You might have been to a class where a teacher told you to “take a Vinyasa” (and possibly been extremely confused!). Vinyasa is a certain style of yoga just like Ashtanga, Hatha or Yin Yoga, but it is also a four-pose sequence that is often practiced in between poses. You’ll come across this sequence fairly often, so knowing how to execute it correctly and how to modify it is worth learning.
What is a vinyasa flow? In short, a vinyasa flow is a set of four poses that are executed in a flowing sequence with your breath. This “flow” is practiced often in between sets of poses or in between standing and floor poses. The sequence consists of Plank, Chaturanga, Upward Facing Dog, and Downward Facing Dog.
Vinyasa Flow Sequence
A vinyasa flow goes as followed:
- Upward Facing Dog
- Downward Facing Dog
Each pose is linked through an inhale or an exhale. Below you can find the full instructions on how to do a vinyasa flow.
How to do a vinyasa flow:
- Start in Plank with your hands under your shoulders and your toes pushing into the ground, your heels are pushing back. Your core should be engaged, and your body is in one straight line.
- Take an inhale and take a Chaturanga on an exhale by shifting the whole body forward and coming onto your tip toes, your shoulders come over your wrists. Hug your elbows in towards your sides and you begin to lower down halfway until your elbows are in 90 degree angles.
- Without lowering down to the ground, push up into Upward Facing Dog on an inhale by rolling onto the tops of your feet, pushing into your hands to lift up through your chest, and rolling your shoulders down and back. Your knees and legs stay lifted and your legs are engaged.
- Flip the feet and retuck the toes as you press your hips back and up to come into Downward Facing Dog on an exhale. Spread your fingers wide and push your hands evenly into the ground, lengthen your chest back in between your arms towards your legs and start straightening the legs with your heels sinking towards the ground.
Benefits of a Vinyasa Flow
A Vinyasa flow is a powerful sequence with multiple benefits:
Strengthens the core: Performing a Plank and Chaturanga requires, but also develops core stability – the more often you do it, the stronger your core gets.
Prepares you for advanced yoga poses: Inversions and arm balances get easier when you practice vinyasas a lot because they help with core, arm and wrist strength.
Strengthens arms and wrists: The combination of contracting the arm muscles in a Chaturanga and lengthening them in Upward Facing Dog helps build strength and stretch. It also puts weight on the wrists, which might be intense at first, but eventually helps build wrist strength and makes arm balances easier.
Makes the back stronger and more flexible: Holding a Chaturanga requires back strength and a full Upward Facing Dog is an intense backbend. The combination of both makes for a flexible, strong back.
Improves posture: A strong core protects the lower back Upward Facing Dog improves shoulder flexibility and Downward Facing Dog lengthens your hamstrings.
Stretches your shoulders, core, legs and back: Upward Facing Dog stretches your legs, core and shoulders while Downward Facing Dog lengthens your hamstrings and back, so a few vinyasas can really give you a full body stretch.
Modifications for a Vinyasa Flow
Correct alignment is crucial in a vinyasa to avoid injury, so don’t compromise it to perform the whole sequence. There are always modifications that help you build strength but don’t tax your body:
Modifications for Beginners
If you just started practicing yoga, you may not yet have all the strength required of a vinyasa. Transitioning from Chaturanga to Upward Facing Dog is HARD and requires a lot of strength, especially after holding a Plank in the middle of a yoga sequence.
Not only that, but Upward Facing Dog requires a lot of back flexibility, which may be too intense for some people just starting out. Luckily, there are many options you can choose from when it comes to modifying your vinyasa flow.
Vinyasa flow modification for beginners:
- Plank with knees on the ground
- Half Chaturanga (Chaturanga with knees on the ground) OR Knees-Chest-Chin
- Baby Cobra, Cobra, OR Sphinx
- Downward Facing Dog OR Child’s Pose
As you can see, there are many different ways you could modifying your vinyasa. You could use any combination of these modifications depending on how you feel, and can switch it up as you progress through your sequence.
Listening to your body is so important in yoga and it’s so important we honor ourselves and are honest with when we need to take it easy and even when we feel we could be trying harder. It’s a fine balance that we always should be striving to maintain :).
Modifications for Weak Wrists
If Vinyasa flows tax your wrists, try taking a Vinyasa from Forearm Plank.
Vinyasa modification for weak wrists:
- Forearm Plank
- Lower down to ground
- Dolphin Pose
- Start with the same alignment you would in a Plank but set your forearms down.
- Lower your hips to the ground on an exhale and keep your forearms under your shoulders as your push your chest forwards to come to Sphinx Pose.
- From Sphinx Pose, come into Dolphin Pose by keeping your forearms on the ground, and pushing your hips up and back as if you’re coming into Downward Dog.
Modifications for Weak Shoulders
If you have issues with your shoulders, you do not want to be doing a repetitive taxing motion such as going from Plank to Chaturanga to Upward Facing Dog. Instead, I would recommend practicing the forearm modification listed above, or even just simply holding Plank for a few breaths and then coming into Downward Facing Dog.
