Yogis are radical. In our quest for enlightenment-eternal happiness-we seek to break out of the bonds of cultural conditioning in order to explore and ultimately come to see the true nature of reality. The practice of vinyasa krama can help us in this effort. The word vinyasa is composed of two words: vi = order + nyasa = placement; and the word krama means “the uninterrupted sequence of events from beginning to end”; so the entire term means “the ordered placement of the sequence of events.” Usually shortened simply to “vinyasa,” it refers to a flowing sequence of asanas linked by breath and intention.
Contrary to the way we ordinarily think about it, our world is a process, not a collection of objects-every element of every animate being and inanimate thing in the universe is constantly changing. The sequence of changes is always occurring, but ordinarily in us, the sequence is linked by unconsciousness, and we do not perceive it. Most of us see objective reality as more real than subjective reality and spend much of our life energy trying to grasp new objects or stop the gradual decay of everything objectified. When we inject consciousness into the process of change, however, we can become aware of the past and future, because they are experienced simultaneously in the present, and using intention, we can direct the sequence of changes toward the benefit of all beings. This is the state of enlightenment.
In vinyasa, we practice a sequence of asanas as one continuous movement from start to finish. Every movement into or out of a posture is linked to an in-breath or out-breath, and intention-the underlying reason for the practice-drives the movement forward. Here are some additional important guidelines for vinyasa practice:
- Inhales and exhales should be of equal duration and move the same volume of air. Ujjayi breathing makes the breath audible and easier to regulate. There should be no pause or retention of breath at any time: the end of every inhale flows into the beginning of every exhale and vice-versa. The breath is used in this way as a tool for training the attention-consciousness. The quality of the breath reflects the quality of the mind in any posture or transition. If it has an unaffected quality, free from attachment to pleasure or aversion to pain or discomfort, the mind will have that same quality.
- Like with the breath, there should be no stopping or pause between movements. The transition into or out of an asana should take the same amount of time as the inhale or exhale to which it is linked, no more and no less. That means that a simple movement may have to be done more slowly than usual, and a more complicated movement may have to be done more quickly than usual. As soon as the movement is complete (which is the same time as the in- or out-breath is complete), the next movement begins, so the practice flows seamlessly.
- Mula bandha should be applied throughout the practice. It directs consciousness from the mundane to the spiritual and reminds us of our intention.
A properly executed vinyasa practice can help break the habit of viewing the world around us as a collection of objects or viewing life as a series of distinct events. It mimics the way nature works-always moving, changing, curvy. Events in nature do not just happen, they unfold, they develop. Thus in our vinyasa practice, we do not “do” standing forward bend, then upward-facing dog, then downward-facing dog in a choppy, static way, but rather we let each asana unfold into the next, the way a seed unfolds into a stem, then into a bud, then into a flower, then back into the earth to nourish the next generation. When asanas, 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.