Yoga has many styles and forms. It offers tons of exercises designed to clean and improve your mind, body and soul. After all, that’s what yoga is, the unification of mind, body and soul. But yoga as a whole is based upon some simple and fixed principles. Controlled breathing, focus and attention, poses and movement to be specific. All advanced yoga forms are nothing but a combination of these elements in various ways to target a specific area. And, this is what makes yoga so effective. But for many people, it is too confusing to make distinction between two yoga styles which are based on the same system of steps and stages Ashtanga Yoga and Vinyasa.
Ashtanga Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga are two such advanced forms of yoga which are closely related. Many yoga practitioners find it quite confusing to make a distinction between these two dues to its close resemblance. In fact, for many it’s one and the same forms of yoga, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. But the difference lies in the sequence. And that’s what I’m going to help you out with through this post. Before I jump in to separating the two, let me give you a quick account of it both.
Ashtanga Yoga refers to the eight-limb system or the eight-fold path of yoga. Ashtanga is a Sanskrit word wherein “Asht” means “eight” and “anga” means “limbs”. Each of the eight limbs represents an important facet of your life, be it physical, emotional or spiritual. These eight limbs are:
Yama (Moral code)
Niyama (Self-purification and study)
Asana (Physical postures and movements)
Pranayama (Breath control)
Pratyahara (Sense control)
Samadhi (Salvation or Moksha)
Ashtanga Yoga is a traditional practice which is quite energetic and physically demanding. It is a highly structured yoga style. It has five series and you must master every pose of the first series before moving on to the second series and so on. The first series begins with ten sun salutations (five A and five B), followed by a series of standing poses on each side, and finishes with a set of inversions and seated poses, which are linked by a vinyasa sequence. Ashtanga Yoga has the same sequence every time which is not to be modified or toyed around with. (Source)
The eight limbs of yoga represent different important facet of your life.
For more credible info on Ashtanga Yoga, you can check out the book “Yoga Mala”. It features the original teachings of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, who is credited as the father of Ashtanga Yoga.
Vinyasa yoga is a modern and another advanced form of yoga. Vinyasa is also a Sanskrit word: “Vi” means “in a special way” and “nyasa” means “to place”, so it means “to place in a special way”.
Vinyasa yoga refers to making a transition from one pose to another without breaking the flow of breathing. Hence, it’s also called as “flow yoga”. It’s more like a dance form in which you perform many poses and movements in sync with controlled breathing so as to make the transition as smooth and natural as possible. Unlike Ashtanga Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga is a flexible practice that involves different poses and movements every time. Every movement is linked with controlled breathing, and once you finish one pose, you move on to another without breaking the sequence or breath flow.
Now that you have a little idea about what Ashtanga Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga means, let’s find out how you can separate the two to avoid any confusion.
Ashtanga Yoga vs Vinyasa Yoga
Making a distinction between these two yoga styles isn’t easy. And should you be unfamiliar with advanced yoga, you may mistake one for another. Therefore, to be able to distinguish between these two similar forms of yoga, I will use those basic principles such as focus, postures, movements and breathing, that I have already mentioned initially. Apart from that, I will also provide an account of risks and benefits of each of these practices for an upper hand. Let’s get started, shall we?
What do you think are the differences between Ashtanga & Vinyasa?
1. Poses and postures (Asanas)
Ashtanga Yoga has 5 main series of fixed postures. It involves a lot of focus and controlled breathing, and pauses while moving from one posture to another. Ashtanga Yoga is a highly structured yoga style. It may take several years to master all the poses of primary series. And once you’ve mastered the primary series, you can move on to the intermediate series. In this series, you’ll learn and master one posture at a time and then move on to the second pose. Once, you’ve mastered the primary and intermediate series, you can move on to the advanced series.
Vinyasa yoga- Many postures are performed in a single sequence without breaking the flow of movement while breathing in a controlled manner. Every Vinyasa sequence is designed to target a specific area of your body. For example, beginner sequence for shoulders, stomach and spleen, strength and balance etc. Advanced level includes yoga sequences for balance and energy, earth and space element, and last but not least, cardio yoga falls under the intermediate level. Vinyasa yoga does not have a fixed set of postures and movements. So, you can link any suitable pose after another but only if you can be careful of breath control. You need to make sure that you’re switching from one pose to another in a smooth manner without breaking your movement and breath flow. You see why it’s also known as flow yoga.
2. Focus and attention
Focus and attention are an integral part of yoga irrespective of which style you wish to practice.
Ashtanga Yoga is a dynamic style of yoga which needs ample of focus and attention. It involves a lot of breath-initiated movements between every pose. Ashtanga sequence involves many poses such as seated postures, bends, twists, balancing, inversions etc. And all of it has to be done in a controlled manner for maximum gain. These sequences when performed properly, helps you build strength, flexibility, improves your blood flow and heart.
In Vinyasa yoga, focus and attention is the key factor. There are no fixed postures in it, and one is free to link various poses together to increase the intensity. But as casual as you can be in choosing the poses, you need to be equally serious about maintaining a smooth flow of breath throughout the session. And, that demands complete focus and attention.
