Vinyasa Yoga & the Feel-Good Myth. ~ Be Shakti

Recently, one of the yoga studios where I teach decided to create a focus for each month in order to unite the teachings of the instructors as well as allow students to develop and find depth in the practice of the focus itself. A win-win for all parties involved.

This month’s theme has been: Vinyasa Krama. Big one, I know. But we have been going big since the beginning, and there is no slowing down.

If you live and practice in New York, you hear about the style of “Vinyasa” all the time and see it on nearly every yoga studio’s schedule. Often times, many take the word or style to mean that it flows, involves lots of movement, Chaturangas, up-dogs, down-dogs, etc—which is all true. (I mean, my chiseled triceps can definitely be credited to those make-shift push ups I came to fall in love with.) But if we really look at the style at its root, a true Vinyasa practice is significantly more than just a class that “flows” together.

T.K.V. Desikachar, in The Heart of Yoga, defines Vinyasa Krama as “a correctly organized course of asanas progressing appropriately toward a desired goal.” It can further be broken down to its root, in Sanskrit, as:

vi: in a particular, or special way
nyasa: to place
krama: stages

Just by breaking the word down to its core, you can start to see that the style of Vinyasa is meant to be so much more than what the masses offer. I mean, how many classes have you taken lately that just “feel good” in one’s body? As in, the senses and physical planes are pleased? Is that really what Vinyasa is about? Feelin’ good? Patanjali and all the yogi masters would probably be laughing. Okay, maybe not laughing, but definitely smirking at least a little.

Because, when we strip it down, down, down, yoga is a practice whose philosophies are deeper than the physical realms of identification.

Sensations, feelings and emotions that are stirred and ignited from within and from our practice are essentially changing, impermanent things. They are not a part of our permanent being, our true self, our soul. It is only our ignorant, foolish self that sees them as such, that identifies the cloaked “bliss” of a “feel good” Vinyasa class as actual yoga. Sutra 2.5 says that ignorance is identifying that which is subjectable to change as the pure, the eternal. And if yoga was a practice that was just meant to feel good all the time, to serve the senses, then Yoga would be literally a practice of strengthening ignorance, or putting faith in changing forms and feelin’ good.

And well, it’s not. At all. Tough love.

If yoga is the practice of stripping ourselves down to discover our true nature or self that is eternal and beyond form (and also not subject to change, fad, label, gender, sex, season, color, race, nationality, taste in music—or asana, for that matter), we have to—as Vinyasa teachers—invite the mystery into our class, into our sequencing.

It requires looking at the asanas, the movements, the transitions, the breaths and placing each one delicately, intelligently and perfectly alongside the poses that come before, after, at the beginning and at the end. It requires us as teachers to constantly ask ourselves why are we putting this pose here. Why not there. Why not in next week’s class or last week’s class? It requires us to go beyond the desire to create a class that just “feels good” for students. It requires us to sequence in a way that safely pushes one’s physical, somatic, psychological and emotional boundaries into the changeless, unbreakable, indestructible self.

And it requires that we do it over and over again.


Spiritually athletic in nature and practice, Be Shakti finds gratitude in movement, stillness and transition. She grew up not far from Amish Country in Pennsylvania and traded in the moo’ing cows for beeping taxis when she moved to NYC. Be is a registered ERYT, Lululemon Ambassador in Brooklyn and graduate of NYU’s Gallatin School. Her teaching is influenced by her studies in addiction, Tibetan Buddhism and her pet-family. Her website is www.beshaktiyoga.com.

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  • Assistant Ed: Dejah Beauchamp
  • Ed: Brianna Bemel

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Nirguna May 27, 2013 10:03pm

nyasa is something else http://vedabase.net/n/nyasa

Nirguna May 27, 2013 9:52pm

Very nice article. I definitely agree that at times students become obsessed with feeling good. Sometimes to the point of not wanting to challenge themselves at all which doesn't always feel very yogic. But at the same time every body comes to the yoga practice differently, and no physical yoga class I have taken yet could really be called raja yoga. As long as what we teach in yoga class is what the students are seeking, then we are doing our duty. Genuine yoga instruction rarely can go very deep without one-on-one learning outside of the class.

So…sorry to be the total yoga dork, but I believe:
'vi' – an intensifying prefix
'vini' – special or appropriate (as in Viniyoga, a word we see in the Sutras)
'asa' – to place or seat (as in asana)
'i + a' combine to make 'ya' (sandhi rules)
making vinyasa: to move, place or order in a special or appropriate way.


Lisa May 27, 2013 9:10pm

Agreed! That's why I termed them "indicators", since we aren't speaking of any specific situation. Just trying to keep it simple! In this sense I really don't mind words of judgement- they indicate and help me sort out what I do and do not accept for my body.

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