Wednesday, July 6, 2011

This Thing Called "Vinyasa"

Vina vinyasa yogena asanadin na karayet” Oh yogi, do not do asana without vinyasa
~Vamana Rishi, Yoga Korunta

One essential argument for the benefit of learning from books which I left out of my last post brings us to this week’s topic:  this thing called “Vinyasa.” 

The Ashtanga Vinyasa system popularized by Pattabhi Jois and his family was taught to him by his Guru, Sri Krishnamacharya.  Krishnamacharya learned this system from—you guessed it, A BOOK called Yoga Korunta by Vamana Rishi.  This work is said to be 4,000 years old.  When Krishnamacharya found the last remaining copy of this work in the Calcutta library, it was bound together with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras; the two treatises are physically and philosophically linked.

What is unique about the Ashtanga Vinyasa system is that it allows the student to practice all 8 limbs at the same time, perfect for those of us who cannot spend 20 hours a day practicing asana, meditation, study, chanting, etc. Think of it as the drive thru of spiritual practice—same substance, same results, yet quicker service so more guests can be accommodated. 

In this system, asana (postures), pranayama (breath practice, including bandhas [locks] and mudras [seals]), and pratyahara (sense withdrawal, ie focusing the gaze), limbs 3, 4, and 5, are practiced together, which lead, over time, to concentration (6), meditation (7), Samadhi (8).  Yama (1) and niyama (2) flow from pratyahara.  Of course, the “machine” only works if all the parts are practiced together.

Vinyasa is often referred to as “movement with the breath,” and vinyasa practice has become generalized to mean any flowing physical practice.  Neither of these is accurate.  Vinyasa means “the breath and its associated movement.”  For instance, there are five vinyasas in triangle pose (trikonasana), the second and fourth are the state of the pose.  Surya Namaskar A has nine vinyasas.  During the state of the asana, the gaze is focused toward a prescribed location (the top hand in trikonasana, the 3rd eye (inhales) and tip of nose (exhales) in Surya Namaskar).  Ujayii pranayama without retention is performed throughout.  The posture purifies the body, the breath purifies the nervous system, and the gaze purifies the mind.

The  poses of the vinyasa system have been laid out for us to provide specific effects on the body.  Korunta means “grouping.” The effectiveness of the system is not a result of any individual posture; rather the benefits come from the sum total of all the parts.  Just like Patanjali, Vamana created a synergistic system—a practice of union, not segmentation or separation. 

Pattabhi Jois likened the practice to a mala (in fact, the closest thing we have to the Yoga Korunta is his work Yoga Mala) where the body is the prayer, the asanas are the beads, and the breath is the thread linking them together.  This metaphor is a direct connection to Krishna’s statement in The Bhagavad Gita: “All this is strung on Me as clusters of gems on a string.” (XII.7)
When the system is practiced as a whole and sustained over a long period of time, there is a profound effect. What appears, at first, to be an intensely physical practice becomes a meditation practice uniting the body, breath, and mind, allowing us to realize, even if just for a fleeting moment, that we are a small part of something larger.

Want to learn more about the Yoga Korunta and the Yoga Sutras?  Consider my Student TrainingProgram, coming this August. 

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