Vinyasa yoga can be traced back to 200 B.C., when Patanjali – a sage in India – began developing ashta-ang, an eight-limbed discipline involving meditation, mental awareness and physical conditioning.
It was only when followers of Pantajali – like Sri K. Pattabhi Jois from Mysore, India – began practicing ashta-ang that they realised the importance of breathing and moving through a sequence, as opposed to remaining in poses for extensive periods of time.
Since this time, Vinyasa (or ‘flow’ yoga) has become one of the most popular yoga styles across the globe, helping to shape other styles and bring yoga into the 21st Century.
Here’s a short history about Vinyasa yoga and how it came to be.
A little backstory
It wasn’t until the mid 1900s that Vinyasa yoga began to spread across much of the West as a mainstream practice. Prior to this, Vinyasa yoga inspired the training of Indian wrestlers and British Gymnasts, offering these highly disciplined groups the ability to become present, focus on strength through movement, and learn how to control their breathing while undergoing physical strain.
Today, however, Vinyasa has been widely modified to welcome in all types of people, from expectant mothers, to adolescent teens, right through to those with physical difficulties.
Characteristics of Vinyasa yoga
There are a few defining elements of Vinyasa that make it different from other practices. While it involves many crossover movements and poses as other practices, Vinyasa also brings with it an emphasis on:
Firstly, Vinyasa is about connecting mind and body through movement and breath. It’s a practice themed around ‘flowing’ into movements, using deep breathing to help remain stable, steady and present-minded.
The entire concept of Vinyasa is focused on the eight limbs of yoga, which include:
By focusing on these eight approaches (which are explained in more detail here) and bringing them together in one harmonious practice, it helps you realise your best self, and can even help you reach a state of enlightenment.
‘Transitions’ are what connect one pose to another in Vinyasa. Some deem these transitions as poses themselves, while others simply work through them to achieve the next post in a sequence. Ultimately, transitions help develop connectedness and flow to the experience of Vinyasa, allowing a person to more in a more graceful, present way.
Vinyasa and movement go hand in hand. The entire style is themed around not holding poses for a long period of time but, rather, journeying through each pose to develop a connected and synced series of movements.
Vinyasa yoga is about bringing a sense of energy to the mat. Because of how much movement is required in this style, it works a person’s cardiovascular system and helps build strength, develop flexibility and, when all is said and done, create a sustainable and lifelong practice.
Vinyasa yoga is synonymous with finding a ‘flow state’. Through movement and controlled breathing, this style is about becoming one with a moment and remaining present and focused for a long time. It’s a meditative and active practice that nourishes the mind and spirit.
The importance of Pranayama in Vinyasa
Pranayama is breathing practice, and while there are many different types of breathing practices in yoga, Vinyasa focuses specifically on one: Ujjayi.
Ujjayi Pranayama (or victorious breath) is a basic breathing technique used in many different styles of yoga. In Vinyasa, this type of breathing should be energizing and relaxing all at once, helping you become one with yourself and enter a state of present mindedness throughout your practice.
Of course, Ujjayi isn’t the only breathing practice to exercise during Vinyasa. You can practice other styles of Pranayama (like Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (alternative nostril breathing) or Kumbhaka Pranayama (breath retention)), too, depending on what makes you feel comfortable and find that sense of flow throughout your practice.
What are the benefits of Vinyasa?
We can’t express this enough: there are many benefits associated with regular Vinyasa practice. Physically speaking, vinyasa improves core stability, develops flexibility and invokes a sense of grounding in the body that helps nurture internal strength.
Regular Vinyasa practice also helps the body regulate itself and reduces your risk of chronic disease, joint stiffness and weight gain. The active ‘flow’ style helps burn calories and improves general health and wellness, too, helping you to push your heart rate and increase your cardiovascular muscles.
With poses like warrior one and two, crescent lunge, horse and boat and sun salutation exercises like Chaturangas, Vinyasa also helps build foundational muscle strength and works to tone muscle groups. There is a lot more to each pose than meets the eye and mastering the subtleties of Vinyasa comes with patience and practice. This is one of the big reasons why we decided to design a personalised yoga mat, with tailored lines, so that yogis can build greater awareness of their own alignment.
Mentally, flow yoga does wonderous things. It calms the mind and helps you become more present minded and in the moment. Instead of worrying about the bills you have to pay, or the work you have to do, you can take time out of your day to approach the mat and turn off your external thoughts and concerns. Not only does this help you improve your ability to focus, it also reduces your stress responses in your body, in turn reducing your risk of physical health concerns.
Transformation through Vinyasa
Vinyasa really is a practice that has helped develop many other styles of yoga. Its close relationship with Ashtanga and its ancient Indian origins makes it a practice that transcends all of time and space.
Regular Vinyasa practice will ease an anxious mind, heal a broken body and improve focus, attention and confidence. In theory, Vinyasa reflects how we should act and be in every other aspect of our lives, working to help us become more connected with ourselves, more open in our work and relationships, and more alive in every waking moment of our lives.