August 2, 2011

Where Oh Where Does Patanjali Say Anything About Vinyasa?

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What if someone was to ask you (very likely): Hey! Where does Patanjali ever say anything about vinyasa?

Hm, maybe even with a threatening tone or something, doubting your yoga knowledge to the point of making your serpent spine shake. I am joking, I doubt anyone would, but for argument’s sake let’s pretend that the question is a possible scenario. What then?

Vinyasa is the linking of the breath with each movement while practicing asana or poses. It is sacred. It must happen for the practice to be effective.

And where oh where did Krishnamacharya (the teacher of all main teachers of our generation i.e.: Jois, Iyengar, Ramaswami, Mohan) get that from? How did he and his guru gather this tiny bit of information from the 2000+ year old Yoga Sutras?

As you know sutra 2.46 is the most famous sutra in the world (make that in my world): Sthira Sukham Asanam, or: Sitted position should be comfortable and steady.

That is pretty much everything that Patanjali said about asanas or poses and the reason why He did not elaborate on the poses is simply because:
a) There were other texts on asanas, so people could look those up to learn about them. And
b) He wrote his work with impeccable grammar and to be memorized and passed through the generations. I still have not been able to memorize the whole thing and he knew that someone like me was in the future cards, therefore brevity was of the essence.

But still, no mention of vinyasa. That is until… the next sutra:

2.47 prayatna saithily anantasam apattibhyam, or: Effort should be accompanied by smooth breath


I was blessed to actually have Ramaswami himself (he studied with the big K for 30+ years) illuminate the point. This is what he said via e-mail:

Sri T Krishnamacharya had said in his Yoga Makaranda (read it here for free) and also in Yoga Rahasya that full benefits of yogasana cannot be obtained without vinyasas. Regarding the Yoga Sutra reference it would be about the use of breath in the practice of asanas. The interpretation of the terms in the sutras “sthira, sukha, prayatna saitilya and aananta samapatti” the four paramenters mentioned. These refer to comfort, steadiness, smooth breathing and focus on the breath while practicing asanas which is the way Sri TK taught me vinyasa practice.

In his book Yoga For the Three Stages of Life, he also says:

“… Hence the word prayatna should be taken to mean “the effort of breathing”. And it should be made smooth (sithila, from which comes saithilya, relaxation). Thus during the practice of asanas, the breath should be smooth and in my teachers’ system it is therefore mandatory to stop one’s practice and to rest when the breath is not smooth. shortness of breath is associated with a fragmented mind

So there you have it! should someone ask you with malicious intent or not, you can tell them that in Sutra 2.47 both Krishnamacharya and his guru derived the need for vinyasa:

Just as music without harmony and melody will not be enjoyable, so also asana done without vinyasa will not confer health on the practitioner. Such being the case, how can we expect long life, strength, etc. if you do not follow the stipulated rules and disciplines. (Krishnamacharya in Yoga Makaranda)


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