Vinyasa yoga is as good for your body as it is for your mind. You know that blissed-out feeling you get when you bust out some of your favorite vinyasa yoga poses and find your flow? Well, I want you to be able to tap into that magic at home and on the go—not just when you’re taking class at your favorite studio. I pulled together a few of my favorite vinyasa yoga poses and benefits. Read on, and get inspired to bust out some moves.
1. Child's pose
To get into it, come to all fours. Click your big toes together, and walk your knees out wide. Sink your hips back toward your heels, and drop your head down into the mat. Lengthen your arms out in front of you, palms facing down.
Take it deeper by connecting with the natural rhythm of your breath. Every time you exhale, can you release tension? Allow the hips to descend a little farther toward your heels. Let your belly soften and find space between your back teeth so you’re not clenching your jaw. Let your head and arms be heavy.
The benefits of this calming posture include alleviating stress and reducing tension in the back, shoulders, and neck. It’s also an amazing way to gently stretch hips. If I don’t have time to do a full vinyasa yoga flow, I at least spend a few minutes breathing in child's pose.
2. Cat-cow pose
To get into it, come to an all-fours position so your shoulders are stacked over your wrists and your hips are over your knees. Push the tops of your feet and shins into the mat to lift your low belly and lengthen your low back.
From here, inhale and lift your tailbone and shine your heart forward for cow pose. Exhale. Scoop your belly, puff up the space between your shoulder blades, and tuck your chin for cat.
If you practice vinyasa yoga regularly, I’m guessing you’ve done this posture hundreds—if not thousands—of times before. Cat-cow pose is featured in almost every vinyasa yoga class. But if you rush through it, you’ll miss the magic. Focus on lengthening your heart forward and pulling your tailbone back as you find cow pose. The counteraction of reaching your heart and tailbone away from each other will help you maintain a stronger connection with your core and also help you avoid dumping into your low back. In cat pose, can you allow the movement to initiate from your tailbone, so you’re hugging in the area between your pubic bone and navel as you scoop your belly? When you do this, you’ll soak in all the benefits this vinyasa yoga pose has to offer.
Cat-cow pose connects your movement from your breath and helps you be more physically present in your body. It's also a gentle way to strengthen your core and increase spinal mobility.
3. Downward-facing dog
Starting on all fours, inhale and curl your toes. Exhale lift your hips high to the sky and extend your legs. To take it deeper, root your palms firmly into the mat. Firm your upper arms in and have the intention of wrapping your shoulder blades around your armpits to feel the strength in your mid back. Draw your chest closer toward your thighs, tuck your low belly in toward your spine, and bend your knees as much as you need to so you’re not forcing it. Lower your heels down toward the mat.
Here’s a fun variation to shake up this classic vinyasa yoga pose: Inhale lift your heels. Exhale drop your heels over to the right but keep your hips lifted high and your palms grounding down. When you do this, you’ll feel a stretch through the left side of your body. Hold here for three to five breaths and imagine that you can find space between your ribs. Repeat on the other side.
Downward-facing dog is one of the key vinyasa yoga poses—and that’s for good reason. Grounding and energizing, it opens up the areas where we get tight: the shoulders, hamstrings, and calves. It’s also incredibly strengthening for the arms, back, core, and legs.
4. Forward fold
To get into it from downward-facing dog, inhale and bend your knees deeply. At the end of your exhale, take a giant step to the top of your mat for forward fold. Keep your feet hip-distance apart and parallel. Drape your upper body over your thighs. Reach your fingertips toward the floor.
Take it deeper by bringing your weight into the balls of your feet. Bend your knees as much as you need to. And this next tip might surprise you—because this aspect of forward fold isn’t discussed a lot in vinyasa yoga—but draw your belly in tight as you bring it closer to your thighs. You want your core to be turned on and active. Once you feel strong in your core, allow the tension in your upper body to melt away. Take five long, slow, deep breaths.
To add some movement, inhale and lift halfway up. Actively press your hands into your shins and reach the crown of your head and tailbone away from each other. On your exhale, fold forward a little farther, deepening the stretch in your hamstrings and releasing muscles in your low back. Forward fold opens up the hamstrings without putting pressure on your wrists, shoulders, or neck. It also relieves stress and calms the nervous system.
5. Mountain pose
To get into it, inhale and push your feet actively into the mat and roll all the way up to standing as you sweep your arms up overhead. Bring your palms to face each other, spread your toes, and press all four corners of your feet into the floor. Lift your kneecaps so your quads are engaged. Allow your tailbone to be heavy as you zip up through your low belly. Knit your ribs in as your shoulders relax down your back. Energetically reach your fingertips high to the sky.
A major vinyasa yoga benefit is improving posture, and that’s what mountain pose is all about: training the body to be tall. Mountain pose reinforces a long, neutral spine and a strong core.
6. Plank pose
Get into from mountain pose by exhaling and swan diving into forward fold. Inhale, halfway lift, and bring your palms to your shins and gaze down at your mat. Exhale, plank pose. Plant your hands shoulder-distance apart on your mat, and step your feet back.
