The Practice Vinyasa Yoga
The benefits of vinyasa yoga go far beyond cardiovascular health. Vinyasa yoga is a combination of Hatha Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, and Viniyoga that incorporates breath synchronized with movement to induce a moving meditation. Static Hatha poses are laced together with Suryia Namaskara A to create a lyrical expression of yoga that some say is reminiscent of dance. Elements of Viniyoga invite dynamic movement into the practice in a way that increases range of motion, cardiovascular load, and mental focus. Together, these three styles of yoga produce what we know as vinyasa flow.
A Brief History Of Vinyasa Yoga
The vinyasa flow style of sequencing came about in the sixties and seventies when practitioners started looking for variations on Hatha and Ashtanga practices. Traditionally, Hatha and Ashtanga practices are not set to music. Practitioners started to develop variations on these styles set to music, and the concept of vinyasa yoga took shape. Dozens of teachers influenced the evolution of vinyasa yoga, including Maty Ezraty the founder of Yoga Works.
While vinyasa was establishing itself in California, Viniyoga was maturing in India. Krishnamacharya and his son Desikachar refined Viniyoga as the first form of Yoga Therapy. Krishnamacharya taught B.K.S. Iyenger and Pattabi Jois, both of which were influential teachers of Hatha and Ashtanga, respectively. Krishnamacharya believed that the breath was the most important part of the practice of yoga, and therefore put a great deal of emphasis on pranayama in developing Viniyoga.
Viniyoga And Dynamic Movement
In Viniyoga, dynamic movement is leveraged to create a therapeutic effect. The principles of Brahmana, langhana, and samanah are interwoven into the practice to help the practitioner shift their energy appropriately to cultivate balance. Brahmana increases, langhana decreases, and samanah is the balance between the two. These principles can be applied to anything from blood pressure to weight to mental activity. For example, if someone is coming to yoga therapy with high blood pressure langhana practices would be selected to help reduce the client’s blood pressure to a state of samanah. If a client came to yoga therapy looking to gain weight the yoga therapist might introduce brahmana practices to help the client build an appetite to achieve a healthy weight.
Traditionally, vinyasa yoga is a brahmana practice that increases energy and focus. Today we see a lot of vinyasa flow studios that are heated, which adds to the increasing quality of brahmana. Vinyasa doesn’t have to be a brahmana practice, and nowadays we’re seeing more and more applications of vinyasa yoga that are langhana practices.
In cardiac rehabilitation, we use a langhana practice of vinyasa yoga that incorporates dynamic movement. This has many benefits including helping practitioners to understand how to use their appendicular skeleton to help the heart pump blood. Clients who have experienced cardiac events need to be gentle with themselves while their heart heals, so we modify the postures by bringing the arms down or hands to heart center. This decreases the load on the heart and ultimately helps to reduce blood pressure. Adding dynamic movement can help clients to experience how their arms and legs can impact the heart’s ability to pump; lessening the stress that impacts the heart and giving the heart time and space to heal.
The benefits of vinyasa flow in the yoga studio impact heart health, cognitive function, mobility, and stability. Vinyasa has a cardiovascular quality that helps to build the heart muscle without high-impact aerobic movements. It provides a comprehensive workout that raises the heart rate appropriately and tones the vascular system. Typically, vinyasa flow classes are one hour in length, but they can be longer. In that timeframe, practitioners are led through a sequence of asana postures that start off slowly and gradually build in intensity.
There are many ways to sequence vinyasa classes. The most popular way to sequence vinyasa classes is to a peak pose, but vinyasa can also be sequenced around an anatomical principle, an energetic theme, directionally around the mat, or in a similar way to Tabata. With so many ways to sequence vinyasa flow, there are endless possibilities for its application and result.
Applications Of Vinyasa Flow
Yoga is union, and ultimately if you’re embodied in a human experience you are always in yoga. The practice of asana is the practice of learning to be realized in union through moving meditation, and for many the experience is fleeting. The application of vinyasa yoga that is most widely utilized is led classes in a studio setting. Some studios try to bring in the spirituality of yoga and some make it all about the physical practice. At the end of the day it the physical practice will yield the same effect regardless of whether there is a focus on spirituality or the physical body.
When vinyasa yoga is taught in a public studio students have the opportunity to learn how to use their body and breath as a metronome for practice. They can drop out of the thinking mind and into the sensational body. For this reason, many practitioners love vinyasa flow because it gives them peace of mind and stability in the body.
Vinyasa flow increases practitioners’ strength and flexibility, both of which are required for stability. Many students are either hypermobile or very strong, but both flexibility and strength are required for stability long term. Many of us are practicing today so that we have a healthy range of motion and ease tomorrow, so creating balance through a practice like vinyasa is important.
Vinyasa flow also helps to increase lung capacity and cardiovascular health. Our lung capacity can be negatively impacted depending on lifestyle and environment. Individuals who are sedentary or who live in regions with elevated pollution tend to have less lung capacity than individuals who led active lifestyles and lived in clean environments. Vinyasa flow is gentle enough that all levels of practitioners can participate, and its benefits to the cardiopulmonary system are unparalleled. Vinyasa flow is actually more efficient at increasing lung capacity, stamina, and overall heart health than jogging or walking. This is because practitioners are asked to maintain a consistent level of low impact movement while periodic opportunities to use the breath to regulate heart rate. This teaches practitioners how to regulate autonomic functions like heart rate and blood pressure with their breath while in mildly stressful situations.
Vinyasa flow is also an excellent tool for individuals healing from trauma and PTSD. Vinyasa uses the breath to regulate the nervous system. Individuals who have experienced trauma or who are living with PTSD might experience anxiety or panic in their day-to-day experiences. Vinyasa flow helps teach practitioners how to use their breath to regulate their nervous system and come back to a balanced state of being.
Going With The Flow
There are many different styles of vinyasa yoga, and there is not a right or wrong way to practice it. Ultimately, it’s important to remember that there are many benefits to practicing vinyasa flow. Not only will it help with your overall physical strength and flexibility, but it will also help with your mental health and wellbeing. The most important thing to remember is to listen to your body and develop a relationship with your practice where you are embarking on a quest of inquiry through your practice. When inquiry is our focus the result is enlightenment.