What Exactly is a Vinyasa, Anyway?

The other day someone asked me to explain the difference between the various poses of a vinyasa sequence. I actually get this question quite often, so I figured I’d answer it here in a blog post. I also often see people who are learning the different poses of a vinyasa often combine 2 poses into one into some kind of morphed chaturanga/updog shape, so I thought I’d clear a few things like that up here as well.

First let’s start with what the heck does vinyasa refer to anyway? Vinyasa is a style of yoga that basically just refers to the fact that you’re linking poses together, moving one pose to the next without really stopping much, and you’re linking it with your breath. But what does it mean when a teacher says “take your vinyasa” or “move through a vinyasa”? That refers to a specific order of poses in a row:

  • Downward Facing Dog
  • Plank Pose
  • EITHER lowering down OR chaturanga (we’ll explore the difference in a second)
  • EITHER cobra pose OR upward facing dog (again we’ll go over the difference in a bit)
  • Back to Downward Facing Dog

I assume you know what downward facing dog looks like so I’m not going to go over that here. If you’re not sure what a downdog is, or if you’re looking for downdog alternatives, I wrote a blog post here about that. I do briefly want to go over a plank pose, however, because if you don’t do that well and with strength the rest of the vinyasa sequence is going to fall apart and feel like crap.

The biggest mistake I see in a plank pose is when people let their hips drop below the height of their shoulders. When you do this, all of your body’s weight goes into your arms. If you keep your hips up, you’re able to engage your core easier, which then helps distribute the weight of your torso throughout your body rather than it hanging into your shoulders. This is a KEY element for lowering down or doing a chaturanga. Here’s what it looks like to put your hips into the right place in a plank:

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So, once you’ve nailed your plank pose alignment, you’ll either be asked to lower down to the ground or come into chaturanga. What the hell even is a chaturanga anyway? Glad you asked 😃 Long story short it’s basically a pause during a push-up. It’s hard as hell, but there are things you can do to build strength in your chaturanga. If you want to learn how to build strength for chaturanga and conquer that shape make sure you check out my free chaturanga tutorial.

If you’re not sure what the difference between lowering down and chaturanga is, here’s a visual for ya:

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From there, you’ll either come into cobra pose or updog. The main difference between these poses is that in cobra pose your legs are on the ground, whereas in upward facing dog you’re pressing your feet into the ground in order to lift your legs up. In cobra pose your legs stay rooted – in upward facing dog the only things touching the ground are your hands and your feet. In general, you would come into cobra from lowering all the way down, and you’d come into updog from chaturanga. You could come into updog from lowering all the way down too if you’re still working on your chaturanga strength. Here’s a visual of the difference:

In both poses, the key here is to slide your shoulder blades down your back. How? Before pressing up into either pose, imagine you could drag your hands backwards. That will set your shoulder blade into the right position to use your optimal strength of your back-body. Once you feel that engagement of the upper back, THEN start to push yourself up into either backbend. So the order is actually pull first, push second.

Once you’re up you could still imagine you could drag your hands backward and that will help you continue to find the strength in your back-body that helps with backbends. If you’re not quite sure if you’re doing it right, here’s a kind of crazy exercise for you to try: Literally drag/pull yourself across a hardwood floor 😂 It’s hard but it will teach you the pulling action you need to find the strength in updog and cobra. Here’s a video showing you what I mean:

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Using your back muscles in this way will help you get out of that lower back crunchy feeling people sometimes experience when backbending. The other key element for cobra and upward facing dog is your butt. Make sure it is engaged. Take your tailbone down towards the ground and squeeze your glute muscles. This will create stability and strength in the pelvis that will help support you as you move into your backbend. Again, this helps with that lower back crunchy feeling.

From your cobra pose or upward facing dog you’d come back into downward dog and then you’re done!

Make sense? Have questions? Let me know in the comments below or feel free to shoot me an email.

Till next time,


P.S. If you enjoyed this blog post and want more yoga tips to help you build a stronger, more flexible and dependable body, join my mailing list where I send out weekly tips like this. You can sign up here. Please also feel free to share this with anyone who you think might benefit from these tips!

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