Ashtanga Yoga, as I mentioned before, consists of fixed movements between every posture. You must be able to master the movements along with all the poses in primary series before you could advance to intermediate level. Proper movements are crucial for an effective yoga work-out. It helps maintain proper blood flow, energy flow, improves flexibility, removes pain in joints and muscles and much more.
Vinyasa yoga is more of a freestyle yoga wherein proper movement is way too essential. Correct movement helps you change from one pose to another without affecting your breath flow. But if your movement isn’t balanced and correct, then you might not be able to switch from one pose to another without disturbing your breath control.
Ashtanga has fixed movements while Vinyasa is more of a freestyle yoga.
4. Breath control
It is perhaps the most important aspect of yoga. It strengthens your lungs and diaphragm, stabilizes your heart rate, and gives you a deeply meditative experience. (Source)
Ashtanga Yoga is an ancient and a classic yoga practice. Every single movement you make during an Ashtanga Yoga sequence has to be done with proper breath control. For instance, when you lift your arms up, you inhale and when you bring it back down, you exhale and same goes for every other movement you make during or after a pose. In case, you fail to maintain the synchronization between poses, movement and breathing, then you go back and practice the sequence all over again until you’ve learned and mastered it.
Vinyasa yoga- Breath control is central to Vinyasa yoga. There are no fixed patterns in poses and movements and you can switch from one pose to another as you prefer. But you need to be extremely mindful of maintaining your breath flow. Every movement you make, has to be made with deep inhale and exhale without breaking the breath flow. With such highly sophisticated breathing technique, you can strengthen your lungs and keep your heart rate in check. Vinyasa yoga is in fashion these days. Many people choose Vinyasa classes over other yoga classes due to its appealing dance like form and freedom from a strict structure.
Yoga strengthens the lungs and diaphragm, stabilizes the heart, and gives a meditative experience.
5. Risks or side-effects (if any)
Most yoga forms do not affect you adversely but since these two are highly energetic and advanced forms of yoga, you might want to consider a few things.
Ashtanga Yoga is a physically demanding style of yoga. Though it’s mostly practiced in the presence of an expert, the chances of injury may still be there. Ashtanga Yoga is not performed during New Moon and Full Moon. (Source)
Pregnant women should consult with their physician before indulging in this practice. It is also advised not to practice ashtanga yoga during the first three days of menstruation.
Vinyasa yoga is also a physically demanding yoga type but since there is no strict structure involved, it is easier to adapt. Nevertheless, you should be careful because there is no rest in between poses and you are supposed to maintain the flow of movement and breath in a stable way.
But like any other exercise, musculoskeletal injuries can often occur during Ashtanga or Vinyasa Yoga. Hamstring, knees and lower back are the most vulnerable parts since these yoga styles include a lot of bending, flexion and twisting. Still the injuries are mostly mild and not too severe. (Source)
6. Health benefits and more
If you’re keen on an overall transformation or just burn some calories, yoga is your thing. It has countless benefits for your physical health, psychological well-being and emotional stability.
Yoga is your thing if you’re keen on an overall transformation or just burning some calories.
Ashtanga Yoga has many such benefits of its own. For starters, “patience and persistence”. And then there’s improved metabolism, flexibility, blood flow, breath control, and a healthy heart. The primary series of Ashtanga Yoga is also known as Yoga Chikitsa or Yoga Therapy. It is said to eliminate many diseases. It also provides strength and relaxation so as to be able to perform countless other advanced postures. The intermediate series is responsible for cleansing of energy channels that run throughout your body. The advanced series helps you develop inner strength and compassion. It makes you feel empowered and awakened.
Vinyasa yoga has pretty much the same benefits as Ashtanga Yoga does. It’s a modern form of yoga based on the same principles as the latter. The plus point here is that every Vinyasa sequence can be customized according to what you want from it. For shoulders, you can include poses and movements in a sequence to target the shoulders. For core, you can use suitable postures and movements that target the core. You can make any sequence target a specific area of your body, mind or soul by using multiple poses and movements of that kind. If you do it seriously, you can reduce/ rid chronic pain, treat many diseases or injuries in different parts of your body, and recover from anxiety and depression.
Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga are two complex and advanced forms of yoga. They’re both based on the same system and principles. They’re highly energetic and physically demanding styles of yoga. The only difference between the two styles is the sequence in which poses are practiced. Both of these practices let you use tens of thousands of yoga poses and movements for a complete transformation of your mind, body and soul. To be precise, it gives you a unique experience of the ideal way of life.
Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga has a bit of every element of yoga. It’s quite similar to a total body workout. The additional benefit here is, that with yoga, you can affect not only the physical aspect of your life but mental, emotional and spiritual too. Then there is “breath control” which is the first and foremost purpose of yoga and meditation.
So, if you’re a disciplined person, you can go with Ashtanga Yoga. In case you’re a free minded soul, you should go with Vinyasa yoga. But in any case, both of these yoga forms are designed to give your health, peace and eternal transcendence.
A freelance writer, a poet and an avid reader. He’s a passionate wordsmith who believes in writing content which is simple, beautiful and informative. He’s a practised communicator coached by British Academy.
Apart from being a playful scribbler, he’s a hardcore music fan and loves exploring space and science. He is also a spiritual soul and fitness enthusiast. Yoga, meditation and workout are some of his favourite health activities.