For those of you who are familiar with the vinyasa style of yoga, you know that “vinyasa” refers to a series of poses – chaturanga, upward-facing dog, downward facing dog – that is often performed at the tail end of a sequence. When initially building a yoga asana practice, knowing what to do when a vinyasa is cued is encouraging, as you start to feel like like less of a newbie. After engaging in the physical practice of yoga for a while, however, it’s easy to begin taking the vinyasa for granted. Recently, I’ve found myself thinking about the vinyasa – what function does a vinyasa actually serve within the grand scheme of any given yoga session. In other words, “Why do we vinyasa?”
In this post, I want to take a little time explore, what I see to be, the critical characteristics of the vinyasa in order to better understand its role in the yoga asana practice.
Having been practicing yoga consistently for a bit under four years, it can be easy for me to lose presence during a vinyasa. If I’m not mindful, I can end up in down dog only to realize that I haven’t been fully present for the preceding two postures. While I am critical of sometimes losing mindfulness as I move through the series – that familiarity is essential to the vinyasas function. If you’re lucky enough to attend yoga classes with instructors who are creative and inspiring (and I am! S/O to ODD), you spend a lot of time exploring your body in new and interesting ways throughout class. This can be fun but also challenging, allowing for growth within your practice. Between long holds, strenuous arm balances, and unfamiliar transitions, the vinyasa is there to ground you. It acts as a home base to which you return time and time again to recenter. It’s a moment to reconnect with your breath and remind yourself of your intentions before moving back into the challenges, ideally with a renewed sense of clarity and focus.
While the familiarity of the vinyasa is comforting, it is not make it easy. To safety move through the series of postures requires focus and strength, just as all yoga asanas do. It is humbling in that no matter how many times you’ve done a vinyasa, no two experiences are ever the same.
This is true not only of the embodied experience of moving through the flow but also of the poses themselves. Vinyasas should be modified and are always optional. Within any given class, a person’s vinyasa can (and should!) take on different forms as they adjust to what their body needs from one moment to the next. There are moments when the persistent tightness of my shoulders literally brings me to my knees, as I realize that I have to modify your chaturanga or transform my downdog into a child’s pose. While some choose to grab a quick handstand before hopping back into chaturanga, others step each foot back deliberately from a forward fold before lowering onto their bellies. These moments are revealing. They ground us and remind us of our humanity. More importantly, they remind us to be diligent about self care. They force us to check in with our minds and bodies and adjust to our current condition.
Right now, I am taking a bit of a vinyasa in life. As some of you might know, I’m currently taking a bit of a hiatus from LA. Since returning from Colombia, I’ve been a little put off the energy in Los Angeles and the political climate has further contributed to my anxiousness. I’m in need to some time to turn inward to reassess (and ideally, work on my dissertation!). I see this time away as a vinyasa in that I’m hoping to use this couple of months to ground and clear. It won’t be easy – it’ll require strength, discipline, and humility, but ultimately it will set me up to face the next set of challenges with more commitment and grace.
May you all take your vinyasas when and however you need them.