Flow yoga, also known as Vinyasa yoga, is a term that encompasses several styles of yoga. What they all share is a focus on synchronizing the body's motions and the breath. This synchronization results in a very steady workout, and it increases mental focus.
The concept of Vinyasa, which is central to flow yoga, is that each motion of the yogi's practice has an accompanying inhalation or exhalation. Similarly, the yogi also uses breaths to measure the time that he or she spends in each pose, or asana. For instance, during a typical sun salutation, a yogi will inhale while raising the arms over the head, exhale while placing the hands at his or her feet, inhale while raising the head slightly, exhale while moving the feet back, inhale into the upward dog position, then exhale while moving into the position of the downward facing dog. Once in this pose, the yogi will inhale and exhale for five deep breaths before reversing the entire process and continuing to attach a specific breath to each motion.
Achieving this breath synchronization ultimately increases the positive effects of the yoga practice. The steadiness of the breath helps the yogi maintain the proper pace of the entire yoga series. Similarly, the control of the breath ensures that the heart rate remains consistent throughout and prevents the yogi from rushing through poses that are particularly challenging. The breath regulation also helps to maintain a consistent body temperature, which is particularly important as a yogi engages postures that require intense stretching, because the extra heat allows the muscles to stretch further.
In addition to these physical benefits, flow yoga has the added benefit of providing a yogi with greater mental focus. The constant focus that the breath requires forces the yogi to be very aware of each movement and thus can help him or her maintain proper form throughout the yoga practice. It also can help the yogi block out distractions, resulting in a kind of moving meditation.
There are several styles of yoga that fall under the category of flow yoga, and some make use of the Vinyasa concept to greater degrees than others. The styles of yoga that make use of Vinyasa are Anusara yoga, Ashtanga yoga, Bikram/Hot Yoga, Jivamukti yoga, Kundalini yoga and Power Yoga. Some of these disciplines utilize Vinyasa from start to finish.
Ashtanga yoga, for instance, is a style of flow yoga in which the yogi synchronizes every single motion of the practice to a breath. If the yogi maintains the proper breath, he or she could determine exactly how many breaths a series would take before beginning the practice. By contrast, a style such as Bikram yoga utilizes Vinyasa during each pose, but doesn't necessarily rely on it between poses.