Vinyasa yoga is all about movement, flow, and breath. This style of doing yoga is also often called Vinyasa Flow, or Flow yoga, because of the smooth and fluid transition from one pose to the next. As with other types of yoga, Vinyasa requires you to maintain a steady pattern of breathing, usually synchronized with your movements. But equally important is for you to time your movements with every breath so you will get the full effect of the physical, mental, and spiritual benefits of this particular yogic tradition and style.
Here are some examples of the Vinyasa yoga poses you can expect to learn in a Vinyasa Yoga class.
"Go Through Your Vinyasa"
While this technically isn't a single pose, it's worth mentioning because it's a phrase commonly used by Vinyasa instructors to tell their students to do a short sequence of Vinyasa yoga poses. When the instructor says "go through your Vinyasa," what it means is you go on a Plank position, then lower your body towards the floor into a Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana), and then use your arms to lift your upper body off the floor and arch your back into an Upward Facing Dog Pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). The Upward Dog is similar to Cobra, except the latter requires that only the toes and hands are touching the floor. Your hips, thighs and knees are engaged and lifted off the mat. Finally, you transition into a Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana), by rolling your feet so the soles are flat on the mat, and raising your hips until your back is flat, and you look like an upside down letter V.
Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar)
The Sun Salutations is a sequence or series of poses performed in many styles of yoga, and Vinyasa is no exception. Think of the Sun Salutations as sort of like your 101 on learning to synchronize breath with every movement. As in true Vinyasa style, there is a corresponding movement for every inhale and exhale – be it shifting into Downward Dog or bringing yourself up to a Cobra pose.
Cat-Cow Stretch or Pose (Bidalasana)
The Cat Stretch and Cow Pose are two separate movements, but are often referred to as one because they are always performed together. The Cat-Cow is one of the most basic Vinyasa yoga poses you will learn, and it can be performed by anyone – regardless of flexibility or level of yogic practice. To do this pose, get on all fours into a table top position, palms down directly beneath your shoulders and knees directly beneath your hips, with the tops of your feet face down on the mat behind you. On the inhale, look up, arch your back and do the Cat stretch, extending your entire spine and tailbone. When you exhale, relax your shoulders, and arch your back into a Cow pose, tucking your tailbone in and turning your gaze towards your navel. Go through the Cat-Cow Pose for several breathes, warming up your spine in preparation for other poses.
Side Plank Pose (Vasisthasana)
This is one of the more challenging Vinyasa yoga poses because it tests your balance, engages the thigh muscles and the glutes, and builds strength in the arm muscles. To do the Side Plank, you will basically be relying on one arm and your legs to hold your body up, with all your weight falling to your arm and leg. Remember to keep your hips in line with the rest of your body, don't let it sag to the floor, and keep your back straight with one arm reaching towards the ceiling.
Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
This is one of the basic standing Vinyasa yoga poses, and is also done with every movement corresponding to an inhale or exhale. To do this pose, inhale and raise your arms high overhead, trying to reach as high as you can without lifting the soles of your feet. Then exhale and hinge your body forward, keeping the legs straight, and your hands reaching the floor.
There are many other poses you can expect to see in a Vinyasa yoga class, but these are among the basics. What's nice about this style is that there is no set sequence, so poses can vary with any given session. But this range of options is what makes Vinyasa Flow so dynamic and fun as you go through your movements in sync with your breath.