Vinyasa Flow Yoga has originated from the most traditional and known form of yoga: Hatha Yoga. The poses you encounter in Hatha Yoga, you will probably see in Vinyasa Yoga as well. In Vinyasa these movements are connected to each other like a dynamic dance, guided by a strong and calm yogic breath. Although there is a lot of movement in Vinyasa Flow Yoga, the breathing can make it a meditative experience. The movements will free the body of physical and emotional blockades and will let your energy flow freely again.
Often this form of Yoga is called Vinyasa Flow Yoga, but this is actually a pleonasm. When we divide the Sanskrit word Vinyasa, VIN already means flow. YASA means in a good path. A flow in a good path! Probably adding the word flow speaks more to the imagination to people who have not yet a clear image of Vinyasa Yoga. (My class is also called Flow Yoga at one of the studio’s I work at, instead of its full name).
The linked movements in Vinyasa Yoga are grouped in sequences. The different vinyasas (variations) are linked to each other by a succession of special transitional movements, synchronized by your breath. Each Vinyasa Yoga class is structured as followed:
- Starting the Yogic Process/grounding on your mat
– A short meditation, pranayama (breathing exercise) or a focus on the Ujjayi breath
– Warming up the joints
– Sun Salution A/B
- Working towards a peak
– Different sequences with their progression and counterposes and perhaps,
– Standing asana’s and perhaps,
– Working on core/abdominals
- Peak of a Vinyasa Yoga class (depends on the experience of the students)
– Arm balances or,
– Headstand variations or,
– Back Bends
- Cool Down/Decompression
– Inversions like shoulderstand
– Final resting pose
In Vinyasa Yoga there is a clear connection between your Drishti (focus point), your Bandha’s (energy locks), Ujjayi breath (sea sound breath) and Asana’s (postures).
Breathing in Vinyasa Yoga
The most common breathing technique used in Vinyasa Flow is the Ujjayi Pranayama. This breathing technique is known for connecting body with mind. When holding on to this strong and deep breath from one vinayasa to the other, you can experience a meditative state. Inhalations accompany expansive movements (f.e. a chest opener like Upward Facing Dog) and long smooth exhalations accompany contractive movements (f.e. any forward bending or Downward Facing Dog). This is what is meant by the connection between breath and movement in Vinyasa Flow Yoga.
Ujjayi breath is performed by breathing out while making a hissing sea sound high up in the throat. By constricting the throat more or less, the sound gets louder or softer. With more and more practice, your Ujjayi inhalations and exhalations get stronger and louder. This will only enhance your practice and deepen the meditative state you will be in during your classes. Direct your attention inside your chest and feel where your breath is centered. Focus on the point where inhalation seems to start and where exhalation finishes. If you have your breathing mapped, start Ujjayi breathing. When you are ready, start connecting your breathing to the movements you make. In the beginning you will often forget about your Ujjayi breathing after a few movements, just pick up where you left off whenever you notice. It will become a routine when you practice (Vinyasa) yoga regularly.
This very important energy locks take care of a good posture during practice and will make sure your prana (energy) will flow in all the right directions. When you pay attention off your bandha’s during yoga – and in daily life – the body creates a pathway that helps to control various systems in the body such as digestive, sexual and hormonal. Controlling your bandhas means controlling your body, which gives you a strong healthy posture and therefore an upright confident appearance.
Five different Bandhas
- Pada bandha
In my yoga practice I like to build up my body starting with my feet, so I will start explaining the Pada bandha first. When the feet are on the mat, spread the toes and divide them equally in front of your feet. Distribute the weight on your feet evenly by focusing on three arches of your foot: the big toe the little toe, the big toe to the center of your heel and the center of the heel to the little toe. This will create an imaginary triangle underneath your feet. Remind yourself of this bandha in daily life as well, it is the very base of a healthy standing posture. In most yoga classes, you will be asked to place your feet hip wide apart, in some you place your feet directly next to each other. I prefer a hip distance apart.
- Mula bandha
This bandha focusses on the pelvic floor. Tilt your pelvic by contracting your lower abdominal muscles, you will feel the lazy hollow in the lower part of your back getting straight. Your back and front is now directly in line with your hips, which are directly in line with your feet. You can help yourself focus on tilting the pelvic floor by deliberately closing the anus and drawing in the rectum. By this you contract the perineal and the surrounding muscles of the pelvic floor.
- Uddiyana bandha
Directly after focusing on the Mula bandha – or in a continuous movement – you focus on the Uddiyana bandha. This bandha focusses on the abdominals, by taken the navel in and pulling the muscles lightly up in the direction of the ribcage. By focusing on the abdominals, you will strengthen and protect your back during your practice. Focusing on these last to bandha’s in daily life is no punishment for your posture either.
- Jalandhara bandha
Also known as the chin lock. Whenever you are in a standing posture, a posture where you keep your spine erect or during forward bends, you should use this energy lock. Take in your chin, in the direction of your breastbone. The back of your neck will become straight and in line with your back and rest of your body, which you just locked with the previous bandha’s. You cannot use the Jalandhara bandha in backbends and twisting movements.
- Hasta bandha
The final bandha is the one which is used when your hands are on the mat, like for example when you practice Downward Facing Dog or a handstand. Place the hands on the mat and spread the fingers wide and on an equal distance apart from each other. Press them into the mat, enhancing the natural arch in the palm of the hand. By pressing the hand into the mat you will allow the body weight to be evenly distributed. This energy lock also protects the elbows and shoulders, by paying attention on bearing your weight.
This sums up Vinyasa Flow
- A yoga class exists out of different sequences, one movement followed by another
- Connection through breath for a meditative and balancing effect
- One movement always follows another, whether slow or fast
- Focus on your drishti, bandhas, breathing and asanas.
- The flow from one movement to another can be experienced as a dynamic dance
- Vinyasa Yoga is an evolving form of Hatha Yoga with the same norms and values
Experience my Vinyasa Yoga classes by visiting one of the classes I teach in The Netherlands!
You are welcome anytime!