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Exploring Vinyasa - Ancient Wisdom for the Everyday

At home in the desert after a year of adventures, I am welcomed with a sense of rooting. I recently concluded an internship with the Sol Center in Tucson, a school for yoga and meditation, where I taught yoga classes and delved into the study of ancient Western and Eastern philosophies. My focus is on cultivating a mindful lifestyle in the modern world, inspiring this series: ‘Ancient Wisdom for the Everyday.’ 

The first topic is the yogic concept of vinyasa. This springs from an extension of my lesson on foundation which is explored in the previous blog post 2022 in Words. I wrote about the tendency to build roofs before the foundation has been set – a lesson hard learned. Vinyasa, in essence, means flow, encouraging intentional movement through life, from the minutest, most mundane action to orienting oneself towards goals.

Vinyasa - On & Off the Mat

“To place in a certain way” is a widely accepted translation of vinyasa from Sanskrit, the language of yoga’s classical texts (e.g., the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita). The breath is a crucial element here, as it is in all of yoga, linking breath to movement with acute awareness. 

Vinyasa is commonly used to title a fiery, flowy type of yoga class or describe a specific sequence of asana’s (yoga poses): plank to chaturanga to upward dog to downward dog. While reading ‘Health, Healing, and Beyond,’ a biography about Krishnamacharya, the grandfather of modern hatha yoga, I was reintroduced to vinyasa in a broader context.

Firstly, vinyasa was defined as “the concept that guides the performance of an asana and also the course of practice,” wrote the author, T.K.V. Desikachar, son and student of Krishnamacharya. Desikachar also states that “vinyasa is, I believe, one of the richest concepts to emerge from Yoga for the successful conduct of our actions and relationships.” There is a significance, he emphasizes, in the beginning, middle and end of any kind of action or asana

For example, Krishnamacharya and Desikachar both practiced meeting students at the door, conducting the lessons, then escorting students back to the gate. More than elaborate courtesy, says Desikachar, this is vinyasa in practice. 

“Our time together begins with their arrival and draws to a close with the departure. Vinyasa grants both teacher and student a sense of completion that is also a preparation for the next phase of our life…”

There is the flow into, within and from an asana or any action. This is prevalent off our yoga mats as well; how we practice on the mat can be the manner in which we engage with our life. It is possible to be a practitioner of yoga and never even touch a yoga mat by inviting its philosophical principles into everyday life. 

Natasha, the owner of the Sol Center, my internship mentor, explained that Krishnamacharya “explored how asanas and practices went together to benefit each student's individual needs” in the practice called “vinyasa krama.” She said that young, energetic students were given “vigorous vinyasas to help channel energy,” which eventually evolved into the athletic expression of yoga via Power Yoga and Vinyasa Flow classes. 

“Perhaps this method, originally designed for youngsters, provides our high-energy, outwardly focused culture with an approachable gateway to a path of deeper spirituality,” writes Fernando Pages Ruiz in a Yoga Journal article featuring Krishnamacharya. 

Many people are initially attracted to yoga as a phenomenal form of physical exercise. This serves as an accessible introduction to the deeper elements of a yoga practice, cultivating meaningful connections with oneself and the world around them. Modern yoga is a gateway, like Ruiz says, an opening to relate to yoga also as an “inner”-cise, as I’ve heard it called several times. 

Vinyasa is in itself a form of self-study that engages attention upon the consequence of our actions,” Desikachar writes. “Such practices become easier as we learn to understand, to feel, to “listen” to the experience of our bodies through asana, pranayama [breath awareness], and dhyana [meditation].” 

In fear of employing an over-used cliche, vinyasa practice could be as simple as our daily teeth-brushing routine. More often than not, brushing our teeth is a mechanical and absent-minded action. If we apply the principle of vinyasa to even the most mundane task, we enter into a practice of moment-to-moment flow, tracking action to action. 

There is so much yoga that happens in transitions. By paying attention between asana’s, being and breathing in the pose itself, we practice meditation and concentration. When I teach class, I ask my students to meet the movement like it’s their first time exploring it, especially when it’s a common asana like cat and cow. Tune into the awareness of flowing into the pose and into another. Can we track the movement moment by moment? This is a practice of vinyasa as we place our awareness and our bodies in certain ways. 

I teach intuitively by beginning class in what I call a ‘Seed-Pose’ (child's pose, standing, laying down, cross-seated, etc.) and, with breath, time and deep listening, the practice flows impromptu from there. Teaching itself is a practice of deep listening for me: to tune in to the present and watch it unwind, to trust that I will be able to meet the moment with movement. 

How intentional can we be about practicing vinyasa? Can we hold our awareness with the shifts that come with transitioning from one asana to another? So much yoga can happen in transition. How attentive can we be to this process of completion? The completion of one task opens up the possibility of another. Can this practice transmute to other areas of our life, whether it be from one mundane task to the next, or from one season of life to the other? 

There is a love of adventure too in this concept of vinyasa that I, a lover of adventure, cannot help but admire. It relates to travel, especially the kind where you might not always know what city you’ll go to next, or what country, or even where you might be sleeping that next night. This is a grand practice of vinyasa

This vinyasa principle, both on and off the mat, holds a poignant element of trust. We trust that the moment will unfold, unravel and reveal. We may not know what will happen in the next moment, but we know it will happen and that whatever happens flows from the moment before it. We can trust ourselves to be present for it, just as we are present now. As is the nature of time as humans experience it: we flow from second to second, minute to minute, year to year, moment to moment. 

The beauty in this is that we can make plans and set goals, as these bring us a sense of comfort, ambition and intentionality. I would be lost without my own intentions. Ultimately though, what lies in the next moment is mysteriously unavailable until time yields to it. Even when yoga teachers have prescribed a set vinyasa, how completely can you give yourself to the moment’s current, letting go of all sensations of waiting or anticipation? How precisely can we dance with the present so that life itself turns into a grand practice of flow, trust and ritual? 

Invite in the practice now, as you complete reading this article. Bring your awareness to the moment’s passing of actions as you transition to whatever life takes you next. Flow ~

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