Vinyasa yoga: what you need to know about the flow

Do you want a workout that combines cardiovascular fitness with deep breathing and intense relaxation? If so, vinyasa yoga might be your perfect fit. This style of the ancient practice keeps you moving as you flow through various postures or asanas, all linked with the glue of your breath. 

It’s the perfect style for athletic yogis who don’t want the longer holds associated with power yoga or Yin classes. It’s the best for building lung capacity and overall coordination. Here’s what you need to know about going with the flow and starting your vinyasa yoga practice. 

What Is Vinyasa Yoga? 

Vinyasa yoga is often called “flow” yoga because it focuses on keeping you moving between poses, creating a set sequence instead of concentrating on holding individual postures. However, unlike Ashtanga, which also follows a vinyasa style, most teachers don’t repeat the same movement pattern in every class. Instead, they change things up, inspiring students to learn various asana names to recall them quickly on demand.  

Some vinyasa teachers hold poses for up to five breaths, as the Ashtangis do. What’s vital to note is that each portion of a movement unites with a specific breathing pattern. For example, you might inhale as you raise your arms overhead and exhale as you fold forward, inhale as you straighten your spine and exhale as you twist. 

You cannot divorce the breath from the body movements in vinyasa yoga. Although you can take all the extra inhales and exhales you want as you build sufficient cardiovascular capacity to breathe in alignment with your guide’s instructions. 

Benefits of Vinyasa Yoga 

Why should you add vinyasa yoga to your life? Here are the benefits you can reap from the practice.

1. Improves Cardiovascular Fitness

Cardiovascular fitness refers to your body’s ability to take in oxygen and distribute it to muscles and organs during prolonged exercise. Low cardiovascular fitness levels correlate to higher rates of heart disease and certain cancers. 

Vinyasa may be the best style of yoga for increasing cardiovascular fitness. Because you coordinate your breathwork with movement, you stretch the muscles in your ribcage, helping you inhale more deeply and flooding your body with oxygen. 

2. Increases Coordination

Did you know that one out of every four older adults falls each year, but less than half tell their doctor? Many worry about losing their independence if they confess to losing coordination. However, falls are the leading cause of traumatic brain injury and cause 300,000 hip fractures each year — it’s no exaggeration to say they can impact your overall life quality. 

Vinyasa yoga helps you improve your coordination and prevent falls. You can maintain greater independence as you age and feel more confident in your skin. When you feel free to move, you can stave off many other age-related changes, such as muscle weakness. 

3. Decreases Anxiety 

The fear of falling isn’t the only reason some people struggle with anxiety. Fortunately, vinyasa yoga helps decrease stress hormones naturally by tapping into the body’s fight or flight system. 

Stress causes you to release two hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. Although adrenaline fades, chronic stress tells your body to keep cortisol levels high, leading to unpleasant side effects like constant fatigue, cravings for fatty, sugary foods and a nagging sense of worry. Fortunately, your body can’t distinguish between fleeing a lion and flowing through an asana — both lower levels of this hormone as nature intended.

4. Eases Depression 

Physical movement also addresses depression in several ways. It boosts endorphin production, natural chemicals that make you feel good. It also activates your body’s endocannabinoid system, which helps ease pain and raises serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter associated with a positive mood. 

5. Alleviates Minor Pains 

Both endorphins and your body’s endocannabinoid system help ease chronic pain. Your endocannabinoid system increases glucose uptake while improving insulin action, reducing blood sugar swings that can increase symptoms. Endorphins act like natural opioids without the addiction risk posed by medication. 

6. Stimulates Digestion

Physical activity stimulates digestion. Furthermore, the twisting involved in vinyasa yoga may help this mechanism further. 

You already know that yoga decreases cortisol, a stress hormone that can interfere with digestion. The gentle movement also stimulates your organs to encourage elimination, which is useful if constipation plagues you. The deep, diaphragmatic breathing in your practice activates your parasympathetic nervous system, the side of your autonomic nervous system responsible for your “rest and digest” functions. 

7. Builds Mindful Physical Awareness

Can you remember a time you snapped at a loved one, not because what they did was outrageous but because you lacked patience, thanks to a raging headache? You might not even have realized what made you tense until you regretted snapping at your partner or kids. 

Vinyasa yoga builds a mindful physical awareness. It helps you clue into symptoms that may affect your mood and remind you to be gentle with yourself, treating yourself as you would a sick loved one until you feel better. 

8. Teaches You to Breathe 

Deep breathing is the cure for many of life’s ills. It creates a necessary pause, allowing you to reflect on your needs. Is it time for a break? Do you need to try a new approach? 

Unfortunately, people tend to hold their breath or do so rapidly or shallowly when under stress. This reflex ironically robs you of the oxygen and rational thought processes needed to make the best decisions. 

Vinyasa yoga teaches you to breathe through any adversity. It’s amazing what mastering this simple technique can do to improve all aspects of your life, including your mental and physical health. 

Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Vinyasa Yoga Practice 

You’re ready to try your first vinyasa yoga class. Here are six tips for getting the most out of your practice: 

  • Arrive early: Arriving early lets you talk to your guide. Ensure you cover your physical limitations and ask about modifications for poses you could find difficult. Your guide can also clue you in on class etiquette to increase your comfort. 
  • Get the right mat: The right mat matters more than ever in vinyasa yoga. The continual movement can lead to slipping and sliding as you sweat — look for bamboo models that are sustainable and whisk away the slick stuff. 
  • Dress comfortably: While you might feel great in baggy gray sweats, you won’t move to the max. Loose clothes can leave you tangled as you flow from one pose to the next. Tight-fitting yoga pants or shorts and a sports bra or similar snug-fit shirt work best. 
  • Watch first: If you’re new to vinyasa yoga, the terminology may confuse you. However, it’s nearly impossible to see what your guide is doing when you’re folded up like a pretzel. Watch a class or two first to get savvy with the terminology. Why not tune into YouTube before reporting live to learn the lingo? You’ll find scores of classes for free. 
  • Consider props: Vinyasa yoga doesn’t rely heavily on props like Iyengar and restorative. However, it still helps to have the right tools. Blocks are particularly useful as you master moves like triangle. 
  • Relax and enjoy the journey: Vinyasa yoga is downright addictive once you get into it. However, it does take some time to learn the ropes and feel comfortable moving your body this way. Give it a chance by relaxing and enjoying your classes, laughing at yourself as you make mistakes. There’s no competition in yoga — it’s all about having fun and healing as you move your body through space. 

Vinyasa Yoga: What to Know About This Flowing Style 

Are you looking for a fast-paced yoga style that keeps you moving? If so, vinyasa yoga may be for you. 

Now that you know what vinyasa yoga is and its various benefits, you’re ready to start your journey. Outfit yourself with the right mat and find a studio today for better mental and physical well-being. 

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