What is Vinyasa?
“Take your vinyasa” “This is a vinyasa class” “Feel free to skip the vinyasas” – Ever hear those words and go, “HUH??” One of the down sides of yoga being so ubiquitous that one can buy a yoga mat in a bodega, is that terms are sometimes thrown around and no one really knows what they mean. Like vinyasa.
Like most things, especially in yoga, there are many different ways to look at defining what vinyasa is. One might think that the movement between downward facing dog, plank, chattarunga dandasana, updog or cobra, and then back to downward facing dog is a “vinyasa” – and because a class contains many of those, that is what makes it a vinyasa class. Not wrong – but there is far more to the story. While I, personally, was taught to NEVER refer to those movements as a vinyasa, it is a short hand to describe those linking movements, and it points to one of the hallmarks of a vinaysa class, and that is that the poses are linked together. There is a fluidity in these classes – a linking of the breath and the movement, and the movements with each other.
A vinyasa class differs from an Iyengar Yoga class, where the teacher demonstrates each pose, then the students do the pose, each and every time. Warrior 2 does not move into Triangle pose in such classes, they are all taken separately, while in a vinyasa class the instruction comes as the student is moving through the pose, and one asana folds into another (of course, there are pauses when the teacher is really making a point of demonstrating a certain pose in the class). The length that poses are held, or when to move into and out of an asana is often dictated by the breath in a vinyasa class – and thus again the feel of these types of classes is one of a river like flow.
But still this does not tell the full story – especially at Hudson Yoga Project. There is another aspect in the linking of the poses that we feel defines our classes – and that is asana as building blocks for other asanas. In each class, the instructor is leading the students towards one particular pose or concept – a backbend, an arm balance, a forward fold – in teacher lingo – the Peak Pose. From the moment the teacher begins the class, they are using each pose to prepare the student’s body for that Peak Pose, so that no movement is just thrown in, or gratuitous. The poses are carefully sequenced so that each pose helps prepare the student for the next pose, until finally the body is ready to attempt the Peak Pose itself. And even now, the linking of the poses is not done, for the Peak Pose can lead into other poses that compliment it, or help the body cool down from it, where we at last find ourselves lying in savasana, doing the most important of any type or system of yoga – and that is realizing that, to quote the great yogi B.K.S. Iyengar, “That is through the body that we realize we are sparks of Divinity.”