How many times have you heard "Take a vinyasa", or "Move through a vinyasa flow", in a yoga class? Whether you practice a style that cues a vinyasa flow in between each pose, or you only breathe through one or two in an entire class, this flow is common. And it is rarely given the alignment attention it desperately needs. As a yoga teacher, I know how challenging it is to guide each and every student through a safe vinyasa flow within such a short class time, in every class, while maintaining the class's rhythm. Vinyasas are amazing for warming up your spine and entire body quickly. However, if they aren't done with conscious awareness, they often result in practice-halting, surgery-required injuries. Let's keep your practice healthy and sustainable for many more years to come, shall we?
*psst: you can click on each photo to enlarge it, if needed*
If your body is not up for the vigor of the popular Chaturanga vinyasa flow, there is a lovely modified version you can take. Ashtanga Pranam is gentler, although its backbend (cobra) can be much deeper. If you absolutely must move through a vinyasa flow, but a chaturanga pushup causes your deep breath to become shallow and choppy, try this out instead.
- From downward facing dog, inhale and glide forward to high plank. Reach your shoulders toward your hips, push your hands firmly into earth to push the back of your heart more skyward, and flex your quads.
- As you exhale, lower your knees. If your knees are sensitive, pad the area with a blanket.
- In the same exhale, hug your elbows tight to your ribs, keep your booty poppin' up, and lower your chest and chin to your mat.
- Cobra: Inhale as you slither forward to lower your pelvis to your mat. Squeeze your elbows in toward your midline, reach your shoulders back and down, and use these actions to lift your chest. Relax everything from your jaw up! Your reaching eyebrows will not increase this backbend. Instead focus on reaching your shoulders back and down, and anchoring your toe nails and pelvis down.
- To return to downward facing dog, exhale and lower your chest back down, tuck your toes, push into your hands, inhale to lift back up onto hands and knees, and then exhale to lift your hips up into downward dog.
Chaturanga Dandasana into Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (upward facing dog) requires quite a bit more strength than Ashtanga Pranam. You experience less of a backbend, but your arms and legs are much more engaged to support your body. Below, I break down each stage of a safe and aligned "Chaturanga flow".
- From downward facing dog, inhale and glide forward to high plank. Shoulders are supported directly atop your wrists. Remove pressure from your low back by drawing your pelvis toward your ribs. Dome your upper back skyward, and reach your gaze toward the top of your mat so that the weight of your head doesn't contribute to the challenge of this shape.
- Before lowering down, rock your body forward even more so that your shoulders float past your wrists. This will allow your elbows to stack on top of your wrists for a 90 degree arm when you lower down.
- Chaturanga: Exhale, graze your ribs with your elbows as you lower your shoulders down to the height of your elbows--no lower. No duck diving, please! It may feel exciting to feel like a duck diving into water, but this swooping movement is what leads to the all too common rotator cuff injury in yogis.
- Upward Facing Dog: Inhale, flip to the tops of your feet, squeeze your elbows in, reach your shoulders to the wall behind you, and from this reach, lift your heart into upward facing dog. See that you reach your shoulders back and down, feeling as if they are now behind your chest. Your legs are active, with only your feet and hands making contact with the ground.
- To return to downward facing dog, you can either flip your toes back onto the balls of your feet as your exhale your hips up and back, or lower down through another chaturanga first.
Here's a video for extra help. I move through a Chaturanga flow first, and an Ashtanga Pranam flow second.
Bonus!! To practice lowering your shoulders down without dipping lower than your elbows, use blocks! Set a block on its highest height in front of each hand, middle fingers grazing the blocks. Lower through your chaturanga until your shoulders meet the block. Pause here for about five breaths so that you can feel your body at this safe level.
In this last photo, you'll see one of my favorite ways to feel into my downward facing dog, especially after any backbends. Bend your knees a lot, reach your chest closer to your thighs, and leeeeengthen your spine oh so nicely.
Benefits of a vinyasa flow:
- Strengthens wrists, ankles, triceps, quadriceps, erector spinae, rhomboids, abdominals
- Lengthens and extends vertebrae, hamstrings, hip flexors, deltoids
- Builds agni, internal heat
- Provides a ritualistic breath-body movement that calms your mind
Were these tips helpful? What other asana or flow would you like me to break down for you? Leave me a comment below!