TWIST TIPS: What is Vinyasa Yoga?

Introduction to Vinyasa Flow Yoga: The Popular Yoga Style Links Movement and Breath

by Ann Pizer of

vinyasa yoga

vinyasa yoga

Vinyasa Yoga, also called "flow" because of the smooth way that 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 power yoga.

In contemporary yoga parlance, vinyasa stands in opposition to hatha. Hatha classes tend to 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.

In vinyasa yoga, each movement is synchronized to 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, Ph.D., 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.

What to Expect


Vinyasa allows for a lot of variety, but will almost always include sun salutations. Expect to move, sometimes vigorously, from pose to pose. Whether the class is fast or slow, includes advanced poses, or is very alignment-oriented will depend on the individual teacher and the particular style in which he or she is trained.

When the teacher says, "Move through your Vinyasa"

When vinyasa is used as a noun, it describes a series of three poses that are done as part of a sun salutation sequence. When the teacher says, "go through the vinyasa at your own pace," she means 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.

The beginner's version of the vinyasa is plank → knees, chest, chin → cobra → downward facing dog.

The advanced version is plank → chaturanga dandasana → upward facing dog → downward facing dog.

5 of the most frequent questions about Vinyasa Yoga:

  1. How is it different than Bikram Yoga? Bikram Yoga has the same 26 poses every time in every class in the same order. There is no music and routine is performed twice during the 90-minute class and is in a strict 105 degrees. Vinyasa yoga focuses on a series of continuous movements, combined with breathing techniques, which is why it is referred to as flow yoga. It is not a prescribed series. Each teacher creates a sequence of poses that may focus on a key area of anatomy, or a peak pose or simply a well-rounded flow. Music is often used, and the temperatures vary as much as the yoga postures. Breath is integral to the practice and linked with the movement.

  2. What is Power Yoga at Twist? Is it the same at Vinyasa Yoga? Yes, at Twist Yoga, we refer to our most common classes as Power Yoga and Yoga Flow. These are all in the Vinyasa style of yoga.

  3. How many classes should I do a week? This is very personal. Many of our yogis practice every day. That being said, it's important to vary your practice from Power Vinyasa classes to Yin/Restorative yoga, to Shred/Pilates, and also to meditation. If you want to see real change from your yoga practice, we recommend practicing at least three times a week. Of course, your yoga is there waiting for you whenever you can get to your mat, so don't let the number of days a week ever get in the way of your goals.

  4. How is Yin/Restorative different than Vinyasa Power?

  5. Twist Yin/Restorative is a quiet practice suitable for students of all levels. Even the most athletic-minded power yogis need time to surrender, slow down and come back to balance. Many poses are seated, prone or supine and are held for several minutes while focusing on breath, presence, and relieving tension. Yin/Restorative is not heated, linked with breath or containing any sun salutations. In yin/restorative, you will use props (blocks, blankets, bolsters, straps) to ease the body into comfortable shapes and allow the muscles to relax. Sometimes, you may be in these shapes for up to 7 minutes. In a Vinyasa class, you may practice upwards of 30 poses, and in a yin/restorative class, you may see as little as 6 in an hour class.

  6. I'm not flexible! Can I still practice Vinyasa Yoga? Of course! This practice is intended for all body types and abilities. Although it does create space and flexibility in the body, it focuses on creating strength and mobility in the joints as well.