A vinyasa is a series of dynamic postures that are performed between stationary poses in some forms of yoga. These include ashtanga yoga, power yoga, vinyasa yoga, and flow yoga. Its origin is found in ashtanga yoga, a physically demanding system of yoga that has been practiced for over 100 years. Unlike more stationary systems of yoga, such as hatha yoga, ashtanga yoga requires the practitioner to “flow” from one posture to another using the vinyasa. The actual movements involved in this flow are derived from the postures found in the sun salutations and they are intricately laced with a specific breathing pattern.
The vinyasa begins with a deep inhale and the hands being raised up over the head, palms touching. Then, with an exhale, the palms are brought down to touch the floor while the upper body bends down from the hips. With an inhale, the arms are straightened, the eyes look ahead and the back is straightened. There should be an approximately 60 degree angle between the legs and the upper body at the hip. With an exhale, the entire body is brought down to the floor into plank position.
The arms are kept near the waist and bent at the elbows to allow the body to hover straight over the floor. This is the four-limbed staff position, or chaturanga. With an inhale, the arms are straightened, the back bends backward, and the head drops back into upward-facing dog position. With an exhale, the hips are pushed upward into downward-facing dog position and the body takes the shape of a triangle. Finally, with an inhale, the legs are brought forth with a jump or a step, and the pelvis dropped to a seated position.
As with the rest of ashtanga yoga, the main focus of the vinyasa should not be on the muscles, but rather on the breath. There are many ways of making the postures less demanding on the body so that the practitioner may focus on their breathing. For example, the knees can touch the floor in plank position if the arms are not strong enough to support the entire body. Sometimes the vinyasa can even be left out completely if it becomes too demanding on the body.
The goal of flowing between postures is to create heat in the body and cleanse it through increased circulation. It also helps strengthen the joints and tendons most frequently used in ashtanga yoga, thus helping to prevent injuries. Taking deep breaths or doing a less intense version of the vinyasa can accomplish the same goal to a certain degree.