Teaching Vinyasa Yoga is more therapeutic than one might think. Vinyasa yoga is a blend of yogic styles that originates from Krishnamacharya’s direct line including Hatha Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, and Viniyoga. It takes the therapeutic aspects of each of these styles of yoga sequencing and marries them together. Many teachers and practitioners of Vinyasa yoga classes do not understand where it came from or what its intended purpose is. Some practitioners believe that Vinyasa Yoga is synonymous with power yoga, but that is a misunderstanding. Vinyasa Yoga is an elegant tribute to the work of Krishnamacharya and a way to introduce practitioners to the benefits of Yoga Therapy in a public studio setting.
Krishnamacharya spent his life teaching yoga to practitioners of all walks of life. In his early years, he married B.K.S. Iyengar’s sister and started a family. During this time, he took Iyengar on as a student. Their relationship was short-lived, but the impact that Krishnamacharya had on Iyenvgar’s work was substantial. Around the same time, Pattabhi Jois also studied under Krishnamacharya. He was a student for a long time, and ultimately developed Ashtanga yoga under the guidance of Krishnamacharya. Pattabhi Jois went on to be on of the leading yoga teachers and influencers along with B.K.S. Iyengar in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.
In his later years, Krishnamacharya worked with his son Desikachar to develop Viniyoga, a therapeutic system of yoga that leveraged the power of dynamic breath and movement. Viniyoga is credited with being one of the first examples of Yoga Therapy. Viniyoga took asanas and paired them with dynamic breath and movement to produce an energetic effect that either increased energy or decreased energy, depending on the client’s needs.
In a Vinyasa yoga teacher training, all three of these styles of yoga come together to create Vinyasa Yoga. Vinyasa Yoga sequencing relies primarily on standing Hatha postures linked together with Surya Namaskar, or sun salutations. The entire practice uses the breath to transition from one posture to the other working on the principles of brahmana or langhana. Usually, in a typical vinyasa class, you would see teachers teaching using a brahmana, or energizing technique. This is done with the inhalations that are matched to movements that expand the body, or move the body away from the earth, and exhalations are matched with movements that contract the body or move the body towards the earth.
Although vinyasa yoga can be applied to a “power yoga” class, the two are not synonymous. Bryan Kest is the founder of Power Yoga, and his interpretation of Power Yoga or Power Vinyasa is his own. It doesn’t tie back to the original Indian lineage as the above account of Vinyasa Yoga does, and that is perfectly ok because Power Yoga’s purpose is slightly different than vinyasa yoga.
The purpose of vinyasa yoga is to work with the physical, energetic, mental, and spiritual bodies through asana, pranayama, and pratyahara. The teacher’s intention might be to tone the sympathetic nervous system or to teach students how to regulate their bodies in a hyperarousal state. A teacher’s intention might be structural and include teaching students to work within their range of motion while teaching proprioception to ensure a healthy practice. There are dozens of other intentions a teacher might have, and most of them involve teaching body awareness, breath awareness, mental awareness, self-regulation, coping strategies, and stabilizing.
It’s not challenging to sequence vinyasa yoga. To sequence vinyasa, you start with a warm-up to help practitioners get connected to their breath. A vinyasa yoga warm-up can be seated, standing, reclined, or prone. You want to warm up the spine, hips, and shoulders. It depends on what lineage you learned under; some yoga lineages focus on the five spinal movements and some yoga lineages focus on pelvic flexion and extension along with shoulder flexion and extension. It’s important to note that it doesn’t matter which perspective you take. Both perspectives will warm the body and engage the spine and major joints in their full range of motion by the end of the sequence.
Once you have warmed up the body, you’ll want to move the practitioners through a sequence of postures until they reach peak energy. There are many ways to do this. One way is to sequence with a peak pose in mind. When we sequence with a peak pose, we move students towards a posture that leverages movements from previous postures. For example, if you want to sequence towards half-moon, you would move students into external rotation in the hip joint while working with pelvic flexion and extension. This can be done by sequencing from Warrior II, to Extended Side Angle, to Triangle, and finally to Half Moon.
Extended Side Angle
Another way to move students to peak energy is to move them through postures adding intensity with each posture. You can also move through postures with the intention to work with the nervous system directly, in which case you may decide to keep students on their toes moving from right to left and alternating between pelvic flexion in neutral and pelvic flexion in external rotation.
Mandalas are another way you can sequence vinyasa yoga. In a mandala sequence, you move the practitioner around the mat. There are several ways you can do this, too. One way is to start on the right leg and then open to the left after doing a short series of postures on the right side. After opening to the left, you would rotate all the way to the back of the mat and mirror the postures you sequenced at the front of the mat. In a true mandala, you would take a vinyasa, or surya namaskara towards the back of the mat and then pick up the right leg again following the same pattern until you got back to the top of the mat. Then, you would do the left side mirroring the entire process on the opposite leg.
Vinyasa sequencing can be interesting, engaging, and educational. It has the potential to keep practitioners on their toes and it can be used to help students integrate traumatic experiences while toning the nervous system. Vinyasa yoga also has many cardiovascular benefits that make it a well-rounded and accessible choice for practitioners of all ages.