CONSCIOUSNESS ON THE MOVE
- What is Vinyasa? What is its origin? What does it consist of?
- Breathing constructs the most important and well-known transitions and sequences of yoga that are applied in almost all other styles of yoga.
In these times of instagram in which yoga has become one more object of consumption, the most diverse styles proliferate (beer yoga, pet yoga, yoga with goats, hot yoga). For this reason, it is often difficult to distinguish between the most deeply rooted practice and a mere marketing product.
A bit of history
Although Hatha Vinyasa Yoga is not one of the oldest modalities, it is connected to the essential roots since its foundation in the 1930s by Master Sri Trimulai Krishnamacharya, who is considered the father of modern Yoga. In his book Yoga Makaranda “The Honey of Yoga”, he exposes his concept of vinyasa, adding a hundred postures and their correct linking or sequencing.
Etymologically the Sanskrit translation of the root Nyasa means in Sanskrit “to place”, and vi means “in a specific way”. That concrete placement of something speaks of the synchronization of breathing and movement, of how they relate to each other and of how each action gives way to the next. This generates a fluid practice, where the postures are linked almost like a dance. This is how B.K.S. Iyengar expresses it in his text Yogacharya:
“yoga is like music; the rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind and the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life”
Iyengar learned it first hand from Krishnamacharya, who was the teacher of five of the most renowned yoga teachers of the 20th century: Pattabhi Jois, Indra Devi, Ramaswami and his son, Desikachar, in addition to Iyengar himself. Each has developed a style of their own, but all are based on the concepts of their guru. Some remember him as an inflexible and rigid master, others as pure compassion, but all agree on his great wisdom. Thanks to him the current practice is based on the importance of the asana, because he knew the importance of this aspect of yoga and its transcendence beyond the purely physical.
Krishnamacharya had learned this yoga for seven years with his master Rama Mohan Brahmachari, in the Himalayas. He taught him by heart the text of an ancient Sanskrit text, the Yoga Korunta. This text would have been written by the ancient sage Vamaná Rishi, and it is where the phrase “O yogi, do not do asana without vinyasa” appeared. After leaving his guru he travelled extensively through the colonial India of his time and did a great job of recovering yoga. He was a great searcher and erudite in diverse disciplines that was incorporating to his methodology, developing a great variety of sequences and learning how to link up through vinyasa.
This style of teaching has reached our days through the famous dynamic Ashtanga Yoga series of another of his disciples, Pattabhi Jois. The name is based on the text of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (which we explained in our yoga philosophy workshop), although the latter describes Raja Yoga. This discipline focuses on silencing the mind by laying the foundations of the yogi’s behavior, which are what P.J. wanted to reflect in his series.
Vinyasa and Ashtanga
Vinyasa and Ashtanga are very interlinked, as the popularity of Ashtanga and the teachings of its creator outside India made it spread throughout the West. The new teachers who were opening up to physical practice absorbed the system and derived it and mixed it with other modalities. This made the Vinyasa evolving and acquiring characteristics of other styles, differing from the ashtanga, to freer and more creative classes. In Vinyasa no series of postures is imposed, on the contrary, the sequences of movements are the fruit of the experience acquired by the teacher and can be adapted according to the needs of each one.
This separation between Ashtanga and Vinyasa occurred in parallel with the expansion of yoga throughout the world. Meanwhile, Krishnamacharya followed the progress of the system towards Vinyasa Krama Yoga and Vini Yoga, which acquired and expanded Desikachar and Ramaswami. The attention so detailed in the posture, its correct alignment and transition, that Jois defended, derived to a more personalized vision, adapted to any physical condition and with a progression in the postures. All this conception was summarized in his most famous phrase: “It is not the person who must adapt to Yoga but Yoga that must adjust correctly to the person.
The proposed Vinyasa method is based on meeting the individual needs of each student and the group, and build accordingly a class that goes step by step deepening each concept. The variety of options offered by this freedom of sequences allows us to work in an integral way on all parts of the body to bring them health. Special emphasis is given to long and soft breathing, in order to relax the attitudes and mind of the yogis.
Vinyasa and respiration
The relationship between breathing and movement allows for internal purification, and the perspiration that takes place during this practice helps to free us from impurities and feeds Agni, the digestive fire. It acts not only on how we process food, but also on how we assimilate everyday experiences, emotions and sensations. Typically in vinyasa yoga, inhalations are linked to upward movements and movements that open the front of the body, thus favouring lightness. The exhalations, on the other hand, are linked to the movements that compress the belly, as in the forward push-ups or the torsions, which help us to anchor and find stability due to their descending energy.
By focusing so much on the breath, greater concentration is achieved during the practice. In this way you gain awareness of attitudes, emotions and experiences that can then be transferred out of the mat. Thus, Vinyasa is an art of approaching life. It teaches you about yourself in every gesture, being able to apply these skills and attention to all the rhythms and sequences of life: self-care, relationships, work and personal evolution.
A normal session is structured starting in a smooth way. It is sustained in time and progressively moves towards a peak moment, leaving a space to complete, balance and integrate all that has been worked on. Each phase has its lesson to learn, it builds on the previous work and so each practitioner understands where they are. Although it is important to remember that Vinyasa is not only a sequence of actions: but those that awaken the consciousness and sustain the attention.
This is how I understand Vinyasa and how I offer it in my classes. It’s a process of awareness. It is a work through the body but integral that leads us to pay attention to what happens at the physical, mental and spiritual levels. It allows us to progressively grow personally, gaining in security, self-esteem and the way you live your day to day.
In Synchrony there are different teachers who impart this variety (Maider, Sonia and I), and in the teachings of almost all teachers, whatever their style, there will be movements linked to breathing, such as the surya Namaskar. Although our classes may seem very different, they all follow the motto of the creator of Vinyasa: “Teach what is inside you, but not how you apply it to yourself, but how it should be applied to others“.
Since I started at Vinyasa it has allowed me to discover more about myself, to find a place to look at myself from the softness, to know myself better, to open myself to changes in my life and to feel in full contact with me; and that is what I want to believe that I bring to my students. For me Vinyasa is to root in you, in your deepest essence, in the tradition of Yoga and above all in consciousness.
” The success of yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures, but in the way it positively changes the way we live our lives and our relationships..”-TKV Desikachar-