What next after “The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga”?

This article was written by Srivatsa Ramaswami and is reproduced here with his kind permission.

“Many of those who have practised VinyasaKrama for any length of time see something unique about this system, somewhat different from the contemporary mainstream yoga.

Most have read the “Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga” book and finally ask the question, what next? How can I do a daily practice from these sequences? There are more than 700 asanas/vinyasas and I normally recommend doing each vinyasa three times. At the rate of about 4/5 movements per minute (it could be even 3 per minute for good breathers), it could take about 8 to 9 hours to do the complete vinyasakrama.

Then my Guru would commend doing a short stint of Pranayama, say for about 15 to 30 minutes and then chanting or meditation for another 15 to 30 minutes, daily. We also have to consider that in asana practice, there are a few heavy weight poses which require one to stay for a long time.

So it is almost impossible to practice all of it everyday even by a full time ‘practice-live-and-sleep-in-yoga mat’ yogi. The book was written to give as complete as possible, a presentation of all the vinyasas in a series of sequences that is logical and easy to learn, as I learnt from my Guru. It is a book for learning the system. Any serious student of yoga who would spend years studying and teaching yoga should have in one’s repertoire as many asanas, vinyasas and logical sequences (krama) as possible. So, one should firstly study the entire range of asanas and vinyasas of the vinyasakrama system from a teacher say in the 60 hr vinyasakrama program.

Then note down all the vinyasas that are a bit difficult to do. One should practice daily for half hour to one hour as many vinyasas as possible following the recommended sequence, with special emphasis on the difficult ones. In about six months to one year of consistent practice one would be comfortable with the system, the sequences and especially the required synchronous breathing.

This would complete the learning process. Then one may prepare a green list of asanas and vinyasas one would be able to do and wants to practice regularly. There will be another list, amber list which would contain those vinyasas which are difficult now but one would like to practice them even if they are somewhat imperfect.

Then there would be another red list, which will contain procedures that are not appropriate or possible for the practitioner—which could probably be taken up in the next janma (lifetime). Then it would be time for concentrating on using vinyasakrama for daily practice and also teaching to individuals for their daily yoga practice.

Adapting yoga to individual requirements is an art by itself. We must understand that there is no one standard practice that is suitable to everyone. In medicine you have to give different treatment to different patients; what is suitable to one suffering from digestive problem would be different from the one that is suitable for one who is suffering from some low back pain.

According to an important motto of Krishnamacharya, yoga for children and the adolescents (growth stage) is different from yoga practice in their midlife which again is different from the practice in old age. The body, mind and goals change during different stages of life. Sri Krishnamacharya’s teaching is based on this principle as we could discern from his works, YogaMakaranda and Yoga Rahasya.

Basically, yoga for kids and young adults will have a considerable amount of asana vinyasa practice — many vinyasas, difficult poses, etc. It will help them to work out the considerable rajas in their system and proper growth (vriddhi). Of course they should also practice some pranayama and meditation or chanting.

For the midlife yogi, the practice will still include some asana, but specifically some of the health giving  and restorative postures like the Inversions, Paschimatanasana, Mahamudra, etc., in which poses one may be required to stay for a longer period of time. There will be more emphasis on Pranayama and then more meditation, chanting, worship etc.

When I started studying with my Guru I was 15 years old. During the beginning years of my study it was mostly difficult asanas and vinyasas. Swing throughs, jump arounds, utplutis etc and other fun filled unique sequences were the order of the day. As I grew up, my teacher slowly but surely changed the mix, focus and direction of my yoga practice. On the last day I was with him (I was close to 50 then) it was just chanting of Surya Namaskara (Aruna) mantras for the entire duration with him. During the third stage of life, the old age, the emphasis is usually spiritual and/or devotional even as one is required to do some simple movements and pranayama.

And within the group, the daily practice can be varying depending upon the requirements and goals set forth by the yogi for herself/himself.

