The word yoga means ‘concentration’. It is a systematic way to achieve personal growth by consciously (through concentration) making our body, mind and breath work together effectively. Though yoga has its roots in Indian philosophy, it is universally applicable.
Before we explore this further, let’s understand the essence of yoga – Prana. Prana is a sanskrit word for life force or breath. This life force is present in all human beings as soon as they are conceived in the mother’s womb. The concept of Prana or a life force that permeates the universe and all living things is shared across ancient eastern cultures whose philosophies focussed inward. In buddhism, for example, Prana is known as Chi . This inward focus led to a deeper understanding of the body and the mind. Yoga is a result of this deeper understanding that is based on an early version of the scientific method: hypothesis, experimentation, observation.
To relate the positive effects of their experiments to the poses, meditations and breathing exercises that led to those effects ancient yogis came up with the concept of energy channels or ‘nadis’. These channels are responsible for the body’s life, heat, and maintenance.
Further, according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras [reference], the practice of yoga consists of 8 elements known as ‘Ashtanga’ (8 limbs). The elements are yama (social discipline), niyama (self discipline), asana (posture), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (sense control), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (liberation). Through disciplined and intelligent practice of asana and pranayama, we attain healthy bodies to undertake the spiritual journey to the core of ourself. Prana can be strengthened through the practice of yoga asanas and pranayama. The totality of yoga results in the improvement of all aspects of ourselves.
While it is tempting to look at the end state of yoga as a goal, it is the journey to the goal (whether it be a particular pose or breath control or mindfulness technique) that leads to self improvement. This journey or process (Vinyasa Krama) is different for each individual and must be tailored as such. ‘Vinyasa’ means synchronizing movement with breath, and ‘krama’ means stages or steps. ‘Vinyasa’ also refers ‘to place in a specific way’. Together it means attaining a desired goal in a progressive/ step-by-step manner. The movement practice of Vinyasa is said to begin with T Krishnamacharya [reference] who has had a large influence on how yoga in general is practiced today.
Our goal in yoga practice is to increase the level of energy (prana) in our body, which can only be done through sincere discipline, effort, and practice. To achieve our goal we follow a sequential set of movements tailored to each individual and accompanied by specific breathing patterns.
If you are a human that breathes, you can do yoga. With this in mind, every individual is different in terms of anatomy, personality, and profession. Our yoga is tailored to suit the needs of the practitioner based on these factors. We follow Vinyasa Krama (a step by step approach) in all our classes in order to achieve attainable goals in postures that are more complex.
Through creative sequences with a lot of transitions, each class focuses on a theme (e.g. forward bending or back bending), and a peak posture at the end of the class. In order to warm up for that asana, simpler postures are first introduced with sound instruction making it easier and less intense when we have to get into that final posture. Though there is a central theme in each class, elements of twists, forward bends, backbends, strength, and balance posture will be present in every class.
In Vinyasa flow, we learn to breathe and move together. We aim to improve our lung capacity and stamina. By use of correct breathing techniques in our asana practice, we will find the posture comfortable and minimize the risk of injury. Patanjali instructs, ‘stiram sukham asanam’, which means to be firmly rooted in comfort in every posture. The mind should also be completely present in the moment and not wander. This is made possible with the help of breath and bandhas (neuromuscular locks that bring about energy), which is all incorporated in our Vinyasa classes. You stay focused by going with the flow. When the intention of the practice is established, we experience being connected, alive, and free.