Vinyasa is a style of yoga that has several translations: “breathing system,” “flow,” “to place,” “movement,” or “arranging in a special way.” But it boils down to a gradual progression from one posture to the next, allowing the yogi to move with fluidity with every inhale and exhale.
Many traditional styles of yoga, like Ashtanga and Bikram, follow a set sequence in a precise order. However, Vinyasa is open to the yogi's choice of creativity, usually dynamic and powerful.
While the same poses are often practiced in Vinyasa, the order and variance of each asana may be different. The phrase “take a Vinyasa” has become popular among yoga instructors and refers to practicing the same set of sun salutations between mountain pose and downward facing dog. But that's not always the case.
The important part is to make sure the poses link the breath with the movement. And with the freedom of this particular style, there are several different ways to get creative and sequence a Vinyasa flow.
1. Set an Intention
Setting up the practice with a theme or intention may make a mundane practice become magical. It deepens the experience beyond the physical aspect to something more spiritual, bridging the gap between the yogi’s experience on and off the mat.
Intention setting is often introduced in the beginning of the practice to set the stage and bring the yogis into the present moment. They are often relevant to one or more of the poses in the series. For example, a series of heart-opening poses may be centered around love and trust.
To create a powerful intention, share an anecdote, passage, philosophy, principle or a personal story with moral values that specifically address common scenarios yogis may experience. Sometimes the instructor may ask the yogi to close their eyes and set their own personal intention to carry throughout the flow.
2. Try Sun Salutation Variations
Though vinyasas are supposed to be dynamic, they often preserve the traditional Surya Namaskars, or Sun Salutations. However, the yogi has the freedom to vary these poses up, as long as it flows with ease.
It’s common for Vinyasa instructors to guide yogis through traditional Sun Salutation A, and then get creative with Sun Salutation B, leading into other standing poses. That way, the yogi has an opportunity to get out of their head with a flow they're likely to already know, and then be challenged with something unfamiliar.
For example, from Downward Facing Dog, instead of coming into Warrior I, bring the yogi into Crescent pose, which is an easy transition into Warrior III.
3. Add a Twist
Vinyasa flows are usually powerful and challenge the body to balance or twist in unnatural positions. After sun salutations, it’s time to take the push of the body and mind out of the yogi’s comfort zone.
Twists are a good addition to increase body awareness, improve spinal mobility, detoxify the body and prepare the yogi for more challenging poses. Revolved Triangle and Side Angle pose are common twisty choices. And twists like Seated Spinal Twist are good choices for the cooldown.
One-legged poses and arm balances allow the yoga to experience their center of gravity, as they may wobble a bit to find their stability. Standing Splits, Warrior III and Tree pose are common balance poses to add.
You can use Standing Splits in balance sections, too, as the fold resets the mind while the lift challenges the balance. Or add Seated Spinal Twists as often as possible. Try not to balance students on one leg for more than three poses in a row, as this can be injurious to the SI joints.
If you see them shaking out their feet, they've been standing on one leg for too long. This whole section should run for about 10 minutes with two to three breaths in each pose.
4. Pick a Peak
After yogis have warmed up with Sun Salutations, standing balances and maybe a few twisting postures, they've prepared their bodies to engage in a more challenging peak pose. There are usually specific postures that are best to include in the middle of the flow to prepare the body for the peak pose.
For example, to prep for Bird’s of Paradise, it’s best to establish strength and balance in the legs with poses like tree and open chest and shoulders, while strengthening legs in poses like Bound Triangle Pose.
Some yoga instructors may demonstrate the posture, others may choose to sneak it in the middle of a flow. Or the peak pose may be a few minutes of work with inversions or arm balances. All-level or beginner classes usually have one peak pose, whereas intermediate to advanced classes may have two or more.
5. Take Time to Cool
The beginning of the practice may prepare the yogi for peak pose, but the entire series gets them ready for the finale — Savasana. The final resting pose brings closure to the practice as the yogi deeply relaxes into a state of inner peace and calm. It’s important to have a slow, unrushed cooldown to transition the yogi’s high energy to a low and slow function.
Cooldown poses counter the engaging muscular activity of the heating poses to prevent injury and dizziness. The cooldown exercises allow the muscles to stretch and enhance flexibility. Once the yogi’s body transitions into this state, they're more likely to enjoy what the gurus claim to be the most important pose of the practice, Savasana.
What Do YOU Think?
How do you like to get creative with your Vinyasa flows? Are there any unique poses that stood out to you when taking a class? Let us know in the comments below.