28 July 2019 by Quinn Taplin
We’d have to agree with some of the talk around Canggu these days – “Mindless Vinyasa is Dead.” Although, let’s take a deeper look into this strong statement and understand what the root of Vinyasa actually is. “Vinyasa” originated from the Sanskrit root nyasa, which means “to set or place,” and the prefix vi means, “in an appropriate way” as in the preparation of notes or a melodic framework in a ragam, or the connecting of one specific asana to the next. It is difficult to actually know the true history of the Vinyasa method because it has been practiced and taught for a long time through verbal instruction from teacher to student. Many years ago a student memorized all he was taught through vocal guidance. The original intent was to keep a record in some capacity although it often evolved to each students needs and the environment it was practiced in. In my opinion there are benefits in the consistency of keeping a tradition as there is in its ability to adapt and change. From my understanding, Vinyasa is a carefully planned and organized approach of an action towards proper alignment to cultivate a deeper sense of awareness and intelligence meant to keep you in an awake state of mindfulness.
Sutra 1.2 defined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali describes the resolve of yoga practice stating “Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah”, meaning “Yoga is the Stilling the Fluctuations of the Mind”, or translated in English literally as: Chitta: mind, consciousness. Vritti: impressions, fluctuations. Nirodhah: to control, to still.
Patanjali composed these sutras in a detailed and specific Vinyasa (an appropriate and specific order) sequence to guide a student in a step by step process. Now this is not to be confused with the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga method to discredit Patanjali as the yoga we do today is quite different. He outlines an eightfold path called Ashtanga Yoga – Yamas, Niyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi. The first four of the limbs or steps (as some may call it), lay the foundation for the last four limbs of yoga. The five Yamas and Niyamas challenge and establish a guide for your moral compass and ethical observances. Asana, when practiced consistently establishes a steady and supple posture for your body to be able to be in a seated position. Patanjali firmly roots this in the Sutras stating in 2.46 Sthira Sukham Asanam – a posture is stable and comfortable. Pranayama is breath expansion and the harnessing of the pranic energy. These four first limbs sustain the basis for the latter four limbs of sense withdrawal, attention, contemplation and engagement. Samadhi is what I like to call the final integration with the understanding that there is a goal to create an in-tension of embracing the duality of having and not having. It is important to have a goal but it is more about the process. When this Vinyasa behind the intention is established, one comes to realize the process and steps of yoga in its whole entirety.
A good question to ask yourself is – are asana and pranic control in our communities instilling a physical and mental strength to create a resiliency needed to engage in the process of discipline and meditation? Which in my opinion, the answer lies within true yogic preparation towards right practice. Yoga is a path to freedom and its responsibilities that come with these powers gained are uncompromising. With this responsibility arises obstacles, and through these obstacles come mastery of the science of life. Vinyasa gives space for a practitioner to step back and look at how to get from point A to point B to establish a clear goal. It is this space that creates the reality of where you are at now to take the correct actions of removing the obstacles that are before you. It is these obstacles that provide the process of Yoga’s most valuable teachings.
Practicing Vinyasa is one of many methods but to truly know if it works, a student must practice it at least ten years. I say this because it takes ten years of practice to integrate the fruitful benefits of coming out of the beginner and intermediate state of mind. Let’s do a small test. Sit in a comfortable position whether it be supported by the earth beneath you, with pillows or a wall. Give yourself ten seconds and ‘simply’ focus on your breathing. If your thoughts distract you then restart the time and try again. You will notice that it is actually very challenging. The mind is constantly trying to create stories and at the same time allowing itself to develop solutions to the problem. This is generally how we unconsciously go throughout our day. Because of the relationship between the body and the mind, the body must be disciplined through purification by the various means of practice. One of Yoga’s greatest traps in the physical aspect of practice is to identify yourself with a posture or a preconceived idea with that of the body. For example, one student may perform padmasana, lotus pose and think that he or she is doing yoga. This couldn’t be more wrong to think that witnessing this action to create a posture is Yoga. As a student progresses, overall good health and mental integration must be achieved before deeper aspects of yoga can be understood. The body and mind needs the balance of relaxation and stability to be able to truly focus on a specific task. I like to call this practicing of Vinyasa the ‘Art of Transition’.
Now, when it comes to practicing asana I have found that one of the most powerful tools is the practice of the Vinyasa method which brings together specific postures that are linked in a specific order and that which brings the movements of a sequence into a whole. The linkage of postures can be practiced in many ways. It would be arrogant to say that Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is the only correct way as it is not. Let me point out that there are many paths to practicing something in a special order. One of the main goals of yoga is to balance and harmonize the 5 elements – agni (fire), jala (water), bhumi (earth), vayu (air) and shunyaor akash (ether or space). It is these elements that either inflict pain and suffering when they are out of balance or give us steadiness and ease when we are in a state of homeostasis. Practicing asana in the Vinyasa method helps us to open our bodies and fill that space with prana (energy) and wisdom. Creating this space allows the toxins and blockages to move and release themselves from there stickiness. Patanjali is saying that when the bodies subtle energy systems come into its natural balance then we are able to focus more naturally in higher stages of meditation. Asana within Vinyasa method is one of the many holistic tools that make up the practice of Yoga. In an all-encompassing holistic view of Yoga, asana is actually a very tiny part of your existence. Yoga is all eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, Yoga is Mantra, Yoga is Mudra, Yoga is Philosophy, Yoga is Pranayama, Yoga is Asana and Yoga is Meditation. The list simply goes on but it is the awareness of the appropriate order in the greater picture of a sequence that gets us to a deeper sense of awareness and intelligence for a more wakeful state mindfulness.