What is Vinyasa Yoga? Poses and benefits

  • Vinyasa yoga connects the poses together so that you switch between them and emphasizes breathing.
  • Common vinyasa poses include the child pose, downward dog, warrior II, and plank.
  • The benefits of vinyasa yoga include increased strength, reduced stress, and better balance.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference Library for more tips.

The word “vinyasa” in Sanskrit means to organize something in a special way. Thus, vinyasa yoga connects the postures between them, so you go from one to the other. It also synchronizes movement with breathing, which some other styles of yoga don’t. Vinyasa developed from Ashtanga yoga, a more traditional version of the practice.

In particular, vinyasa yoga relies on sun salutations, specific sequences that are often used to warm the body, says Robyn Childers, certified yoga teacher and co-founder of Welcome Home Yoga & Wellness. Instructors can also direct your gaze to strengthen mental focus, explains Childers.

Typically, vinyasa yoga is a more physically demanding challenge than some other styles of yoga, such as yin, which involve less dynamic movement and more stillness, says Tahl Rinsky, a certified yoga instructor who teaches through the Centr and Creature Yoga health app.

Vinyasa yoga poses

Vinyasa is suitable for beginners if you stick to basic poses, says Childers. How often you should practice depends on your goals, but they recommend at least twice a week to notice changes. Avoid practicing on consecutive days, so that your body can rest.

Here are five Childers recommended poses that are suitable for beginners. Practice the following poses one after the other to move in a smooth motion.

1. Descendant dog (Sanskrit name: Adho Mukha Svanasana)

Descending dog

Downhill dog is a great way to start and stretch your spine.

The descending dog may sound simple, but it is recruiting muscle throughout your body.

How to do:

  1. Start in a tabletop pose, on your hands and knees.
  2. Inhale, tuck your toes in, and lift your knees.
  3. Exhale and press your hips up. Look between your knees or towards your belly button.

This pose works your arms and legs while stretching your spine, shoulders, hamstrings, and calves. This is an opportunity to refocus your breathing and calm your mind.

Modification: painting

2. Plank pose (Kumbhakasana)

Plank posture

The plank tests your abdominal strength.

Half-darkness / Getty Images

How to do:

  1. Start with a descending dog.
  2. Inhale and shift your weight forward, aligning your shoulders with your wrists.
  3. Pull your belly button towards your spine, aligning your hips with your shoulders and heels. Look in your hands.

The board strengthens the back, trunk and legs while creating the internal heat associated with a flow of vinyasa.

Modification: painting

3. updog or cobra pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

Cobra pose

The cobra pose stretches your chest muscles.

Luis Alvarez / Getty Images

How to do:

  1. Start by lying on your stomach or on a low board.
  2. Inhale and bring your hands under your shoulders, pressing down on your palms, extending your arms, and lifting your chest.
  3. Find a soft backbend. Contemplate.

This stretches the shoulders, abs, and chest, widening the chest and releasing stiffness.

Modification: Rest on your forearms instead of your hands, or try the baby cobra.

4. Child posture (Balasana)

Child posture

The child’s pose is a place of rest.

Luis Alvarez / Getty Images

How to do:

  1. Start in a table pose.
  2. Exhale and separate your knees, resting your hips on your heels.
  3. Extend your arms out in front of you and let your eyes close.

The child’s pose is a place of rest, refocusing and calm. It opens the hips, thighs, ankles and lower back.

Modification: Bring your arms back to your sides and rest your forehead and chest on a bolster.

5. Warrior II (Virabhadrasana B)

warrior two

Warrior II can be tough, but that’s why it also tests your mental toughness.

Azman L / Getty Images

How to do:

  1. Start with a descending dog.
  2. Inhale, lift your right leg and look towards your belly button.
  3. Exhale, place your right foot between your hands and lower your back (left) heel flat at a 90 degree angle.
  4. Inhale, bend your right knee into a lunge and lift your core by opening your arms in a T-shape (right arm in front of you, left arm behind you).
  5. Look beyond your right fingers.
  6. Repeat these steps on the other side.

This strengthens the outer hips, quads, calves, ankles, and outer shoulders, and stretches the chest, groin, and inner thighs. “Warrior II trains the mind to find ease and stillness during times of discomfort,” says Childers.

Modification: Place a folding metal chair on the outside of your right leg, with the front edge of the seat facing you. As you bend your right knee, slide the front edge of the seat under your right thigh.

Insider takeaways

While vinyasa can be demanding, there is always a way to modify it to meet you where you are, says Childers. To learn more, they recommend going to a vinyasa class, but you may have to try different studios or videos online to find an instructor that fits your needs.

Most important is to create a consistent practice that you can stick to, and a guided program, like Centr Align, might help, Rinsky says.

“Vinyasa yoga helps keep the mind focused and calm, and the body strong and mobile,” says Rinsky.

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