As you practice Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga you learn that each asana is entered and exited through specific movements along with a set way of breathing. Those movements are called vinyasas which is derived from sanskrit nyasa – to place and the prefix vi – in a special way. For most asanas those vinyasas or breath-aligned movements contain the main part of the surya namaskar (sun salutation, specifically Chaturanga Dandasana, upward facing dog (inhalation) and downward facing dog.
To link asanas through vinyasa is a systematic approach that offers many benefits. It creates heat and keeps it up throughout the practice. Strength is developed and the body comes back to a neutrale position as it bends back- and forward after each asana. Also the practitioner stays focused on the breath-movement-coordination and therefor in the present moment.
I remember a couple of years back I was attending a workshop with my friend Neil Barker. Almost the entire weekend was focused on the right execution of surya namaskar and those asanas contained within them as a foundation for all other asanas. After the workshop I was applying all those details into my daily practice and noticed that so many asanas now worked so much better,were more stable and more comfortable to hold.
As we continuously do the vinyasas contained within the surya namaskar throughout our Ashtanga Vinyasa Practice by doing the Jump/step back and Jump/step through motion we can utilize them very efficiently to work on pretty much any limitation or challenging area that we might have in our body.
This may seem obvious at first, but too often we just do the jump-back-and-through motion as something that has to be done additionally in between the asanas without much awareness. And that makes us miss out on so much!
If you have a problem with unease or discomfort in a certain body part while performing a certain asana, examine if it is due to lack of strength or flexibility. Then see where in the vinyasa-movements you can work on that body part. (By the way: I call it unease instead of pain, because if it is sharp pain, you probably do too much and might end up hurting yourself pushing in this way- so stop :), unease and discomfort just mean you are exploring your limits).
Example I marichyasana B/D:
Are you having discomfort in your ankle joint from the pressure of your thigh on your flexed foot in marichyasana B or D you might wanna focus on the upward facing dog, really stretching the foot while strengthening it and without collapsing the ankle to the side, deeply rooting down your foot into the floor and stretching the front part of your foot. Maybe even stay in upward dog for 2 or 3 breaths at the beginning to really explore what you can do there and which alignment feels best.
Example II urdhva dhanurasana:
Another rather obvious example is that people have trouble in urdhva dhanurasana and complain about not having any backbends in Primary Series to prepare for it. Just focus on every upward facing dog during every vinyasa, explore how much backbend comes from hip extension, lumbar and thoracic spine extension, and use a super deep inhalation to increase the pressure in your abdominal and thoracic cavity to support your spine without collapsing. Doing that for 20-30 times during Primary should warm you up pretty nicely for urdhva dhanurasana.
Another connection to work on could be bakasana/bhuja pidasana — chaturanga dandasana
I invite you to start exploring your vinyasa movements in your next practice. Be genuinely curious about different ways of using your body for the exact same movement and then find out what works best for your body and current condition.
If you are a teacher and observe your students having trouble in a certain asana, always check their vinyasa and see if you can find some way to improve it or make it more challenging in a previously neglected area.
All photos in this article by sandra db