Introduction to Vinyasa Yoga

This popular style, also called vinyasa flow, links movement and breath

Vinyasa yoga, also called "flow" because of the smooth way the poses run together, is one of the most popular contemporary styles of yoga. It's a broad classification that encompasses many different types of yoga, including Ashtanga and power yoga. Here is what you need to know about vinyasa yoga.

What Is Vinyasa Yoga?

Vinyasa stands in opposition to hatha. Hatha classes focus on one pose at a time, with rest in between. In contrast, flow classes string poses together to make a sequence.

The sequence may be fixed, as in Ashtanga, in which the poses are always done in the same order. But most of the time, vinyasa teachers have the discretion to arrange the progression of poses in their own ways.


Watch Now: How to Connect Vinyasa Poses Into a Flow

In vinyasa yoga, each movement is synchronized with a breath. The breath is given primacy, acting as an anchor as you move from one pose to the next.

A cat-cow stretch is an example of a very simple vinyasa. The spine is arched on an inhale and rounded on an exhale. A sun salutation sequence is a more complex vinyasa. Each movement in the series is cued by an inhalation or an exhalation of the breath.

The literal translation of vinyasa from Sanskrit is "connection," according to Ellen Stansell, PhD, RYT, and scholar of yogic literature. In terms of yoga asana, we can interpret this as a connection between movement and breath or as the connection between poses in a flowing sequence.

Benefits of Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa yoga is excellent for your health. Not only does it keep you active, but it reduces stress, is accessible for many fitness levels, and improves heart health.

Research shows that vinyasa yoga reduces arterial stiffness that occurs with age, a significant factor in improving heart health and reducing risks of high blood pressure. Vinyasa yoga also helps lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels and improves mood.

Vinyasa yoga has also been shown to improve positive emotional ratings over negative ones. This measure demonstrates the ability of Vinyasa yoga to reduce risks of anxiety and depression. Further research shows vinyasa yoga helps people relax and increases their ability to handle stress.

What to Expect From Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa yoga allows for a lot of variety but will almost always include sun salutations. Expect to move from pose to pose.

Whether the class is fast or slow, includes advanced poses, or is alignment-oriented will depend on the individual teacher and the particular style in which they are trained. Some classes include warm-up stretches, while others launch straight into standing poses.

Some popular yoga styles fall under the vinyasa umbrella, including Jivamukti, CorePower, Baptiste Power Vinyasa, and Modo. If a class is identified as vinyasa yoga, it may use aspects of several different traditions.

The one thing you can be sure of is the flow between poses. The rest is up to the teacher, but you can expect to go through any combination of the poses below.

Going Through Your Vinyasa

woman doing cobra pose

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

When vinyasa is used as a noun, it describes a series of three poses as part of a sun salutation sequence. When teachers say, "Go through the vinyasa at your own pace," they mean to do a plankchaturanga, and upward facing dog (or their equivalent variations), using your breath to measure when to move on to the next pose.

If you start to get tired and this affects the quality of your poses, it's very acceptable to skip the vinyasa and wait for the class in downward facing dog. You can do a beginner or advanced version of the vinyasa.

Beginner's Version

Beginners Version: Plank Pose

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

  1. Begin in a plank position. This is usually arrived at by stepping or jumping back from the front of your yoga mat. If plank is too much for you, you can always drop your knees to the floor.
  2. Keep shoulders stacked over wrists and hips in line with shoulders.
  3. Lengthen forward through the crown of your head and out through your heels.

Lower to Knees, Chest, and Chin

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

  1. Exhale to lower your knees, chest, and chin to your mat.
  2. Keep your butt high in the air and your elbows point straight back along your sides.

This pose is a good warm-up for backbends and helps you develop arm strength.​ Just be sure to use the proper form.

Cobra Pose

Cobra Pose

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

  1. Inhale and slide forward to a low Cobra Pose.
  2. Refrain from moving your arms. As you lower your hips to the floor, your chest will come forward and lift up off the ground.​
  3. Try to make this lift come from the strength of your back, not pushing down into your hands.
  4. Keep little to no weight in your hands while you anchor your pelvis and the tops of your feet to the mat.

Downward Facing Dog

Downward Facing Dog

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

  1. Exhale and curl your toes under as you straighten your arms to push back to Downward Facing Dog.
  2. Come through all fours or a Child's Pose in transition if you want to. In Downward Facing Dog, your hands are shoulder-width apart and your feet are hip-width apart.
  3. Keep your spine long; press sit bones towards sky and heels towards floor.

Advanced Version

Advanced Version: Back to Plank Pose

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Now let's take a look at the advanced version, which also begins with plank pose. During a sun salutation flow, seasoned practitioners will sometimes jump back from utanasana straight into chaturanga. In that case, skip the plank pose. To prepare to lower from plank, shift forward onto your tiptoes.

Chaturanga Dandasana

Chaturanga Dandasana

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

  1. Exhale and bend your elbows straight back to lower to Chaturanga Dandasana. Your body is in one straight line and your shoulders should be no lower than your elbows.
  2. Try not to rush on to the next pose.
  3. Use your leg strength: Press the backs of your knees toward the sky and press into the balls of your feet to help engage the leg muscles.

Upward Facing Dog

Upward Facing Dog

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

  1. Inhale and straighten your arms, drop your hips, and roll over the toes to the tops of your feet into Upward Facing Dog. You can flip the feet one at a time if that works better for you.
  2. Press into your hands and feet to keep your thighs lifted off the floor.
  3. Keep your shoulders moving away from your ears.

Downward Facing Dog

Downward Facing Dog

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

  1. Exhale, roll over the toes and shift your hips up and back to Downward Facing Dog.
  2. Take several deep breaths before moving on.

Do the version of the vinyasa that you are most comfortable with. Even if you have a very competent chaturanga, it's nice to warm up with a few rounds of Knees, Chest, Chin at the beginning of class.

Some flow classes have a lot of vinyasas. If you get tired and your form starts to slip, go back to the beginners' version or skip the vinyasa altogether. You can stay in plank or downward facing dog while you wait. Chaturanga is a tricky pose, and injuries are more likely to happen when you're tired, so play it safe.

Is Vinyasa Yoga for You?

Vinyasa yoga's strength is in its diversity. This style is worth a try if you appreciate having things a little loose and unpredictable and like to keep moving.

In most cases, there is no single philosophy, rulebook, or sequence that teachers must follow, so there is a lot of room for individual personalities and quirks to come through. This makes it essential to find a teacher you enjoy and can relate to. If your first flow class doesn't rock your world, keep trying different teachers until you find one that's a better fit.

A Word From Verywell

Vinyasa yoga is an excellent way to unwind, keep active, and improve your health. Starting with a beginner flow will help you learn the principles and basics of this popular yoga style.

Go at your own pace and don't ever push into pain. For more instruction, consider attending some Vinyasa yoga classes or try an online class.

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Ann Pizer, RYT
Ann Pizer is a writer and registered yoga instructor who teaches vinyasa/flow and prenatal yoga classes.