Vinyāsa Krama: Moving with Nature

by Jessica Stickler |
October, 2022

सर्वमङ्गलमाङ्गल्ये शिवे सर्वार्थसाधिके ।
शरण्ये त्र्यम्बके गौरि नारायणि नमोऽस्तु ते ॥

Oṁ
sarva maṅgala-māṅgalye śive sarvārtha-sādhike
śaraṇye tryambake gauri nārāyaṇi namo'stu te

We extend salutations to Narayani, who is the blessed mother among all that is good. O auspicious Goddess, you are the one who accomplishes every aim, and who gives refuge to her devotees, you are the glorious three-eyed, Gauri. 

Durga Saptashati, Chapter 11 

“When āsanas, the sequence of changes, are woven together with breath and conscious intention, we align ourselves with the continuous flow, the undulating rhythm, of the universe.” — SG

Vinyāsa is a moving meditation integrating five components; intention, gaze, breath, movement, and mūla bandha — when practiced together, the magic is forced to rise! Coordinating all five components in practice, we have the potential to experience yoga. Much like music, vinyāsa is an experience in time. Ujjāyī breathing gives us physical sound to focus our listening; it also provides a tempo, a timing for practice. By placing our movements in time we can become conscious of the unfolding of the sequence of life. The rhythmic breathing serves as the musical measure or metronome through which the sequence of āsana moves, like a melody.”In order to transcend time, we must first become a master of timing. We must become musical.” — Sharon Gannon

Surya namaskār, or sun salutation, is typically practiced by moving fluidly through a series of āsana set to a steady breath, where each movement gets the equal breathing. The breath and the body together make a sort of music.Yoga is like music: the rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind, and the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life.” — BKS Iyengar

Vinyāsa practice is sometimes referred to as a “moving meditation.” Unlike a seated practice, where the attention is focused on a single object, in vinyāsa we are quite literally focusing the ever present unfolding moment (kṣaṇa)— meditating on time itself. The dṛṣṭi/gaze moves with our attention, our single pointed attention follows the flow of time through the series of our actions. Think of those time lapse films that show the entire development of a blossom, because of the time lapse we can see how each moment leads to the next in an unbroken sequence.“The yoga is in the transitions.” — David Life Studying the nature of change in this way we may also be able to glimpse at that which is unchanging and eternal. When we practice vinyāsa krama, we are moving through space and observing all that is changing, the body, the mind, the environment; in order to also perceive that which is not changing – the eternal Self, ultimate reality, Brahman.

The practice also gives insight into the nature of cause and effect, the movements are a study of how we act in the world. Krishna reminds Arjuna that studying wise action (and wise inaction) is the yogis mission. Studying how thoughts become words become actions become habits allows us to investigate the self in relationship to others. By understanding where our motivations come from, and how our prejudices and preferences influence our actions, we increase our understanding and empathy for others as well as increase our own tendency to take compassionate action in the world. Now there are even studies showing that when we move in unison, our feeling of connectedness and belonging increases as does our propensity to take compassionate action.

Consistent application of mūla bandha, binds the other components together, gives them all en energetic boost, and channels them into a direction — like a fiber optic cable, moving the energy in one concentrated direction. mūla bandha organizes and directs the energy of the five components of vinyasa. Dṛṣṭi, the gaze, also relates to our vision; to seeing the divine everywhere. Higher intention, devotion — the love of investigating the self in order to understand our interconnection — uplifts the practice from a mundane series of movements to this indescribable experience – just as notes on a page cannot convey the feeling of the music, only the notes in combination with the instrument, the musician, and the genius of spirit.

Teaching Tips

1. Read Sharons essay on vinyasa krama.

2.  Teach one or more of the five components of vinyāsa in more depth.

  • For example, teach a sequence or a class emphasizing in particular the gaze, or trying to maintain mūla bandha, or go more in depth on working with the breath etc with the idea that mastering each of the components can lead to a more cohesive vinyasa experience.

3. Review alignment and transitions for the key parts of vinyasa practice, i.e. chatturanga/updog.

  • Have students work on that seamless flow from one to the next, but also with attention on completing the shape (notice the tendency to cut chatturanga short, or come into plank and wait) Remind the students that its not just about getting from point a to point b, but about observing and breathing the entire process…. Like the flower unfolding or the sun moving seamlessly through the sky.

3. Teach Strict Vinyasa — In order to teach vinyasa, the students must know the movements. Start by teaching the sequence first, remind them of the other components, and then give time to work on the fluidity and of holding all five components simultaneously.

  • Option A) One option is to practice with a  metronome to emphasize the evenness of ‘samavritti’ — each breath is equal, and that means that different movements will have to be slowed down or sped up in order to fit the breath. This is a great practice for noticing preferences, i.e. notice wanting to speed through harder asana and linger in places that are easier., or noticing the desire for the breath to be shorter or longer. Most students will initially find the exhale to be easier to 1. Make the oceanic sound, and 2. Be able to control the length. That means we will have to work to improve the inhale! When we encounter that difficulty and obstacle, we approach with awareness, curiosity, patience, and persistence.
  • Option B) Another option is to allow for time to practice “on their own” without instruction— in other words, they know the sequence well and they have a good understanding of ujjāyī — it might even be a little difficult to give up the security of following the teachers’ voice and instructions, but they will understand it much deeper and gain confidence and independence.
  • Option C) As an experiment, encourage the group to try moving together as much as possible, even just for a small portion of class. Ask the students to expand their vision and take in some of the peripheral vision just enough to see the students on either side of themselves and in front, and just see how close to moving in unison you can become. Like a flocks of birds and schools of fish stay together and their movements are responsive to each other and in sync.

4. Use music that supports the pace of the vinyasa, this will likely be a little different teacher to teacher and sequence to sequence — see if you can find a few songs that work really well with your breath count, particularly for surya namaskār or other parts of class that you want to have a strong pacing.

  • Additionally, its helpful to have songs with less English/German/etc. words during the parts of class where the teacher is giving the most instruction. For example, the students ears have to compete too much between the instructions and the song

5. Make observations about preferences in practice. For example, you might notice that you ‘like’ the faster parts of class, and that you tend to zone out or get bored during the longer/slower parts of class. Or, perhaps you like to take your time dislike feeling ‘rushed’ in the faster parts of class. It’s okay to have preferences, but the yogi likes to investigate these preferences deeply… even challenging themselves to do the opposite of what they “want” to sometimes. 

6. Make observations about how your tendencies show up in practice. One that I notice frequently in my own practice is ‘anticipating’ what the teacher is going to say, or moving ahead of the instruction, sequence, group. When I notice that, I try to remember to slow down and be more deliberate.

7. Correlations (even though all interconnect and interrelate and cross over) Ujjayī, Nāda. dṛṣṭi, dhyāna. Movement, ahiṃsā. Intention, Bhakti. Mūla Bandha ties it all together – Scripture as the basis for all.