Vinyasa Yoga is often also called ‘flow yoga’, sometimes — unhelpfully in my view — equated with Power Yoga. In Vinyasa yoga postures are strung together so the transition between postures is seamless, using the breath to initiate the movements. In this way the transitions are as much part of the practice as any individual posture. There is no fixed sequence of poses, so the practitioner or teacher can adapt the practice to suit their personal need or inclination.
This style can be more or less physically challenging, depending on the poses included and the means of transitioning between them. Whatever the physical intensity, the aim is always to move with the breath, keeping breathing and movement smooth and measured. In this way a state of ‘flow’ might arise, so that the practice becomes something of a moving meditation.
‘The ‘flow ‘state’ of consciousness was famously defined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as “that place of being fully absorbed and highly focused” on what we are doing. Csikszentmihalyi himself recognized the similarity between yoga and the ‘flow state’:
“The similarities between Yoga and flow are extremely strong; in fact, it makes sense to think of Yoga as a… flow activity. Both try to achieve a joyous-self-forgetful involvement through concentration, which in turn is made possible by a discipline of the body.”
In yoga terminology we might think of the shift in meditative consciousness from focus (dharana) into absorption (dhyana).
A breakdown of the Sanskrit word is usually presented as ‘vi’ meaning ‘in a special way’ and ‘nyasa’ meaning ‘placement’. In a literal way this can be understood as referring to the linking of one asana to the next, and intelligent sequencing so that each asana or movement builds step by step on what came before to create a full, well-rounded practice each time, with more challenging poses being prepared for, mentally and physically. Understood as a philosophy, we could say that Vinyasa recognises the temporary nature of all things. We enter into a posture, are there for a while and then leave; eventually we come to realise the cyclical nature of experience as the physical forms repeat with variations.
At this point, you might be thinking that this all sounds a bit high-minded. Do we drop easily into a ‘flow state’ when we step on the yoga mat? Sometimes maybe, sometimes not so much. But it is perhaps the quest for physical grace and fluidity, the existential sense of losing ourselves in the moment coupled with the potential for a different, freer version of ourselves to re-emerge, the experience of forgetting our breath and settling back into it in savasana or meditation as we complete our practice… All this is what keeps us coming back in a cycle of always beginning again.