For instance, for the midlife yogi, the main goal will be to maintain good physical and mental health, rather than being able to stand, say, on one leg or even on one hand (Of course the child in me wants to do that). He/She would like to avoid risky movements so that the practice would be safe and does not cause injuries—immediate or cumulative. Too much exertion (kayaklesa), like several rounds of continuous, breathless Suryanamaskaras again should be avoided, says Brahmananda in his commentary on Hatayogapadipika.

A few may be more inclined to have some spirituality thrown in. Many would like to develop the ability to and the habit of visiting the peace zone of the mind daily.

There are some who are more rajasic or tamasic in which case the mix of asana and pranayama should be properly adjusted, sometimes taking care of even the day to day variations of the gunas. It requires some careful attention in deciding a particular day’s practice. Hence, to suggest a practice of a set of asanas or a routine for everyone irrespective of the age, condition, temperament and goal is incorrect.

Such an approach does not take into consideration not only the versatility and richness of orthodox, traditional vinyasakrama yoga practice but also does not take the varying factors of individual requirements. Sri Krishnamacharya’s yoga can appropriately be termed as ‘Appropriate Yoga’.

However, as a general rule, for the serious mid-life yogi, a daily practice of about 90 minutes to 2 hrs will be necessary and sufficient.

Here is modifiable one. After a short prayer, one could do a brief stint of Tadasana doing the main vinyasas two or preferably three times each. It should take about ten minutes. Then one subsequence in the asymmetric could be taken up, say Marichyasana or Triyangmukha or the half lotus. The choice may be varied on a daily basis. Five minute stay in Paschimatanasana and the counter poses may be practiced. Then one may do preparation of Sarvangasana and a brief stay in it, followed by headstand stay for about 5 to 10 minutes or more and then staying in Sarvangasana for 5 to 10 more minutes, if one can do inversions. Paschimatanasana, Sarvangaana and Headstand are to be practiced preferably daily for their health benefits.  If time permits one may do few vinyasas in these inversions. One may do a subsequence of Triangle pose like warrior pose and /or one sequence in one legged pose. Mahamudra for about 5 minutes each on both sides can then be practiced.

Why are these important? In an earlier article I had tried to explain the unique health benefits of the twin inversions.  In fact the inversions, Sirsasana and Sarvangasana are mudras, the viparitakarani mudras. I remember my Guru asking us to do Paschimatanasana sequence quite often– it is said to be an important pose for Kundalini Prabhoda, especially when the bandhas are also done and the pelvic muscles/floor are drawn towards the back. You could also observe that Paschimatanasan helps to stretch all the muscles and tissues in the posterior portion (as the name of the asana indicates)of the body where there are heavy muscles–thighs calves, glutei etc.

Mahamudra as the name indicates is considered to be the best/great of Mudras. It is believed that it helps to direct the prana into the sushumna as it is supposed to block the ida and pingala separately. Aided by Jalandharabandha, it also helps to keep the spine straight Then sitting in Vajrasana or Padmasana after doing some movements one should do a suitable variant of Kapalabhati, say for about 108 times and then an appropriate Pranayama,

Ujjayi, Nadisodhana or Viloma with or without mantras for about 15 minutes to be followed by five minutes Shanmukhimudra and then chanting or meditation of about 15 minutes. The efficacy of Pranayama on the whole system and mind cannot be over emphasized.

If interested, one may allocate an additional 30 minutes (or practice at another time in the day, say, in the evening) during which time one may practice a few subroutines from the other scores of sequences that have not been included in this core yoga practice.

Even though the book contains 10 main sequences, the reader will be able to discern more than a hundred asana sequences, each one having a unique structure. In fact each chapter is a major sequence (wave) of many specific sequences (ripples), which itself is made up of a few vinyasas(drops of water). Then the whole book is a mega sequence (tide) of major sequences in the ocean of Yoga. If you take Tadasana itself, there are firstly the hasta vinyasas, then, parsva bhangis, different uttanasanas, utkatasana, pasasana and finally the tadasana.

Each subroutine itself may have anywhere between 3 to even 20 vinyasas. So there is considerable versatility in the system. It is better to stick to the integrity of the subroutines (like Ushtrasana, Virabhadrasana or Vrikshasana for instance), as enunciated in the book. Thus we have a variable component and a fixed component in the daily practice.

