VINYASA = "to place in a certain way"
It’s a word you’ve probably encountered while looking up what yoga class to take.
You might have also heard teachers say:
“And now flow through your own vinyasa.”
For many, Vinyasa Flow is the first style of yoga that people are introduced to (unless you were practicing back in the day when Bikram hot yoga was initially introduced to the West). It’s the most prevalent style offered at studios – Intermediate Vinyasa, Power Vinyasa, Ashtanga Vinyasa, Slow Vinyasa, Vinyasa Sculpt, Hot Vinyasa and the list goes on.
You get the picture.
And to be honest, I don’t find Vinyasa to be the best style suited for those who are just starting out with yoga. So today, I’m giving the lowdown as to why it isn’t and how there are other styles out there that might best suited for beginner yogis.
And remember, this is just my opinion on the subject.
But first, let’s go over as to what exactly Vinyasa Flow is.
what is vinyasa flow?
This yoga style connects one pose to the next in a sequence that can be fixed (i.e., Ashtanga) or through a progression. Each movement is synced with the breath.
For an example: inhale for Cow pose, exhale for Cat pose. Repeat.
Vinyasa also refers to a specific set of poses that comprises of Plank through Chaturanga, to Upward Facing Dog and back to Downward Facing Dog.
Vinyasa Flow classes rely on some combination of Surya Namaskara aka Sun Salutation, including Suyra/Sun A, and Surya/Sun B. You’ll find this sequence more than often enough taught over and over again to prepare the body for other poses.
Teachers may then come up with progressions of their own on how and where they want to take the class. Vinyasa provides room for diversity, taking in from different styles to create a smooth steady flow. Heavily reliant on the transitions!
Why not vinyasa flow then?
The contemporary version of yoga as we know of it today has become physical-based and considered to many as a workout.
Totally fine, your practice, you make it whatever you’d like.
Because Vinyasa Flow classes are about getting the heart rate up and building a sweat, students are often times rushed through the sequence from one pose to another. And only holding for an inhale or exhale in a pose. All based on the “one breath, one movement” methodology.
With that in mind, there’s barely enough time to even find the proper alignment or to feel what the pose has to offer.
I’ve heard people say that a teacher’s class is hard because she moves so fast through each pose and they like it which quite frankly, scares me.
As you get tired, you start to disengage parts of the body and end up moving through a pose in a sloppy manner. You aren’t as focused and attentive as to alignment and stabilizing. You cut the breath short or stop breathing all together.
Especially when lowering down through Chaturanga which can cause undue stress in the shoulders because of the complexity of their structure and how mobile the shoulder girdle is. Based on one study by Yoganatomy.com, 35% of total respondents who reported of a shoulder injury in yoga was in the Chaturanga pose.
There is a tendency to instead of taking a Downward Dog or Child’s pose, we try to push through just to make it to that next pose.
In my opinion, this is a recipe for building bad habits. Compensation, destabilization, and misalignment occurs.
Which then lead to injuries and possibly, turning someone away from the practice all together.
Sure, you might say it depends on the person and how she or he reacts. That they haven’t let their egos go yet.
Well, even yogis who have been practicing for a long time incur injuries because they still haven’t let their egos go. Going past that edge…
And I feel for beginners because I was once there too; it takes a lot not to get caught up with the momentum and by the energy surrounded by others in the room. With the teacher guiding, music bumping, and everyone breathing, it’s hard to sit out sometimes.
So, What do you suggest Then?
If you are looking to connect with yourself on more of a spiritual level first, try taking meditation classes that will help build the foundation, especially bringing attention to your breath.
We live in a culture based on a go, grind, hustle and bustle mentality. It’s perfectly fine to slow down.
You’ll be holding poses up to minutes at a time and supported with props. This will help prepare the body get familiar with new shapes for other styles.
And if something “hard” is what you are still looking for, I challenge you to take one of these classes and stay present the entire time, allowing yourself to let go on a physical and mental level. And to see how you react with the discomfort (not pain) while holding these poses for long periods of time. Using the time for self-reflection without getting distracted. A time to release tension that has been stored in the body from injuries, trauma, and not-so-good posture. A time to drop in, to be okay with the silence, to allow whatever thoughts to come and go.
Check out my curated Pinterest board, Yin and Restorative Tutorials, for more inspiration and insight.
And when you are looking for more, check out classes that have intro or beginner in the name and description. These classes are specifically made for beginners who are relatively new to yoga and still not familiar with poses.
And guess what? Own that you are a beginner because all yogis, even the most advanced ones, had to start from somewhere!
There are classes that hold poses for several cycles of breath but not as long as you would in a Yin or Restorative class. Check out Gentle, Hatha, or Iyengar classes to see if that suits your needs.
Also, please don’t be afraid to talk to studio owners about the level you are at so they can better serve you with which classes to take and with which teachers. It is also a student’s responsibility to let teachers know about existing conditions or injuries before starting class. For a better overall experience for everyone.
One more suggestion...
If you have a pretty decent level of body awareness or understanding of having a compassionate approach to your yoga practice, I’d recommend cYoga (read my post, My Breakdown to cYoga: How This Yoga Style Transformed Practice & Teaching)
Yes, I am biased when suggesting this particular style because of how well it has worked for me and others.
As a teacher, I’ve had beginner yogis who come to my classes who couldn’t do more than half of the poses in class but were able to find an offered modification to work towards a similar shape.
We aren’t bulldozing through poses on one breath but instead, several moments to savor and open up to a pose. Building awareness, strength, flexibility, and endurance.
I do believe that because of how methodical cYoga’s approach is without using repetitive motions can make this practice long-term. Especially if you are looking to dive a layer deeper into your yoga movement practice.
You stick to one theme the entire class so your body isn’t thinking, “wtf mate, you want me to do this now after moving in the other direction for so long?” There’s a point and purpose for each pose.
It maximizes on working deeply towards the peak pose to get you more prepared for it.
Each sequence is also different from the next and it isn’t something that you can predict like you would with Sun Salutations.
Pros and cons to what you find suitable for your practice and needs.
And to wrap things up, I know that Vinyasa is a popular style that is available at almost every single studio. I still suggest always do your research first, continue to take different classes, and find teachers you like who can help facilitate your practice when first starting off.
So what are your thoughts and experiences with Vinyasa Flow being the first style a beginning practitioner should take? Yea or nay and why?