A mandala translates as "circle" and are meant to create a visual sense of balance. These are often found in pictorial forms such as these:
They are used in many different religious or spiritual practices to aid meditation and find a centralizing focus.
Recently, I took a yoga class where we created a physical mandala by stringing together a sequence of postures, similar to a Sun Salutation. We started by breaking down several basic postures -- Utkatasana (chair pose), Virabhadrasana One (Warrior one), and Virabhadrasana Two and incorporating each of these postures with variations, such as twists and lateral stretches before stringing the basic postures together in a real-time continuous vinyasa movement that starts you facing forward, spins you around, and then returns you where you started. It was too cool, so I taught it on Sunday.
Variation options are, of course, limitless. But what I did was start with Utkatasana:
Then took a vinyasa and then came up through Warrior One:
Before opening out to Warrior Two:
From here, students straighten into the front leg, square off, and then bend into the back knee as they take Warrior Two, now facing towards the back of the mat. And then it's all repeated again until the students end in Utkatasana (and then Samasthiti or equal standing) facing the front once more.
It's so fun to do -- and builds an insane amount of heat. Thank you to Kim Freeman from O2 Yoga for introducing me to this challenging sequence!