Vinyāsa: A Few Thoughts

IMG_1254I attended a Vinyāsa Workshop this weekend at a1000Yoga in Bangalore. The workshop was taught by Bharath Shetty, who is the founder of the IndeaYoga Shala in Mysore, and who was a student of–among others–B.K.S. Iyengar.


The word vinyāsa has multiple meanings, but most commonly–and in this case–it refers to a style of yoga in which postures are linked together through transitional movements. (And, importantly, these transitioning movements establish a flow of breathing throughout the practice.)  Vinyāsa practices tend to be vigorous and challenging because one keeps moving when one isn’t holding a posture (i.e. there’s no down time), and the transitions require a lot of lifting oneself up, which necessitates a strong core and reasonably strong arms / shoulders.


Vinyāsa practices can have fixed-sequences (the same asana, or poses, are always done in the same order) or not have a fixed-sequence (the details of the practice will very from one session to the next.) There’s a great argument for the practice of a fixed-sequence. That is, one can get beyond focusing on crude alignment details and put one’s mind on fine details of breath, drishti (focal point), and keeping a slight tension in the perineum. Such facts can slip away when one is struggling to get the sequence and postural details down pat.


However, there’s a great counter-argument against fixed-sequence programs. The counter-argument goes like this, “If you get so bored out of your wits that you quit, you will also never get to the part where you focus on higher level details.” My advice would be “know thyself.” In other words, if you can keep to a fixed-sequence, you should. However, if your practice will peter out without constant fresh challenges, don’t force yourself into a fixed-sequence box. It’s better to take longer to get to a higher level of practice than to quit.


The most famous fixed-sequence vinyāsa style is the Ashtanga Vinyāsa system handed down by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. (Note: some people call this system Ashtanga Yoga, and others don’t like that name because it implies that this system is heir apparent to Patanjali’s yoga as described in The Yoga Sutras.  [In other words, there’s an argument that that name was already taken.] Furthermore, Jois’s system isn’t really any more of an Ashtanga Yoga [in the Patanjalian sense] than any other Hatha yoga style because it focuses on only a few of the limbs (i.e. asana, pranayama, etc.) at least until one gets to very advanced stages of practice.


The most famous vinyāsa style without a fixed sequence is probably Power Yoga, although many people practice classic Hatha asana in a vinyāsa.  Power Yoga emphasizes core strength building, and was originally developed by Ashtanga vinyāsa practitioners to give one the workout of Ashtanga vinyāsa without its monotony.


This was my first experienced with a fix-sequence vinyāsa program other than Ashtanga Vinyāsa, so I didn’t know what to expect. This was the second workshop I’d attended by Bharath Shetty, so I knew that he was a skilled and knowledgeable teacher. However, I didn’t know what Indea Vinyasa, itself, would be like.


It turned out to be much like Ashtanga Vinyāsa. The general organization is identical. That is, there are two versions of Surya Namaskara, a standing sequence, a floor sequence, and a finishing sequence. Note: I’ve only been taught the first series of each of these systems, and so I can’t say how they vary at more advanced levels.


The Surya Namaskaras of Indea Vinyāsa mirror those of Ashtanga Vinyāsa, but they aren’t identical. The Indea Vinyāsa Surya Namaskara-A is slightly more involved, and includes an Utkatasana. The Indea Surya Namaskara-B, like Ashtanga Vinyāsa, features Warrior I, but doesn’t include Utkatasana (chair pose.)


The standing sequences of the two systems are identical. However, the floor sequence is very different. The Ashtanga Vinyāsa preliminary series (as mentioned above, both systems have multiple series) focuses heavily on forward bends, but the Indea Vinyāsa  preliminary series is more balanced between forward and back bends. The finishing sequence is also quite similar between the two styles.  The sarvangasana-halasana-karnapidasana-matsyasana sequence is the core of both finishing sequences.


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