What is Vinyasa Yoga by Lisa Ware



Monarch on Redbud | Photo Credit: Lisa Ware

Sanskrit | विन्यास

vinyāsa; vi-NYAAH-sa is a Sanskrit term often employed in relation to certain styles of yoga. The term vinyasa may be broken down into its Sanskritic roots to assist in decoding its meaning. Nyasa denotes “to place” and vi denotes “in a special way.” Like many Sanskrit words, vinyasa is a term that has many meanings.


There are four basic definitions of vinyasa

1) the linking of body movement with breath

2) a specific sequence of breath-synchronized movements used to transition between sustained postures

3) setting an intention for one’s personal yoga practice and taking the necessary steps toward reaching that goal

4) a type of yoga class.


Sequential movement that interlinks postures to form a continuous flow. It creates a movement meditation that reveals all forms as being impermanent and for this reason are not held on to.

It denotes a flowing, dynamic form of yoga, connected to breath or pranayama in which yoga and mudra transitions are embodied as linkages within and between asana. Indeed, this process entrains the mindstream with the bodymind of the aspirant, and fuels the samādhi (higher level of concentrated meditation, the 8th limb of yoga,  a Mystery in the adept; in affirmation that no value judgment between the importance or ascendancy of the asana or the transitions between asana is held. This view of non-judgement is grounded, founded and based in the Shunyata Doctrine which informed the development of vinyasa styles.

Vinyasa is also employed as a noun to describe the sequence of poses that are performed between Adho Mukha Svanasana or Downward Facing Dog as part of a Surya Namaskara or Sun Salutation sequence. This is more correctly termed half-vinyasa, as full-vinyasa returns to complete standing asana or positions.

Srivasta Ramaswami, (whom Lisa has had the pleasure of studying with directly) author of The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga and a direct disciple of the legendary Yoga teacher Krishnamacharya, brings forth the essence of Vinyasa in asana practice in the following way,

“My guru believed that the correct vinyasa method is essential in order to receive the full benefits from yoga practice. The following quote, which was translated from Yoga Makaranda, perfectly captures this sentiment.”From time immemorial the Vedic syllables…are chanted with the correct (high, low, and level) notes. Likewise, sruti (pitch) and laya (rhythm) govern Indian classical music. Classical Sanskrit poetry follows strict rules of chandas (meter), yati(caesura), and prasa (assemblage). Further, in mantra worship, nyasas (usually the assignment of different parts of the body to various deities, with mantras and gestures) – such as Kala nyasa, Matruka nyasa, Tatwa nyasa – are integral parts. Likewise yogasana (yogic poses), pranayama (yogic breathing exercises), and mudras (seals, locks, gestures) have been practiced with vinyasas from time immemorial. However, these days, in many places, many great souls who teach yoga do so without the vinyasas. They merely stretch or contract the limbs and proclaim that they are practicing yoga…””

Ramaswami further goes on to add, “Just as music without proper pitch (sruti) and rhythm (laya) will not give happiness, yogasana practice without the observance of vinyasas will not give health. That being the case what can I say about the long life, strength and other benefits?”

Vinyasa yoga, in which movement is synchronized to the breath, is a term that covers a broad range of yoga classes. This style is sometimes also called flow yoga, because of the smooth way that the poses run together and become like a dance. The breath becomes an important component because the teacher will instruct you to move from one pose to the next on an inhale or an exhale. Vinyasa is literally translated from Sanskrit as meaning “connection,” according to Ellen Stansell, PhD, RYT, a scholar of yogic literature and Sanskrit. In terms of yoga asana we can interpret this as a connection between movement and breath.

From the Yoga 4 Love Advanced Training Program Teacher Training Manual

© Lisa Ware 2014

Sources: http://yoga.about.com/od/howtospeakyoga/g/asana.htm

Lori Gaspar |  http://yoga.about.com/bio/Ann-Pizer-12794.htm

Srivasta Ramaswami, author of The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga

Maehle (2007: p.294)  | http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam%C4%81dhi