Everyday before the start of the practice the yogi should take a minute and decide on a definite agenda and as far as possible try to stick to the agenda. What asanas and vinyasas, which pranayama and how many rounds and other details should be determined before hand and one should adhere to it. It brings some discipline and coherence to one’s practice. It is customary to end the practice with peace chant.

Adapting vinyasakrama to individual requirements can be termed as viniyoga krama. For instance when my Guru gets a middle aged person or a nine year old with specific condition like scoliosis, he would design a specific program to the individual requirement. Almost everyone who comes to him will have a routine developed which will not be the one that is given to someone else. I have written about the family class we had with my Guru when we started learning from him.

During the same time period he would teach different vinyasas, poses and procedures to each one of us, my older father, my somewhat heavy- set mother, my supple, talented younger sister, my more challenged brother and me. One reason why people nowadays look for a definite routine is because a few of the more popular vinyasa systems have a very small number of regimented sequences which are taught over and over again almost to all students. So there is a mindset that there should be a rigid sequence that is applicable for everyone, but that is not the way we learnt yoga from my Guru.

Firstly the teacher should learn the whole system and then apply it to individuals as per the requirements — pick and choose those vinyasa sequences, pranayama and meditation practices, dietary requirements, etc. The question that is to be answered is what does the practitioner want/need and how should the yoga routine be designed to get the required benefit.

Vinyasakrama is like a yoga supermarket, and each one should put into the cart what one needs. And the term Vinyasakrama includes not just asanas but also other aspects of yoga like pranayama, meditation, etc. It is a progression of different aspects of Yoga. The Vinyasakrama  has a huge collection of asana vinyasas, a well stocked section on Pranayama, then the meditation department and a spiritual study/contemplation section as well.

So a lot of initiative should be taken by the individual consumer, like our practitioner who should take the responsibility of working out with the teacher how to design an intelligent purposeful yoga practice pertaining to oneself. To reduce Vinyasakrama to a standard routine as is done with several other contemporary Vinyasa systems and put it in a straight jacket is not desirable. I have explained these ideas to many participants of the longer versions of the programs and thought to touch upon them for the general reader who would be wondering how to force the VK elephant (or a camel) into the needle’s eye of daily practice.

There are some friends who after completing the program take a few private lessons to tailor-make the VK system to their requirements. We discuss about their physical  conditions and mental makeup, age, obesity, pulse rate, blood pressure, breath rate and breathing constraints, general disposition, time availability, stress levels, etc., and design a routine for their benefit. Because there is a bewildering array of  vinyasas, pranayama methods, mantras, etc., we have a better choice of designing and fine-tune a program suitable to the particular individual. If there is problem with VK it is a problem of plenty.

There are a few serious practitioners who have their daily routine cutout, but then do the complete vinyasakrama separately say in the evening for about an hour so that they could go through all the vinyasa sequences in a span of one week. In vedic chanting, the Taittiriya saka , consists of about 80+ chapters and it would take about 40 to 45 hours to chant the whole. Those who have learnt the entire Taittiriya Saka duing their childhood, have to keep chanting them all their lives. They do it by doing chanting for about 1 to 1 ½ hours per day so that they could complete it in a Mandala or about 40 days.

Similarly Carnatic musicians learn several songs, but for their practice they take a few songs per day and over a period of several weeks they would cover all the songs they had learnt. Likewise the yoga practice can be varied and rich. The rich variety makes it possible to maintain abiding interest in a personal Yoga Practice at home. It does not become a chore.

A list of more than 120 asana vinyasa routines contained in the book, “The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga” is added as a postscript. Based on the discussion above on the criteria for daily practice you may decide on your daily routine by picking specific asana sequences and have a unique program made specifically for you and by you every day.

Please stick to the integrity of the sequences in the asana. If you teach, you may modify them for persons who are sick or physically challenged.  Pranayama, inversions, paschimatana, mahamudra and meditation may be included for sure. You have myriad possibilities. There is no one rigid, universal, daily, practice routine in Vinyasakrama, as I have explained.”

(c) Srivatsa Ramaswami www.vinyasakrama.com


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