All modern Yoga students have encountered Vinyasa yoga classes at some point for sure. What makes Vinyasa different from Hatha yoga; and why does it have this special appeal? What exactly is a Vinyasa sequence. To a large extent, it can be thought of as: a breathing-coordinated sequence of poses, linking static yogasanas. Generally, Surya Namaskara (Sun salutations) forms the building block from where the Vinyasa poses flow.
(Pic 1: an example of a vinyasa flow)
For the purpose of context; let’s study the origins of Vinyasa. It all begins with the modern grandmaster of yoga – Sri Krishnamacharya (Guru to most of the great 20th century master-teachers including Pattabhi Jois, BKS Iyengar and Indra Devi). Sri Krishnamacharya is said to have taught the primary vinyasa series from a text given by his own Guru – called the Yoga Korunta. (However there has been no reference to this text anywhere else). Whilst he stayed and set up a Yoga shala in Mysore under the patronage of the Mysore Maharaja (King); he went about instructing the young boys who came for physical training in this vinyasa series. Ujjayi breathing, with its ability to bring focus in the individual is practiced throughout the sequence. The movement from pose to pose is co-ordinated with breath; whilst each static posture is held for a pre-determined number of breaths. Krishnamacharya was known for adapting the yoga he taught to the audience that he was teaching. As he taught the young men; he developed a physically demanding style of yoga. This may also have included exercises from other physical disciplines like Indian wrestling and Western gymnastics. However, the focus was always on creating a one-pointed mind and along with the chanting of Sanskrit verses – it was given a overall spiritual flavour.
Later his student, Sri Pattabhi Jois popularized the Ashtanga Vinyasa Series. This would include about 10 Surya namaskaars; 1 out of 6 possible vinyasa series (primary to advanced); Backbends; and Inverted poses. It became extremely popular in the west as people were able to learn to focus from movement to stillness.
In today’s times, Vinyasa flows are practiced large numbers of yoga teachers. The aim remains the same – to help students focus inwards whilst moving through poses, and creating internal heat through the precise breathing and movement instructions. This cleanses the body from within. It also allows the teacher to express his/ her creativity in sequencing the poses. As students you are not always sure about the exact sequence of poses – so it keeps you honest and focussed. All in all, Vinyasa is an absolutely essential part of yogasana practice.
Having taught different types of students for over a decade, I’ve always felt that it’s easier to train students to focus whilst there is some movement (Vinyasa) since in their minds they are always moving. Hatha yoga – static holding of poses – requires a different kind of focus and will-power that is best developed after vinyasa training. It’s for this reason that in the Total Yoga (www.total-yoga.org) style that; we have incorporated Vinyasa on day 1 and Hatha on day 2.
Go ahead and try a vinyasa class today. And if you already do; then try a Hatha class and you’ll see how beautifully the 2 styles actually complement each other!