THE ACTUAL MEANING OF VINYASA | Ep. 17 | Body of Knowledge™ Vlog

This past weekend in the YogaWorks 200hr teacher training I’m leading we talked about the meaning of Vinyasa and how this Sanskrit word doesn’t actually translate how many think it does. Vinyasa doesn’t mean ‘flow’ or ‘moving on the breath’ or ‘chaturanga, up-dog, down-dog.’

In his book, The Heart of Yoga, T. K. V. Desikachar breaks down the roots of the word Vinyasa within the phrase vinyasa krama.

“Krama is the step, nyasa means “to place” and the prefix vi- translates as “in a special way.” The concept of vinyasa krama tells us that it is not enough to simply take a step: that step needs to take us in the right direction and be made in the right way.”

If I put Desikichar’s ideas into my own words, for me this concept of vinyasa krama is to make the process the goal.

When I make the process the goal, I pay attention to my day to day experience to observe whether or not the steps I’m taking and how I’m taking them are moving me in the right direction. At the same time, though, in noticing my experience as I move toward my goals, I ask myself, “is this really what I want?” More importantly, is it what I need? During the process of vinyasa krama, the goal informs the steps, but the steps also inform the goal. Like moving targets, I allow my goals to change with me and course correct along the way.

The next time you hear your teacher say, “take the vinyasa” pause auto-pilot mode and ask yourself before that chaturanga, “What do I need?” Maybe it’s chaturanga and maybe not. Everyday is different. Everyday we’re different. At least some of the outcomes of our future depend on both our attentiveness and responsiveness to this flow of change. What better place to start this practice of attention than on the mat?

You’ll notice that in this video I’m moving very slowly. That’s because I’m actually moving with the pace of my breath.

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6 comments on “THE ACTUAL MEANING OF VINYASA | Ep. 17 | Body of Knowledge™ Vlog”

  1. AnnMerle Reply

    Laurel, thanks so much for this video. When I work in direct tandem with my breath I stay much more connected to my deepest self and fully integrated. Loved it and will design something similar for tomorrow’s practice!!

    • Laurel Reply

      Thank you so much for this comment! The breath work we do in yoga can have a huge effect on the quality of our practice, for sure! It’s also part of what I think makes the physical practice of yoga stand apart from others, right? I hope tomorrow’s class is super fun for you to teach.

      Lots of love to you, Ann!

  2. Diana Reply

    This is so beautifully highlighted , and I love having these thought provoking discussions on the trainings. Indeed the true meaning of vinyasa is as you’ve well elaborated 🙂 It is unique to each of us and it’s definition then expands into our own interpretation of how we wish our life to unfold and in what direction that serves us the best in our knowledge at the given time 🙂

    • Laurel Reply

      Thank you, Diana! My understanding of this concept only gets better as I get older and (hopefully) wiser. (:

  3. john Reply

    Hi Laurel
    your post inspired me to copy this from “Yoga Reminder” by AG Mohan & Ganesh Mohan ( I was reading it this morning!)
    complements i hope what you are saying

    Yoga Flow
    A vinyasa, as commonly understood, consists of moving from one asana or body position to another, combining breathing with movement. This is a word popularized by Krishnamacharya in his teachings and has become part of the yoga lexicon.
    The deeper import of the word vinyasa is to place things where they belong or are appropriate.
    The concept is to take orderly steps, each step placed correctly, while considering the person and the goal so that progress is consistent and steady.
    A microcosm of vinyasa is a flow of asanas where each asana is a step to the next. The concept as envisioned by Krishnamacharya is meant to have a much wider scope and depth, however. That is why he used to say,”Do not practice asanas and other disciplines without vinyasa (orderly steps)”.
    The concept of viinyasa applies not only to the body but to the breath, senses, and the mind as well. Without progressive steps in deepening mental focus, there is no vinyasa at the mental level in asana practice. Since yoga is itself about bringing the mind to stillness, vinyasa necessarily implies orderly steps towards a steady mind.
    “Thus vinyasa in asana practice should also incorporate the mind in a progressive manner”
    As Krishnamacharya once elaborated, “Do not practice asana, pranayama, meditation, vedic chanting, dance, without vritti nirodha or mental focus. Practice all of them in orderly steps”

    • Laurel Reply

      John, I love this addition from this excerpt. Thank you so much for sharing.

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