Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
Eddie Modestini, a longtime student of K. Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar who leads YJ’s online course, Vinyasa 101: The Fundamentals of Flow, breaks down the 3 key segments that every vinyasa class should have. (Sign up for this essential guide to vinyasa yoga HERE.)
Every vinyasa yoga class should follow a bell curve, not a triangle, to help practitioners avoid injury and leave class in a rested state. Here are the three essential components that every practice should have:
1. A Slow Warm-Up
The first segment of the practice or class should be a SLOW warm-up to increase circulation, muscular challenge, and heat in a very progressive way, which makes the connective tissue flexible. What’s so great about vinyasa yoga is that it’s a complete system — it has the warm-up incorporated in it (Sun Salutations), and you don’t need to do any other kind of warm-up. Within this construct, you have the ability to mix it up based on how you or your students are feeling that day. Sometimes I do five Sun Salutation As and five Sun Salutation Bs, which is my traditional training. Sometimes I do three As and one B, and sometimes I do three As, several lunges, and three Bs, depending on how hot I need to be. Some days you need more of a warm-up, depending on the time of day, the weather, and whether or not you’ve been moving.
2. A Theme
After the warm-up, you want to follow a theme. This can be a type of asana (Sun Salutations, Standing Poses, Forward Bends, Backbends, Inversions, or all of the above), or it could be more spiritual (working with an emotional challenge, getting closer to God, blossoming the heart, etc.) It could even be something practical, such as, “How do I deal with my shoulder that hurts?” It’s so personal, but having a theme gives the practice a direction. It also helps you choose asanas that go with your theme.
An asana-themed class is generally the go-to for most practitioners and teachers, who will vary the theme throughout the week so they can go deeper into each type of asana. Trying to touch on all of the different types of poses in one class or practice can also make for a holistic, well-rounded practice, but if you touch on all of themes in every practice, it’s difficult to go deeply in any one direction. If you isolate these themes throughout the week, you can go very deeply into each one. This also helps to give your practice or classes more variety.
3. A Slow Cool-Down
Finally, you want to cool down SLOWLY to unwind the nervous system and land in a very even and gentle way at the end of the practice. This is so important — so many people walk away from a practice shaking and it’s inappropriate, especially to get in a car and drive home while you’re still amped up. I would recommend selecting cool-down poses or counterposes that balance your chosen theme. For example, if you do Backbends in your class or practice, you need to do twists and Forward Bends to return to neutrality and find equilibrium. I always conclude with at least 10 minutes of Savasana. If you skip Savasana, you are doing a disservice to yourself, your nervous system, and the people you interact with after your practice. Namaste.
Eddie Modestini is the co-director and co-owner of Maya Yoga Studio in Maui. Sign up here for Modestini’s Vinyasa 101 course, which covers the anatomy of the spine, how to adapt asana for various body types, and much more.