What is Yoga ?
Yoga is a Sanskrit work meaning ‘to yoke‘ the physical body and spirit together. Yoga is a popular activity and can be practiced safely by children, adults and also athletes. It can be modified to suit different fitness levels and yoga has proven health benefits for those practicing it. It works on both the body and mind.
Vinyasa yoga is one of the most popular styles of yoga. Vinyasa is a Sanskrit word meaning to place in a special way or connect (‘vi’ means a special way and ‘nyasa’ means ‘to place’) It basically links the body movements and breath. Vinyasa is also called Vinyasa flow as it combines each movement with pranayama or breath. The body movements are natural, dance-like and smooth flowing combined with deep inhaling and exhaling and hence called Vinyasa flow or flow. This form of yoga is derived from Ashtanga yoga. Vinyasa symbolizes a flowing, dynamic form of yoga, where postures are linked together using breath.
Vinyasa yoga is a style of yoga developed from Ashtanga yoga. Ashtanga yoga was initially developed by a Guru named Sri Tirumala Krishnamacharya and popularized by his disciple K. Pattabi Jois. The basic postures and breathing techniques were from an ancient book called the Yoga Korunta. Pattabhi Jois established an institute to teach this style of yoga in Mysore, India. This style of yoga was named Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. This yoga became very popular with people from around the world coming to learn at his center. His disciples took this ashtanga Vinyasa style to other countries including the West and popularized it there. Vinyasa yoga is also referred to as Mysore yoga from the place where it originated from. Pattabhi Jois published a book Yoga Mala on Ashtanga yoga. The Vinyasa flow is taken from the Ashtanga method with special stress on ‘Ujjayi breathing‘, ‘mula bandh‘, ‘uddhiyana bandha‘ and ‘drishti‘.
Vinyasas classes gradually takes a student step-by-step from one point to another. It is also called the breathing system because of the combination of breath with the yoga postures. There are six series of Ashtanga poses and the students can choose their own pace to progress from one level to another.
Since there are no standard text books or rules that the teachers of Vinyasa yoga follow, there is a lot of scope for flexibility in teaching Vinyasa yoga. Teachers can choose to follow their own pace and variations of postures or asanas to teach Vinyasa yoga. Therefore, students too can choose from different teachers and learn yoga according to their comfort level.
Vinyasa yoga techniques and poses
Many of the vigorous yoga exercises are derived from Ashtanga yoga. Vinyasa yoga and power yoga are among them. The time taken to move from one asana to another is determined by the length of the inhalations and exhalations. Students remain in the final posture for a specified number of breaths. So a lot of emphasis is placed on the breathing and the movement from one asana to another. This way, it is different from the Hatha yoga, where only postures are given importance and not the breathing.
Pattabhi Jois had created 4 series of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga depending on the difficulty level, the primary level being the easiest. The first series or primary series is the Yoga Chikitsa, meaning yoga therapy. This initial step is aimed at realigning the spine, detoxifying the body and also to build on strength, flexibility and stamina.
The primary series usually starts with the Surya Namaskaram or Sun Salutation followed by about 75 poses which include, standing poses, bending, seated poses and inversions.. All these poses together take around 1 ½ hours to complete. Savasana or the resting posture is the final posture.
The intermediate series of poses are called ‘Nadi Shodana‘ which is the purification of the nervous system. These series of poses can be started only when students are comfortable with the first level. The difficulty level is higher, but the sequence of exercises is similar, but will include new poses or variations of the poses in the first series.
The four advanced series are called Sthira Bhaga meaning divine stability. Only the first two series of postures are taught in yoga classes. The advanced exercises are suitable only for advanced practitioners of yoga. A number of balancing postures are included in the advanced series. Pattabhi Jois had initially developed only two advanced series, but he later divided into 4 to make them more accessible.
The breathing style of Vinyasa yoga is called Ujjayi, where the inhalation and exhalations are done through the nose. The throat passage and airways are narrowed creating a rushing sound like that of the ocean. The breath is controlled by the diaphragm. The inhalations and exhalations are of the same duration and there is no distress to the practitioner, but makes him calm and focused.
Vinyasa yoga also has bandha or muscle locking or contraction which focuses on the body energy.
Many yoga classes practicing Vinyasa yoga allow students to practice in the yoga classes at their own pace after the initial learning process. This offers great flexibility for students as they can perform according to their individual capability, but in the presence of teachers and other students. This style of learning is called the Mysore style. Due to the flexibility it allows, Vinyasa yoga is suitable for beginners and regular practitioners of yoga. Students can try out various classes teaching Vinyasa yoga and select a class or teacher with whom they are comfortable with. Classes will differ from each other depending on the pace of lessons, inclusion of chanting and alignments.
Benefits of Vinyasa yoga
Yoga if done regularly has many benefits like strengthening the bone, reducing blood pressure and anxiety. It helps us develop balance and increased flexibility. Vinyasa yoga has both physical and mental benefits. Vinyasa or movements and Ujjayi or breathing together create internal heat leading to the purification of the body through increased blood circulation and sweating. Sweating expels toxins and energizes the body. The breathing relaxes the mind and helps release blockages of energy flowing the body. When blood circulation freely to all the joints, relieving pain. It also flows through the internal organs removing impurities and diseases in the form of sweat. Vinyasa yoga is based on the principle that, it is through sweat that the impurities are removed from the body. The various asanas aid in sweating.
It lays emphasize to Tristhana or three places that are paid attention and these are, the body, the nervous system and the mind.
Types of Vinyasa yoga
There are various styles of Vinyasa yoga like Jivamukti, Ashtanga, Bikram, Anusara, Forrest and Power yoga. All these types of yogas have their root in the vinyasa yoga, but the interpretation of the asanas or postures differs from one yoga practitioner to another. Vinyasa Yoga DVDs are available online.