This grounded posture is key to nailing your vinyasa yoga flow. Root the base of your index finger and thumb into the floor, soften your elbows, and firm your upper arms in. Shine your heart forward as your shoulders drop down toward your hips. Scoop your low belly to lengthen your low back and lift your hamstrings toward the sky so you’re energetic through your legs.
Add some movement by keeping your flow going with a low plank/chaturanga. Inhale, glide your body forward so your shoulders are over your wrists and you’re on the tips of your toes. Exhale, come halfway down for low plank.
The benefits of plank pose include working your entire body all at once. If you’re paying attention to the details, you’ll feel this in your arms, shoulders, back, abs, glutes, and legs. Like mountain pose, plank is a vinyasa yoga pose known for improving posture and training the body tall.
7. Upward-facing dog
From low plank, inhale, flip your feet, and press the tops of your feet into the mat. Extend your arms straight and long, and stack your wrists, elbows, and shoulders in one line. Keep your hips, thighs, and knees lifted off your mat.
Take it deeper: Press firmly into your hands, and, without moving your palms, energetically drive them away from each other. This action in the body creates more space and allows you to open your heart a little more. Gently draw your shoulder blades toward each other as you hug your low belly in and firm through your glutes to protect your back. Stay here for a breath or two before pulling back into downward-facing dog.
The benefits of this vinyasa yoga pose include opening up the chest and strengthening the arms, shoulders, and abs.
8. Low lunge with a twist
Get into this from downward-facing dog by stepping your right foot forward between your hands for a low lunge. Breathe in, drop your left knee to your mat, and sweep your arms high to the sky for low lunge.
To take it deeper, press your front foot, your back shin, and the top of your back foot into the mat and—without moving—energetically drive them away from each other. This will create a stronger, more stable foundation and help you balance.
To add movement, exhale, thread your right arm back behind you to twist. Keep your hip bones facing forward. Every time you breathe in, can you imagine that you’re finding more length in your spine? As you breathe out, rotate and twist deeper.
The benefits of this yoga pose are endless—I love to do it after I’ve been sitting for a long time. It’s an amazing way to reduce tension in the hips, plus it stretches and lengthens the hamstrings and quads—two areas that frequently get stiff.
9. Halfway split
Start in low lunge with your right foot forward. Exhale, extend your right leg long and sweep your arms back behind you.
To take it deeper, dig your right heel into your mat, then drag your right hip back to deepen the stretch. Instead of focusing on drawing your belly closer to your thighs, keep your chest lifted and gently squeeze your shoulder blades toward one another as you shine your heart open.
The benefits of this pose are especially great for the hamstrings. Just keep breathing through it! If you notice that you’re feeling shaky and your balance is off, firm your inner thighs toward each other and draw your waist in a little more to stay steady. I love halfway split, not only because of the physical benefits but also because it is a great pose to increase your mental focus. If you aren’t present in this posture, you might fall over.
10. Crescent pose
Get into it from halfway split, then inhale. Curl your back left toes and glide your body forward and up into a high crescent lunge. Your feet are hip-width apart, parallel. Your front knee is over your ankle. Your back leg is long. Your arms are reaching up overhead.
Take it deeper: Root your feet firmly. Hug your inner thighs toward each other as you drag your right hip back and down slightly. The goal is for your hips to be level and square. Your entire core is hugging in. Your shoulders are relaxed away from your ears. Hold steady and strong for 10 breaths each side.
Add some movement: Exhale, lean and fly forward. Reach your belly toward your thighs as your arms stretch out behind you. Inhale, lift up tall, shoulders over your hips. Repeat three times on each side.
Take it deeper by layering on movement, notice whether your body wants to stay a little longer in any position. If you’re craving staying somewhere for another breath or two, let it happen. This is your time to slow down and give your body what it needs. Go back and repeat poses 8, 9, and 10 on the other side of your body so you're balanced. Finish with the breath focused on meditation below.
11. Easy pose
Set this up by taking an easy, cross-legged position. Let your hands rest on your knees. With your sitz bones grounding down, have the intention to draw your belly button back toward your spine and up underneath your rib cage. Shoulders are relaxed, stacked over the hips. Take it deeper by practicing a simple breath-focused meditation to close out your vinyasa yoga practice.
Start by gently guiding your attention to your breath. Feel your breath go in and out. You’re not trying to get anywhere; you’re not trying to change anything. Your only job is to sit and breathe. Be a curious observer. Now, start to notice the qualities of your breath. Your breath may be shaky or smooth, shallow or deep, warm or cool. Whatever you notice, let the breath be exactly how it is.
As you sit here and breathe, you may start to notice thoughts wandering in and guiding your attention away from the breath. When that happens, that’s perfectly fine. The goal of meditation is not to clear your mind of thoughts. Simply notice the distraction and gently guide your attention back to the ebb and flow, the wavelike rhythm of your breath. Try this for 3 minutes, and work your way up to 10.
Want more vinyasa yoga tips? Here's your guide to vinyasa yoga 101.