What is Vinyasa, anyway?
by Daniel Dale
Many experienced yoga practitioners who have studied in other Hatha Yoga traditions, have shared with me that on the whole their experiences taking classes labeled “Vinyasa” have been very frustrating.
These are folks who approached me after taking a class I taught, and told me that they loved how we moved at a pace that allowed them to breathe. Some have literally reported that in all the “Vinyasa” Yoga classes they had taken previously, the pace was so frantic that they hardly had time to take a breath.
It seems there is a widespread conception of Vinyasa Yoga as being fast and aerobic. And that is how it is often presented. One might ask, is it appropriate to refer to aerobics, even aerobics that is done as a sequence of classical Yogasanas, as “Yinyasa Yoga?”
We can infer that there is disagreement over what constitutes Vinyasa Yoga, since such a wide range of approaches are given this common label. America’s most popular Yoga magazine said of Vinyasa Yoga, “This American innovation is more freeform than its progenitor, Ashtanga Yoga.” (Yoga Journal, Feb. 2008. p.75).
I disagree with 3 assumptions that are embedded in this definition, so I ask you to question:
€ Is it “freeform?” How freeform can a genre be without it being impossible to define?
€ Is vinyasa yoga an American, and not an Indian, innovation?
€ Is it, as Yoga Journal has called it, “derivative of Ashtanga Yoga?”
A good deal of the sequencing found in many vinyasa yoga teachers’ repertoires, does draw heavily on the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series that was taught by the late K. Pattabhi Jois, who was a student of T. Krishnamacharya. And in many Vinyasa Yoga classes, one encounters a tendency toward relatively high speed that seems to have the same inspiration.
(Of course, not all Ashtangis are speed demons on the mat, but as a whole they tend to move faster than most yogis.)
On the other hand, it is said by Srivatsa Ramaswami, author of The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga, that Vinyasas are to be executed with a maximum breath rate of 6 per minute, possibly as slow as 2 breaths per minute for advanced practitioners.
Ramaswami studied for 33 years under T. Krishnamacharya, and says that as he learned it from the master, vinyasa yoga was “the antithesis of aerobic exercise.” He has also taken a stance on what parameters exist that limit what one might call Vinyasa Yoga.
I have made an attempt to address these elusive matters coherently in the article Vinyasa: about this form of Yoga, I’ve posted to my website, the Om Again Yoga Pages.
Much love to all of you who frequent Yoga With John — an excellent port of call for yogis sailing the seas of the blogosphere— and many thanks to John Calabria for inviting me to share this with you. -Daniel
Yoga teacher / somatic educator Daniel Dale is a student of yoga in the tradition of T. Krishnamacharya. He offers yoga workshops internationally, offers private yoga lessons and teaches weekly Yoga classes in New York City.