The transition from Plank to Downward Facing Dog is a great way to strengthen the shoulder girdle without putting all the stress of coming into Chaturanga repetitively on it.
Modifications for Advanced Practitioners
If you’ve been practicing for a long time, there are no limits to your Vinyasa, you can really get creative! It all depends what pose you are coming from.
Advanced variation from Standing Forward Fold:
- Jump back to Chaturanga
- Upward Facing Dog
- Downward Facing Dog
In this situation, instead of coming into Plank from Forward Fold, you could come into Crow briefly, where you could then jump back while coming directly into Chaturanga. I would ONLY recommend this to someone who has a pretty advanced practice, as you can really injure yourself if you do this improperly!
Another way to make a vinyasa flow a bit more challenging is by keeping one leg lifted. This would vary depending on what pose you are coming from.
Advanced variation from Downward Facing Dog:
- Three Legged Dog
- One Legged Plank
- One Legged Chaturanga
- One Legged Upward Facing Dog
- Downward Facing Dog
If you are doing this variation, just make sure you switch to the other side next time you go through a vinyasa to even things out!
If you want to challenge your core in your vinyasa flow, there are so many different adjustments you could make. One simple one would be simply adding in a few movements of crunching your knee in towards your chest before coming into Chaturanga.
Core strengthening vinyasa flow variation:
- Knee to chest
- Knee to right tricep
- Knee to left tricep
- Upward Facing Dog
- Downward Facing Dog
How to Build Up Strength for a Vinyasa Flow
There are multiple ways you can build up strength to practice vinyasa flows: by practicing modified versions, holding the poses individually, and practicing other strengthening poses that target the same muscle groups.
Practicing Poses Individually: Using Props for Strength
Holding the poses of the vinyasa sequence individually is a great way to get your body acclimated to the poses an dhelp yoiurself build up the neccessary strength to flow through the poses without risking injury.
To do this, props really come in handy. There are so many different ways you can use props, but if you are trying to target strength, it is important to use them in specific ways while practicing the four poses.
Use a strap around your arms: This will help keep your elbows from flailing out and force you to practice proper form, while strengthening your shoulders and arms in the process.
Practice with your feet against a wall: A lot of people forget to engage the legs in Plank. Practicing with your heels up against a wall reminds you to actively push into the wall and engage both legs throughout the pose.
Use a strap around your upper arms: If your arms are too weak, they will try to go out to the sides. The strap will help you keep them aligned correctly.
Use blocks under your shoulders: If you want to work on building your core strength, place a block under each shoulder. This will help support your shoulders so you can focus on lowering down while keeping your core engaged.
Use blocks under your hips: On the contrary, if it’s upper body strength you want to focus on, place a block or two underneath your hips to keep your core supported, so you can focus on lowering down while maintaining proper shoulder and arm alignment.
Upward Facing Dog
Use blocks under both hands: If you lack the strength to help you lift up into Upward Facing Dog, try placing a block under each hand in Upward Dog for traction. This also allows more space in your spine while coming into the pose.
Downward Facing Dog
Use a strap around your arms: If you have an issue with upper body strength, practicing the transition from Plank to Downward Dog with a strap around your arms can be extremely beneficial in helping you build up necessary arm and shoulder strength.
Strengthening Yoga Poses to Improve Strength for Your Vinyasa
There are tons of other poses that target the core, shoulders, and back, which are some of the main muscle groups used when practicing a full vinyasa flow. Here are a few you can practice:
Boat Pose: Practicing Boat is a great way to strengthen your core to prepare yourself for the core strength needed in Plank, Chaturanga and Downward Facing Dog.
Forearm Plank: If you have difficulty holding Plank, practice Forearm Plank. This is also a great pose to help you strengthen your shoulders to aide you in safe transitions.
Locust: Locust is a great pose to help you target your back in order to help you keep your chest lifted in poses such as Chaturanga and Upward Facing Dog and prevent you from collapsing, compromising your spine.
What is Vinyasa Yoga?
Vinyasa yoga is a type of yoga that links poses together in a flow using the breath. Breath is linked to movement and poses are only held for a short time. There is no fixed sequence and the flows are often creative and playful.
Is Vinyasa yoga hard for beginners?
It always depends on the teacher and the level. If you have no experience with yoga, I suggest a Beginner’s Yoga class or a Beginner Vinyasa. Vinyasa is characterized by fast-moving flows, it is therefore important to know the right alignment in poses. If you’re not familiar with it, attending a class where the teacher gives many alignment cues and adjustments is safer.
What is the difference between Yoga and Vinyasa?
Yoga includes many different styles: Ashtanga Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa yoga… Vinyasa yoga is one style of yoga, while yoga itself is both a spiritual and physical practice. It does not only involve the physical poses (called “asanas”), but also mental practices and offers a compass for a meaningful life. According to the sage Patanjali, there are 8 aspects (limbs) of yoga: Ethical standards (Yamas), self-discipline (Niyama), physical practice (Asana), breathwork (Pranayama), sensory transcendence (Pratyahara), concentration (Dharana), meditation (Dhyana) and connection to the divine (Samadhi).