In the early years of my yoga practice, I did a lot of flow and Ashtanga classes so later when I started doing Vinyasa class it felt similar, yet different. I loved it. As with Ashtanga Yoga, it was supposed to be like a moving meditation but the sequences of poses flowed like a dance to me. Unlike Hatha or Ashtanga Yoga where the poses are held steady for a longer time, in Vinyasa there is a constant flow and an emphasis on the sequencing that links each posture to one another allowing the body to move freely guided by the breath. The poses are familiar but the sequences can change with each class and you have to listen intently to the teacher’s verbal cues and be aware of your alignment. My body feels open and relaxed after a Vinyasa class because of improved prana(Qi) flow and blood circulation.
Vinyasa Yoga seems to have originated from Ashtanga Yoga. Both employ flows and transitions with a vinyasa (linking sequence between poses). However the two practices are quite different. Ashtanga uses the vinyasa (with the signature jump-backs and jump-throughs) while Vinyasa adopts more of a Sun Salutation type vinyasa (eg. plank, chaturanga, upward dog, downward dog linking sequence between poses). In Vinyasa Yoga, the sequences of poses also vary. The movements are more fluid and allow for more creativity as compared to Ashtanga Yoga where the 6 series of postures adhere to a set sequence in a predetermined order of postures practised in a progressive manner. As a philosophy, Vinyasa Yoga recognises the temporary nature of things so poses are not held for long but you enter a posture, stay for a while and then move on. You can think of it as a freestyle Ashtanga Yoga. The similarity is that both practices emphasize an alignment of the movement with the breath.
As challenging poses are done in quick succession, Vinyasa Yoga can build strength and endurance providing a good cardiovascular ‘workout’. A defining characteristic of Vinyasa classes is the variety of sequences offered that changes with every class. Generally, no two classes are alike. Practitioners who are familiar with yoga poses will enjoy the challenge. Sometimes inversions and arm balances can also be weaved into the flow sequences. Due to its intensity and variations, the mind has to be alert to follow the teacher’s verbal cues while observing good alignment when transitioning through the poses. I find that it helps improve my balance, concentration and focus.
So if you are new to yoga, it may be better to start off with Hatha Yoga to learn the poses and correct alignment in a slower-paced class. But if you want to try out Vinyasa Flow, why not? Just do both. With regular practice and guidance from a good teacher, you will get the hang of it and pick it up. Maybe you will enjoy it as much as I do. And now I love teaching it too.
Author: Nam Yogi