As part of our good200 Introduction to Vinyasa Flow, I prepared myself for a fast-moving class with lots of asanas and attention on the transitions from one to another. When considering the literal translation of vinyasa: to place in a certain way, one might expect an Intro to Vinyasa class to be like any goodyoga class emphasizing proper alignment and placement of hands, feet, head, arms … every part of the anatomy, from one asana to the next.
The class emphasized the subtle movements that we often take for granted – the lowering down with elbows pressed close to the ribs in Chaturanga Dandasana; the rising up from standing forward bend into Tadasana; the movement from downward facing dog to plank pose. Personally, my practice tends to emphasize the end result. What should the pose look like when you are doing it correctly? Sure, it’s important how you get there, but ultimately, we just want to get there and focus on the micro adjustments working towards a picture perfect pose.
However, when we look at the common meaning of vinyasa, we start to understand that the path we take to get to the shining Ashram on the hill is just as important, if not more important than actually getting there.
Vinyasa is the linking of body movement with breath.
If vinyasa is the linking mechanism that joins one pose to another, it can be surmised that these movements done in coordination with breath are like the rungs of a ladder. Without the rungs, there is no way to the top of the ladder. Or to use the path metaphore, if we take a path filled with brambles which leads us along a rocky, unstable cliff, we may find ourselves battered and bruised when we get to our destination, if we get there at all. So goes with yoga asana. Without mindful movement from one asana to another, we may find ourselves flinging, forcing or placing harmful loads on our joints, all of which can lead to injury.
Flannery drove this point home when she lead the class through Surya Namaskar A with 10 second counts between poses. The result was a slow-motion Sun Salute that made us look carefully at the way we move from pose to pose. The class was designated D for difficult. A seasoned yogi may scoff at the breakdown of asanas performed during the class, but by stretching the movement and breath to 10 seconds, a simple pose becomes surprisingly difficult. The biggest challenge came when we were asked to perform tripod head stand by coming into the pose without hopping, propping or thrusting our legs up over our heads. This was nearly impossible for me today. I managed to get my knees lifted to my chest and toes off the ground, but Flannery had to coach me into it reminding me to lift both feet off the mat at the same time, instead of cheating by lifting one foot, then using the other to prop myself up.
The challenge was difficult, and totally worth it.