vi- to order; nyasa – conscious placement; krama – sequence with a beginning, middle and end
Often when a yoga class is described as ‘dynamic’ or ‘flowing’, it is based on vinyasa krama. In sanskrit, vinyasa means an ordered, conscious placement; krama is a period of time or sequence with a beginning, middle and end. Along the way, there are specific points in time, called ksanas. In a vinyasa-based asana practice, the breath is the linking mechanism between the ordered, conscious placement of the body and its movement in and out of specific points in the sequence. These points are the moments when the practitioner has moved fully into an asana, or posture, and before they have begun to move out of it.
A full breath is considered as an inhale followed by an exhale. Moving through a vinyasa sequence, half breaths are used to move in and out of postures, while full breaths enable the practitioner to deepen into a posture. Using the breath to define the movement helps the yogi to focus the mind on the breath and the movement in the present moment rather than letting the mind go in its own direction, back to past events or moving into the future. In this way, the vinyasa practice is a moving mediation. The breath also helps to strengthen the yogi’s physicality and endurance, increasing the amount of oxygen to the lungs, brain and musculature, engaging the whole body in the practice.
Conscious placement means the mindful arrangement of the body in space. Rather than throwing a mat down onto the floor, one may observe the precision with which a yogi aligns their mat to lines on the floorboards. Equally, the practitioner takes time with the placement of the toes and heals on the mat, spreading the feet in a specific manner, placing weight into the ball of the big toe and little toe, centre of the heal and outer arch so that the inner arches can lift as the legs become engaged. In this way from the foundation up, the postures are consecrated with precision. The breath carries this conscious placement throughout the practice.
Over time, the vinyasa-based asana practice may enable the practitioner to take this mindfulness off the mat into other aspects of their life. Choosing a lifestyle that is kinder to the planet and all animate life, taking time not to rush throughout the day, replacing negative thoughts with positive ones – these are all ways we can be more mindful of our own behavior and its impact on the world around us.
The transition from on the mat and into the world doesn’t necessarily happen overnight, but the more one becomes aware of what is going on physically, mentally, emotionally on the mat, the less we need the mat to help us be observant of the attention to the small details, the subtleties, of our lives. Vinyasa krama, like mindfulness, is a practice; one that builds over time but is without perfection. The goal is being present; becoming increasingly aware of the relationship between our body, our breath, our thoughts and our connection with the world we live in. By living our lives more mindfully, those around us may experience a greater sense of peace and wellbeing. What could be better than that?