Vinyasa is a flow form of yoga that uses your breath to move you through poses. It’s a great way to stay fit, get stronger, and improve your flexibility. Here’s what to know before you sign up for your first class.
Even if you’ve never taken a yoga class, you probably know exactly what vinyasa yoga is. It’s the style of yoga where poses flow seamlessly from one to the next.
When most people think of yoga, vinyasa is probably what they’re thinking of. Curious about trying out this type of yoga? Here’s what to know before you flow.
Vinyasa yoga “is a style of yoga where you ‘flow’ between poses, meaning you don’t sit or stand statically in one pose and then change to another pose,” says yoga teacher Kate Ingram, MPH, RDN, RYT-500.
Instead, she explains, you use your breath as a way to travel between poses. And normally, you’ll do a specific flow (or vinyasa) between each series of poses. It goes like this:
- Come forward to a plank position on an inhale.
- Lower down to chaturanga (or four-limbed staff pose) on the exhale.
- Inhale up to cobra pose or upward-facing dog.
- Exhale back into downward-facing dog.
The classes can be fast-paced and a great workout, even if they feel very chill in the moment.
“I think it’s very graceful, but also can be very challenging,” says Ingram.
Vinyasa is a really popular style of yoga, so you’ll probably be able to find a vinyasa class at most yoga studios. And if you’re doing online classes, look for sessions with “flow” in the name if you can’t find one that’s clearly labeled “vinyasa.”
There are a few other major types of yoga. Here’s how they compare to vinyasa, according to Ingram.
Hatha yoga goes at a much slower pace. It’s often a good option for beginners or older folks.
“It really helps you to improve your strength and flexibility while increasing focus and mindfulness,” says Ingram.
“Bikram yoga is a specific style of hot yoga that follows a set sequence of poses performed in a space that’s 95-108°F (35-42°C),” says Ingram. “However, hot yoga has become more general in the U.S. and you may find variations in the temperatures and poses taught in different classes.”
She adds that it’s important to hydrate well before and after because hot yoga can cause extreme sweating. It also carries a risk of overstretching because your muscles feel much more flexible in the heat.
“In restorative,” Ingram explains, “you only do a few poses but hold them for a much longer time, often with the use of props like yoga blocks, cushions, and blankets.”
She says that this type is excellent for stress, pain relief, and sleep.
Vinyasa is great for overall fitness, flexibility, and mental wellness.
Vinyasa yoga offers a combination of cardio and bodyweight exercise, making it a great well-rounded addition to your fitness routine.
The pacing of the class can get your heart rate up and improve your cardiovascular fitness. And in many of the poses you’ll be building strength and muscle by holding up your own body — think planks, downward-facing dogs, and any balancing poses.
Ready to flex? Vinyasa yoga is a great way to get more limber and bendy.
You don’t have to be a human pretzel before you start yoga, either. There are modifications for all bodies, so you can get started at any fitness level.
Finally, yoga is great for your mental health.
Some studies show that yoga may be helpful for occasional bouts of anxiety (but not necessarily for diagnosed anxiety disorders).
Similarly, yoga may offer benefits for general mental well-being in adults when compared to no exercise.
So, what should you expect from your first vinyasa class?
First: don’t expect perfection from yourself. Unless you’re walking into a beginners’ class, there will probably be people there practicing at a variety of skill levels. Just remember that they all once walked into their first class too, and no one’s gonna look down on you for being new.
Next, be sure to bring a yoga mat, a towel, and a bottle of water. You can bring your own blocks, too — but these are usually available at your studio.
Dress in comfortable workout clothes that don’t restrict your movement.
Are you joining virtually? Make sure you’ve got plenty of space to move and all of your props within reach.
Here are some of Ingram’s favorite beginner vinyasa yoga poses.
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
In Mountain Pose, you stand upright with your feet together, spine straight, and shoulders back. It “helps align the spine, open the chest, and tone the abs,” explains Ingram, “and it gives people such a good sense of getting their feet grounded and standing tall.”
