You probably recognise the term “vinyasa” as a popular style of yoga but it also refers to a particular pattern of action: chaturanga-to-updog-to-downdog. Your body may be down with all of these chaturangas, or it may not. Perhaps the first several chaturangas feel great, but then it goes south. Maybe the classic “vinyasa” series just doesn’t feel safe right now because you have an injury. All of the above are valid sentiments in a community of ever-changing individuals.
The reality is that for some students, the repetitive action of plank-to-chaturanga-to-updog-to-downdog is not needed or appropriate. And for others, we just have days when the body shouldn’t be doing the sequence or we need time to build strength. But that doesn’t mean we need to avoid Vinyasa classes all together. We just need to get “slightly more clever than our habits.” - Desikachar
One definition of “vinyasa” is “to place in a special or purposeful way.” When we look at the classic “vinyasa” sequence, there are are a lot of benefits, including: strengthening (plank and chaturanga); neutralizing (utilizing both forward folds and backbends); rhythmic and meditative (synching movement and breath and bringing us into the moment).
If you know some alternative vinyasas, and if you stay in tune with your body, breath, and energy as you flow, you can intuit what you need in a given vinyasa or sun salutation: more strengthening (sthira)? More ease (sukha)? More meditation through movement and rhythmic breath? Pause? Then find a pose or combination of poses that embody that.
NOTE: If you're working with injury, ask your doctor what positions and/or actions (extensions, flexions, and ranges of motion) are appropriate or risky. Also, listen to your body. Even if it’s considered a “safer alternative,” if a pose or pose variation feels painful, don’t do it.
Here are 10 alternative vinyasas we will be working with this month, but feel free to explore and be creative (speaking to both teachers and practitioners).
1. Hold Plank
Simple idea that can have profound results in terms of strengthening. Skip the chataraga and updog and just take an extra breath in plank. Energize the heels and gaze slightly forward. focus on spreading the shoulder blades and pressing into the floor. Really tone the transverse abdominal muscles and notice if the elbows want to splay or the hips dip. If needed, you could even bring your knees down here to prevent compressing the low back. But once you’ve cultivated the core strength to keep your lower back safe and supported, see if you can press your thighs up without sticking your bum out.
2. Strengthening for Those with Wrist Pain
If you want the strengthening component, but you need a break from being on the hands and a time out for your wrists, drop onto forearms and enjoy some time in Forearm Plank or Dolphin.
3. Chaturanga Push-up
My personal fav and the ultimate strengthening alternative. Also, it may be that transition from chaturanga-to-updog that is problematic. It’s a lot on the shoulder! If chaturanga is fine and you want to keep it spicy, but skip updog transition, you can add the chaturanga push-up. You don’t need to go super low with your chaturanga, and you can modify with one or both knees on the floor (keep your knees behind your hips).
4. Lower Slowly From Plank-Press to Prone Backbend
Emphasis on keeping it slow when you lower will result in a pass through of chaturanga building strength and mindfulness. Once you are on the floor you can press to cobra, low cobra, or shalabhasana. A great opportunity to add an extra breath to strengthen the back body and elongate the rhythm of vinyasa.
You can bypass chaturanga and head straight to cobra by passing through knees-chest-chin. From plank, shift your shoulders in front of your wrists, just as you would for a chaturanga or chaturanga pushup. From there, lower your knees to the floor (they’ll be behind your hips). With your knees down, and your shoulders and chest forward, you’re set up perfectly for a cobra or low cobra pose. Release the tops of your feet to the floor as you slide through to cobra. This is a well established fluid alternative to chaturanga that tends to maintain the rhythm of the classic “vinyasa.”
6. Introspective Flow
Skip the chaturanga and the backbend, and get more time in forward folding shapes that encourage you to draw inward, but still enjoy the strengthening aspect of plank. From Down Dog, sink the knees towards the floor for floating anahatasana, float forward to Plank and return to Down Dog. Great for practicing axial extension of the spine as well.
7. Hang out in Down Dog
If you need a break from movement and you just want to be still, hang out in down dog! Feel free to add variation like staking a hip or twisting.
Keep flowing with the breath but take the effort back a notch by dropping into some cat cow.
9. Classic Vinyasa on Blocks
Just as it sounds! Blocks under the hands will take pressure out of the wrists and allow for more space. Space is a powerful idea to work with in your vinyasa flow. See how space enables clear transitions and a meditative rhythm.
10. Child’s Pose
Tune in and breath. Have a moment of meditative pause to empower your practice.