Vinyasa yoga is one of the most practiced styles worldwide according to a survey by the Yoga Journal, it is the most popular style amongst yogis. So, why is it that there seems to be some confusion about what vinyasa is? Is it a style? A sequence? Or is it just a technique? And what exactly does it mean when a teacher says "take a vinyasa?"
Since I was a bit confused with all these concepts, too, I searched for an expert in vinyasa to get some answers. I found advice from Reejo, a teacher certified by the Yoga Alliance and trainer at YogaVimoksha; he helped me to understand vinyasa better and I hope his explanation does the same with you. Catch your breath before you keep reading, you're going to need it to go with the vinyasa flow.
To begin with, there are several definitions of the word itself. Some sources affirm it means "connection;" others translate it from Sanskrit as "to place in a special way"; and there are those who say it's just "flow." With this in mind, it's not surprising the broad usage of the term "vinyasa." Choose whichever definition you like better; the important thing to understand here is that vinyasa always links the breath with the movement.
The focus is on the inhale and exhale while moving from one pose to the next one. For this same reason, some yoga teachers use it to describe a gradual progression of postures connected by inhalations and exhalations (usually from chaturanga to up dog to down dog).
Therefore, when yoga instructors started to base a whole class on these principles, the vinyasa style made its appearance in a lot of studios and yoga retreats all around the globe. According to our expert, Reejo, a lot of the confusion comes from its similarities to other styles. The technique of the vinyasa flow is the same as in Hatha, and many asanas are shared with ashtanga, too. But probably the main distinction of vinyasa is the order of the postures that often changes, two vinyasa classes are rarely identical.
How to do it
Sun salutations A and B are the core of the vinyasa style. They are the the perfect example of linking body movements with our breath. Generally, our body should be flowing upwards when inhaling, and towards the ground when exhaling. But keep in mind that the intention of vinyasa is not to do the poses trying to keep the pace of your accelerated breathing; it's about learning to control it to allow the postures to naturally follow each breath. This is what is called pranayama, and to get the best results, Reejo recommends to constantly practice any of these techniques:
- Anuloma Viloma. The alternate nostril breathing is quite simple to practice to start your day well balanced. In this technique, you inhale through one nostril, retain the air and exhale through the other nostril. The tradition is to adopt the Vishnu Mudra while doing it.
- Kapalbhatti. It could be interpreted as an inverted breathing technique in which the exhalation is more active than the inhalation. The base here is to put emphasis on releasing the air, assuming that all the disorder in your body and soul is also being liberated from your system.
- Ujjayi. Also known as the ocean breath, in reference to the sound it produces. The lips must be sealed and the air has to go through the throat. A good tip to get used to it is by breathing with your mouth open, but closing it in the middle of the inhalation or exhalation.
- Bhastrika. This breathing exercise is used to energize the body and mind. Think of it as a cup of coffee without the negative effects of caffeine. To perform it, you have to use your diaphragm and expand your belly as much as you can when inhaling; the exhale should through the nose, forceful and fast.
Benefits of Vinyasa
Besides the breathing techniques and flow, in Reejo's opinion, vinyasa differentiates from other styles because it pays attention to the whole body without discriminating a single muscle. "It serves as a strength-training process and helps build lean muscle mass throughout the body. The main benefit of using vinyasa yoga as a primary method of building lean muscle mass is that all groups receive equal attention, creating balanced strength throughout the body" he explains.
Also, one of the most common challenges that all yogis face during any practice, is the difficulty to move stiff muscles at will. The good news is that this represents another advantage for vinyasa; its continual flowing movements stretch and elongate the muscles while being strengthened, allowing greater mobility and range of motion compared to other yoga styles.
I'm making vinyasa sound too good to be true, am I not? It is for sure a great yoga style if you truly enjoy a full body and mind experience, but it is only expected to come with some challenges as well that practitioners have to overcome in order to stick to the mat everyday. Reejo agrees that the most challenging part of vinyasa is the transition from basic poses to the more advanced ones (remember you still have to control your breath while standing in the hardest asanas).
A considerable degree of flexibility and strength is required in order to start performing the most difficult postures. Thus, a good dose of patience is key to master vinyasa, since new practitioners may have to take it slowly and spend a year or two with not so rigorous classes in order to build up the foundation of flexibility and strength necessary for advanced sessions.
That's vinyasa, a style that took by storm the yoga world. Now I dare you to re-read this post using one of the breathing techniques I mentioned above. If you have yet to try vinyasa yoga, consider it your first practice.
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No matter how excited you are to travel, some part of you is probably dreading the flight. One of the most unpleasant factors of air travel is sitting in a cramped seat for hours on end. A stiff neck, cramping, and sore muscles affect everyone, but that doesn't mean there's nothing you can do to prevent them. Doing yoga before your flight is a great way to prepare your body for the hours ahead. The following is a simple routine you can follow that will loosen up and stretch out the parts of your body that get hit the hardest during a long flight. (Photo: Shutterstock)
This pose will not only loosen your neck limber before the flight, but can also be done right in your seat. Cup your hand over one ear with your opposite hand and gently bring your nose toward the shoulder. Maintain the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Downward Facing Dog is a great pose for stretching your calves, and well-stretched calves decrease your risk of back pain during travel. To get the best stretch, start in a basic downward dog and pedal your heels, bringing one foot up and then the other. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Wearing shoes for the entirety of a long-haul flight will cause your feet to feel stiff and cramped. Stretch them out by tucking your toes under and sitting back on your heels for a full foot stretch. (Photo: Shutterstock)
This is a great pose to improve your neck and shoulder flexibility, which will decrease your risk of neck pain while building shoulder fitness. From all fours, bring one shoulder and ear to the mat while sliding the arm on that side under your supporting arm, then repeat on the other side. (Photo: Shutterstock)
If you're stuck in a small seat for hours, the groin and hips will stiffen up, but by practicing butterfly pose, you can loosen them up beforehand. Sitting up tall, bring the soles of your feet together and allow your knees to drop toward the floor into a diamond shape. To try a more intense version of this stretch, try to bring your heels closer to your hips. (Photo: Shutterstock)
When you sit in the same position, your hipflexor muscles will be in a constant state of contraction, which causes low back pain and tightness. Loosen these muscles before your flight with these low lunges. Keeping your right ankle directly beneath your knee, place the left knee onto the mat and untuck your toes. Sink your pelvis forward as you place your palms on the front knee for balance, then switch. (Photo: Shutterstock)
One of the many problems of sitting for long hours is the pressure it puts on your sciatic nerve, the longest and widest nerve in your body (it extends from your lower back into your legs). The best thing you can do to alleviate sciatic nerve pressure before a flight is to stretch your glutes out with this pose. Lying on your back with bent knees, cross your right ankle over your left knee and interlace your palms behind the left thigh, then gently draw your knees toward your chest, keeping your feet flexed. Repeat on the other side. This routine was put together by Lauren Rotondella, a certified yoga and pilates instructor based in New Jersey. Lauren can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the original story: The Perfect Yoga Routine For Before Your Flight by Jamie Ditaranto, who is a contributor to SmarterTravel. (Photo: Shutterstock)
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