasa? Part 2. – Finding Drishti

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