What is yoga? Understanding vinyasa 

Although the term “yoga” represents many styles of practice, no two are alike. For example, Bikram, a physically intense practice often used for weight loss, consists of 26 basic postures practiced in a room that is heated to 40 degrees, with 40 percent humidity. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Sivananda, a more spiritual practice that emphasizes breathing and relaxation, and includes chanting and meditation.

One of the most popular forms of yoga is vinyasa. The name originates from the Sanskrit term nyasa, meaning “to place”, and the prefix vi, which means “in a special way”. This refers to the flow from one asana, or posture, to the next.

What is vinyasa?

The style of vinyasa comes from Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. This is an ancient practice, which can be linked back to the Vedas 3000-4000 years ago. Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya passed this method onto his mentee, Pattabhi Jois, who established an institute for this method in Mysore, South India.

The practice consists of a series of poses that flow through each inhalation and exhalation. It’s fairly fast paced continual movement makes it ideal for those looking to improve their physical health through cardiovascular exercise, in addition to nourishing their spiritual well being. Some yogis practice vinyasa to promote weight loss, as it burns up to seven calories a minute, according to a study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Soon, the practitioner will discover that there are a myriad more benefits this practice can gift them, as well as it’s life-changing potential.

The use of a particular technique of chest breathing, together with ‘bandhas’ – muscle seals – promote detoxification on a deep level. The mind is ‘bound’ by the practice of a set sequence of postures, where every movement linked to breath is defined from the beginning to the end of the practice. A gentle sound created with the breath draws the sense of hearing inward. In each posture, which is held for a set number of breaths, a so-called ‘drishti’ or looking place/gazing point is used, to prevent the eyes from wandering. In this way all senses are given an inward drawn focus point, with which one can reach a deep state of concentration, leading to a ‘moving meditation’.

What should I expect in class?

At North Sydney Yoga, we focus on Ashtanga vinyasa, which will allow you to learn a dynamic sequence of asanas. Our goal is to help you experience more energy, focus, attentiveness and mindfulness in your daily life.

The poses include many lunging, bending, and stretching asanas, in standing and seated positions, promoting strength, balance and flexibility. Sun Salutations are also typically practiced.

Inversions are also common, as they increase core strength, improve balance and circulation, energize the mind, and teach you to be comfortable when literally and metaphorically, your life might ‘turn upside down’. They are also fun!

Because vinyasa is physically challenging, yogis should wear something breathable and comfortable and bring plenty of water.

What is a “moving meditation?”

Most vinyasa yoga classes will begin and end with chanting and a meditation. The practice itself is often loosely referred to as a “moving meditation”, because of the mindfulness required.

Simply, meditation is the act of training and quieting the mind through focus. Strictly speaking, “moving meditation” doesn’t exist, as meditation is a very advanced state of deep, single-pointed concentration. But as the term “moving meditation” is widely used, it can be understood as the act of focusing on the flow of the asanas in the moment. Because of the spiritual and mental nature of the practice, speaking during class is discouraged.

Many yogis prefer vinyasa to other forms of yoga, as it includes both a vigorous workout and a calming meditative practice. Although the flow moves quickly, beginners should not be self-conscious, as our teachers are very encouraging of those who are new to the practice.