Vinyasa Yoga Poses: How To Do & Benefits

A vinyasa is a movement between different poses in yoga, which flow together in a smooth sequence. As you perform a vinyasa, you should synchronize your breath along with the moves to achieve balance with mind and body. Vinyasa yoga is one of the most popular forms of modern yoga, with many people practicing it all over the world.

The name vinyasa is composed of the Sanskrit word nyasa, which means ‘to place’, and the prefix ‘vi-’, which connotes a special way of doing something. Therefore, in a vinyasa you are placing your body in a special way, which is the transition between the different positions along with the regulated breathing. Vinyasa yoga aims to mimic the pleasing effect of naturally-occurring vinyasas, such as rising and falling tides.

Vinyasa Yoga How To Do & Benefits

Benefits of Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa yoga has many benefits for your well-being, and is recommended if you want both a physical and mental workout. With regular vinyasa training, you can reap a whole range of health rewards, which include:

  • Flexibility – as you move smoothly through the poses, you repeatedly stretch your muscles and they begin to loosen. This also works for your joints, helping them to become less stiff. The coordination of the breathing sends more necessary oxygen to your muscles, allowing them to flex and release tension. 
  • Circulation – working your body in this way creates heat within it, which keeps your blood thin and pure. It is therefore able to move around your body freely and aid organ function. Again, the breathing is key here for maximizing unimpeded circulation in various parts of the body.
  • Calorie burning – since you are constantly moving and working your muscles, vinyasa yoga is a great way of burning calories. You can burn over 500 calories in an hour-long session, making it a super effective workout if you are wanting to lose weight. It depends on your current weight and the intensity of the session as to the exact number of calories you will burn, and you should try and combine your vinyasa with other workouts to achieve maximum efficiency in this area.
  • Concentration – vinyasa yoga requires a lot of focus to perform properly, so it has been likened to a form of active meditation. The goal is to get your mind and body working together as a single unit, and this can be an effective way to relieve stress. The breathing techniques calm the nervous system, which in turn calms the brain.

Vinyasa Poses

The first thing you must do before starting any vinyasa is to check in – take a few minutes to bring your body to a calm, relaxed state, in a position that is comfortable for you.

Tune in to your breath, trying to consciously control your breathing pattern. Being aware of this helps you to be present and more in touch with your body. Once you feel this calmness washing over you, it’s time to begin your vinyasa sequence. 

Here are a selection of beginner vinyasa poses that you can use to get started on your sequence. You can mix and match however you like and you don’t have to stick to the same moves in the same order every time – the important thing to remember is to transition fluidly between them.

1. Cat/cow

Begin in the tabletop position on your hands and knees, making sure your back is flat. Then, lower your belly and bring your chest forwards as you inhale.

On the exhale, pull your spine upwards to create a curved back, pressing your hands into the mat to support you and drawing your belly button inwards. Repeat this about 10 times, trying to keep the movements as smooth as possible. This move focuses on stretching your chest and abdomen and increasing the range of motion in your shoulders. 

2. Downward dog

Downward dog is a staple of the yoga world, and one that everyone knows. You must be able to do a downward dog properly to achieve the desired effects from it.

From tabletop position, tuck your toes under and lift your hips diagonally upwards with your hands still on the mat. Keep your knees slightly bent and your spine even. Feel a stretch in your calves as your heels sink towards the floor. This is an excellent stretching pose for your hamstrings and back.   

3. Plank

Planks are a very popular tool in all sorts of workouts, because they target the whole body and build strength. To transition from a downward dog, bring your hips forward and down so that your shoulders are above your wrists.

Use your core muscles to support your body and maintain a strong position for a count of 4 breaths before releasing. You can place your knees on the floor if you need to for a modified plank. There is also a low plank, or Chaturanga, where you bend your elbows to a 90 degree angle and lower your body until it is level, keeping your toes on the mat but your heels in the air. 

4. Cobra

A cobra is wonderful for stretching your chest and relieving tension. Lying down on your front with your whole body in a straight line and your legs a shoulder width apart, place your hands on the mat on either side of your ribcage so your elbows are bent at 90 degrees. Lift up your chest by pressing your hands into the mat and lifting with your back at the same time.

Your elbows should still be bent in low cobra; once you are steady, lift yourself higher using your back and abdomen until your arms are straight. Raise your eyes upwards to keep length in the neck and align yourself properly.

5. Child’s Pose

This is a relaxing pose to keep you centred between the more strenuous poses in your vinyasa. While in tabletop position, pull your knees apart to the width of your mat. Sweep your bottom legs inwards until your toes are touching and your legs form a triangle underneath you. Then, slowly lower your hips to rest on top of your heels, with your arms straight out in front of you.

Alternatively, you can rest your hands to the side of your body, or spread them wide in a V shape above your head. Experiment to find which way is most comfortable for you. Child’s pose is often used at the end of a sequence because it cools down your body and lets you refocus your mind. 

Laura Simmons
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