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Child’s Pose is a gentle pose that is “great for calming the mind if you support your head on the mat or a block.” To get in this pose, sit on your knees and lean forward, resting your head on a block or the mat. You can spread your knees wider to make getting lower to the ground easier.
Easy Pose (Sukhasana)
Easy Pose is a simple seated pose — “criss-cross applesauce.” If you have tight hips, “it’s good to sit up on a block or blanket,” says Ingram. She adds that this one is often done at the beginning and end of a class to “get the mind focused and to seal the practice.”
Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
In Tree Pose, you stand upright with your hands on your hips or in a prayer position and slide one foot up to balance on one leg with the other leg bent. Definite flamingo vibes.
“This is a great pose for balance that is accessible to almost everyone because there are so many ways to vary the challenge of it,” says Ingram.
If it’s too challenging, keep your foot low. To up the challenge, bring your foot above the knee of your other leg. Your bent knee should point to the side, and the foot should rest either above or below the knee of your supporting leg, but never directly on the knee joint.
Corpse Pose (Savasana)
A Greatist favorite, in the Corpse Pose you lie on your back with eyes closed and every. single. muscle. relaxed. It’s usually done at the end of a yoga class. Ingram says that it “can activate your relaxation response to help calm your nervous system.”
Even seasoned yogis can spice up their practice with some challenging new poses.
“This is why yoga is so captivating and never gets boring,” she explains. “There’s always a way to advance in your practice!”
Crow Pose (Bakasana)
Crow Pose is an arm-balancing pose (read: handstand). It looks a bit like a deep squat, just with your hands on the floor instead of your feet.
“This is generally the first arm balancing pose that people are able to achieve,” Ingram explains, “so it gives them a great sense of accomplishment and enables them to move into other arm-balancing poses as they advance in their practice.”
Headstand Pose (Sirasana)
Headstand Pose is exactly what it sounds like… a headstand! Using your arms and elbows for support, you rest on your head and lift your body into a board-straight line.
“With a good teacher and sometimes starting with assistance or even props, it is very achievable to get into one of these wonderful inversions,” says Ingram.
Side Plank (Vasisthasana)
The Side Plank is one you may encounter in other fitness classes. In this move, you do a plank on your side, supported by just one arm and the side of one foot.
“You know you’ve built up some strength in your practice, and some balance,” says Ingram, “when you can get into this pose! And you can vary it by holding the foot of the top leg or bringing it into tree.”
Wild Thing (Camatkarasana)
According to Ingram, Wild Thing is “a backbend balancing pose that looks amazing and feels great!”
From the side plank position, step your top foot back and rest its toes on the floor with the knee bent. Curl your head back and extend your top arm past it.
Split Pose (Hanumanasana)
“It makes you feel like a kid again to get into Split Pose!” says Ingram. “You can start with half split (Ardha Hanumanasana),” she explains, “and work your way into this pose using blocks.”
She also adds that progressing to a full Split Pose is a slow process that may take months or years. Because yes, it is exactly what it sounds like.
As with any physical activity, there’s a risk of injury with vinyasa yoga. Particularly if you’re new to exercise or on the inflexible side, there’s a chance you could bend and snap — but not in the Elle Woods kind of way. Always take it slow and don’t push yourself past your capabilities.
Additionally, some moves shouldn’t be performed while you’re pregnant — particularly twists and some of the more acrobatic poses. Instead, check out some prenatal yoga classes.
Finally, some hot yoga classes offer vinyasa. Just remember that in hot yoga the room is gonna be pretty spicy. If you have any health conditions like heart disease or high blood pressure, or if you have trouble tolerating heat, it’s best to avoid hot yoga classes.
In vinyasa yoga, poses flow seamlessly from one to another with the breath. It can be both gentle and challenging, and it’s a good mix of cardio, resistance, and flexibility work.
There’s also plenty of room to grow and advance in vinyasa, with poses ranging from simple to impressively acrobatic.
Trying to decide if you should check out a vinyasa class? We vote just say *yaas*