The term vinyasa may be broken down into its Sanskritic roots to assist in decoding its meaning. Nyasa denotes "to place" and vi denotes "in a special way." Like many Sanskrit words, vinyasa is a term that has many meanings, such as "breath synchronized movement."
There are four basic definitions of vinyasa: 1) the linking of body movement with breath; 2) a specific sequence of breath-synchronized movements used to transition between sustained postures; 3) setting an intention for one's personal yoga practice and taking the necessary steps toward reaching that goal; and 4) a type of yoga class.
Vinyasa is also employed as a noun to describe the sequence of poses that are performed between Adho Mukha Svanasana or Downward Facing Dog as part of a Surya Namaskara or Sun Salutation sequence. Though this is more correctly termed half-vinyasa as full-vinyasa returns to complete standing asana or positions.
The term vinyāsa refers to the alignment of movement and breath, a method which turns static asanas into a dynamic flow. The length of one inhale or one exhale dictates the length of time spent transitioning between asanas. Asanas are then held for a predefined number of breaths. In effect, attention is placed on the breath and the journey between the asanas rather than solely on achieving perfect body alignment in an asana, as is emphasized in Hatha Yoga.
A standard vinyāsa consists (for example) of the flow from chaturaṅga, or plank, to chaturaṅga daṇḍāsana, or low plank, to ūrdhva mukha śvānāsana or upward-facing dog, to Adho Mukha Svanasana, or downward-facing dog.
The breathing style used in Vinyasa Yoga is Ujjayi which is a relaxed diaphragmatic style of breathing, characterized by an ocean sound which resonates in the practitioner's throat. Throughout a practice, this specific breathing style is maintained in alignment with movements. The steady cycle of inhales and exhales provides the practitioner with a calming, mental focal point. Additionally, viṅyāsa and Ujjayi together create internal heat, which leads to purification of the body through increased circulation and sweating.
Vinyasa yoga offers much diversity. The pace can vary and there is no one particular sequence that instructors must follow. In fact, the name vinyasa can also be translated as "variations within parameters." This flexibility allows the teacher to tailor the sequences to their own philosophy. So, if one class doesn’t work for you, try another, until you find one that you are comfortable with.
It is important to remember a vinyasa is not just any sequence of actions: It is one that awakens and sustains consciousness. In this way vinyasa connects with the meditative practice of nyasa within the Tantric Yoga traditions. In nyasa practice, which is designed to awaken our inherent divine energy, practitioners bring awareness to different parts of the body and then, through mantra and visualization, awaken the inner pathways for shakti (divine force) to flow through the entire field of their being. As we bring the techniques of vinyasa to bear throughout our lives, we open similar pathways of transformation, inner and outer-step by step and breath by breath.
Here's a simple description of a vinyasa and how the breath is connected to each movement:
- Inhale - LIFT your feet and hips off the ground (moving to high plank/high push up)
- Exhale - 4-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga)
- Inhale - Cobra or Upward Facing Dog
- Exhale - Downward Facing Dog
Vinyasa! Now you know. Namaste.