When I say I’m a yoga teacher, I’m often asked which style I teach. “Vinyasa,” I say, knowing my answer will lead to further questions. With so many styles of yoga appearing class lists, it’s sometimes difficult to keep up with what they all are.
In Sanskrit, the word vinyasa means “to place in special consideration” or “to place carefully”. It is immediately obvious that this word, vinyasa, could apply to all sorts of things — the arrangement of notes in a piece of music, words following one another in a sentence, even the order of your morning or evening rituals. And, of course, you can begin to see how the word vinyasa might be applied to a yoga class.
Vinyasa yoga carefully links one asana (posture) to the next, using the breath as a guiding force for any movement. Even restorative classes are not completely static, but a vinyasa yoga class can be quite dynamic, and the transitions between postures are often just as important as the moments spent relatively still in each asana. Surya namaskar, or Salute to the Sun, is a common vinyasa yoga sequence.
Change and movement are an unavoidable part of life — we grow and age, seasons change, the sun rises and falls. Some change is welcome, some is not. The trick is to allow yourself to be present and accepting as things change (easier said than done sometimes, I know!).
Practicing vinyasa yoga, and being conscious of the transition between poses as well as the poses themselves, can help us be more aware of transitions we are moving through off the mat.
As you practice surya namaskar, notice how you move from one pose to the next; do you drop yourself onto the floor during chaturanga (low plank), or fling yourself back up to tadasana (mountain pose) from uttanasana (standing forward bend)? Or perhaps you move slowly between poses, sometimes struggling to keep up with the teacher’s instructions.
If you take the time to notice each time you practice, you may find you’re able to make an assessment on your frame of mind or energy levels that day. Some days my surya namaskar seems to flow with such ease it’s like it’s not me moving at all, and on those days other things are easy too: I solve problems, I get lots of work done and I finish the day with a smile on my face. Other days don’t flow so well. I struggle to find the strength to lower myself to the floor in chaturanga, my shoulder joints crack as I move back into adho muka svanasana (downward facing dog), or I stand up too quickly at the end of a round and feel light-headed. On those days I’m more likely to feel tired, and perhaps a little grumpy. Even if I do manage to get lots of work done, I might not feel a sense of achievement.
Which isn’t to say that one type of practice — or one mood — is better than the other. Yogic philosophy teaches us that all emotions are equally important, even if some of them feel more pleasant than others. Checking in with ourselves like this, even if we don’t particularly like what we find, can help us to make choices about what we do on and off the mat that will make best use of our energy levels that day and hopefully address any imbalances present. Knowing where you’re starting from each day can help you to manoeuvre your way through a difficult period in your life; it can also help you notice and fully enjoy your good moods and any exciting changes that might be happening.
It’s a cliche, but often the journey is just as important as the destination. Practicing vinyasa yoga can help us relax and enjoy that journey, wherever it might be taking us. It can also help us practise giving special consideration to how best to approach our next pose, or the next phase in our day or lives.