If you peek into a yoga studio during a vinyasa class, you might see students performing what looks like a slow-motion dance. It’s this fluid motion that distinguishes vinyasa from other styles of yoga, and it also has its own language of sorts. If it’s your first time at a vinyasa class, consider this a crash course in key terms used at Kansas City yoga studios.
While this is not exclusive to vinyasa yoga, asana is a general term that refers to each pose. Downward-facing dog is a key asana in vinyasa.
The Sanskrit word vinyasa can be translated as “to place (something) in a special way.” Like many Sanskrit words, it has many other meanings—one of those is "flow." Each session is carefully choreographed by the yogi to flow from one pose to another, like “the arrangement of notes in a raga, the steps along a path to the top of a mountain, or the linking of one asana to the next,” as yogini and author Shiva Rea poetically put it.
This is another interpretation of the word vinyasa. During practice, each movement is tied to breath. As you breathe in, you drop your hips into upward-facing dog; with the next breath, raise them again as you move into downward-facing dog; breathe in, look toward your hands; breathe out, step between your hands. While there’s not necessarily a strict 1:1 breath-to-movement ratio, vinyasa-style classes do tend to hold fewer long poses than hatha-style classes.
The sun salutation is sequence of poses fundamental to vinyasa yoga. Practitioners start and end standing, flowing through a chaturanga dandasana, in which they move from a plank pose into upward-facing dog and then downward-facing dog, all in one fluid motion. Variations on the sun salutation all serve as a warm-up exercise, and classes that don't include at least one sun salutation are rare.
This breathing technique is also known as ocean breath, probably for the sound that it makes. The diaphragm pushes air from the nose with a powerful, controlled rush—if you do it correctly you’ll make a whispering sound, like the ocean, in the back of your throat. These breaths help physically warm up the body and serve as a rhythm section to accompany the changing poses.
For a full day of renewal, keep an eye out for studios or day spas in Kansas City that offer Thai massage in addition to fitness classes, such as KCFitnessLink. Also known as “lazy man’s yoga,” Thai massage involves a therapist guiding—sometimes pulling—limbs into intense yet satisfying yoga stretches.