B. K. S. Iyengar and Vinyasa Yoga by Witold Fitz-Simon

October 2, 2012

One thing yogis with some experience of different styles can say for certain is that Iyengar Yoga is most definitely not vinyasa. These days, the two styles almost exist as two opposite poles of the yoga spectrum. In an Iyengar class, poses are held for more than a few breaths, sometimes minutes at a time, and each pose is practiced discretely, with no linking other than perhaps coming back to a central pose such as Tadasana (Mountain Pose) or Dandasana (Staff Pose). In a Vinyasa class, one pose feeds directly into another, breath after breath, in an extended sequence that may take some time to loop back around to do the other side of the pose. Studios and communities that resonate with one kind of yoga rarely resonate and feature the other. This is what makes Yoga Union such a rare and special place. Alison”s vision of a yoga studio where the slow, meticulous attention to detail of structural classes can exist side-by-side with the creative exploration and expression of flow classes is unusual in the yoga community of New York today.

 

It might surprise you to know, however, that living yoga master B. K. S. Iyengar used to teach vinyasa yoga until even as recently as the 1980s. It wasn”t until he noticed that his students began to age into their late thirties and early forties that they began to get exhausted by the flowing style and stopped coming to class. It was then that he realized he would need to change his style of teaching to suit his students and he began to develop what Iyengar Yoga has become today.

 

In Ashtadala Yogamala, the eight-volume collection of his miscellaneous writings, Iyengar writes about his experience and understanding of vinyasa yoga. The full expression, vinyasa krama, means separating and placing things in a sequential order, one thing after another. It denotes a logical and integrated progression. This type of organization can apply just as well to linked, flowing progressions as it can to more contained, static progressions. In his article “Vinyasa Yoga” in volume 2 of Ashtadala Yogamala, Iyengar goes on to break down vinyasa krama further into several interesting sub-categories.

 

Samputana Kriya, the action of encasement: This is when a peak pose is placed within a sequence, or “encased” in such a way that the poses leading up to it prepare the body and mind and the poses that follow help to rebalance and integrate. This might involve a sequence with a series of stretches and openers that prepare the body on a muscular level, or it can be a sequence that operates on a deeper, energetic level. The example he offers of this is perhaps one of my favorite semi-restorative sequences of all time leading into and away from Salamba Shirshasana 1 (Head Stand):

 

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose)

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Prasarita Padottanasana 1 (Wide Spread Feet Pose 1)

Janu Shirshasana (Head of the Knee Pose)

Pashchimottanasana (Intense West Stretch Pose)

Adho Mukha Virasana (Downward Facing Hero Pose)

Salamba Shirshasana 1 (Head Stand 1)

Adho Mukha Virasana (Downward Facing Hero Pose)

Pashchimottanasana (Intense West Stretch Pose)

Janu Shirshasana (Head of the Knee Pose)

Prasarita Padottanasana 1 (Wide Spread Feet Pose 1)

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose)

 

This sequence is also an excellent example of two further classifications of vinyasa: pratiloma and anuloma. Pratiloma (going against the current) vinyasa is when the poses progress in an ascending order, from simpler to more challenging or, in the case of the above sequence, from less to more introspective. Anuloma (going with the current) vinyasa is the opposite, going from more challenging to less challenging, more introspective to less so.

 

The final classification of vinyasa that he gives is viloma vinyasa. Viloma means sequencing poses together returning regularly to a single pose. The example he gives is of a series of forward bends with Pashchimottanasana (Intense West Stretch Pose) in between each.

 

In this article, he also elucidates on the opposite of vinyasa—vishamanyasa, the subject of my next post, and also the subject of my next workshop at Yoga Union on Saturday, October 13th. Curious as to what the opposite of vinyasa could be? Come join me at the workshop to find out.

 

Join Witold”s Workshop, Vishamanyasa: Unexpected Asana Sequencing to Shed New Light on Poses, Saturday, October 13, 9:00am-12:00pm. $50.00 Read more and visit Witold’s Site Here: yogaartandscience.com

 

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