I am often asked what Vinyasa Flow Yoga is, what the origins of this system are, and if it is a system at all. If it is a system, shouldn't there be a more specific method to it, particularly in terms of sequencing a class? These questions come from students and young teachers alike. And, I must say I understand where the confusion comes from. What is today generally called Vinyasa Flow Yoga cannot be linked to only one source or one method, but rather it's a very general name of a teaching style. If you have ever taken more than two Vinyasa Flow classes with different teachers, I am sure you have noticed great differences in methods of sequencing and teaching. So, can we call Vinyasa Flow Yoga a system at all, and what is it that makes a particular class a Vinyasa Yoga class?
We can all agree that Vinyasa Flow classes are quite fluid; meaning that two or more asanas are connected in a sequence, and that multiple sequences are usually linked with connecting vinyasas. This interconnectedness lends fluidity to the practice. Vinyasa Flow classes are also often built upon a theme, and different teachers adjust their sequencing in different ways according to these themes. But, there are no other general rules and no set sequences which, one could argue, can give too much freedom to young teachers. Freedom and creativity are great, but only if practiced with a good foundation. Picasso said: ''Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.''
For me, Vinyasa is an art of sequencing a yoga practice in order to create a healing experience for a group or an individual. And this is not an easy task, as so many things have to be taken into consideration. It took me a very long time to become confident enough to create my own method of sequencing and to now create my own art on the mat. It took building a strong foundation of personal self practice through five years of being a dedicated Ashtanga practitioner, followed by another five years of practicing and studying different Vinyasa Flow methods as well as the science of Ayurveda, anatomy and biomechanics. For the first ten years as a practitioner, and later a teacher, I was learning the rules. Only after this extensive learning did I feel confident enough to break those rules and create my art.
When I talk about Vinyasa Yoga at workshops and teacher trainings, I like to use reference to cooking. Building a sequence is like creating a meal for a group of twenty different people. First you must decide on a theme. What would you like your guests to try: homemade local dishes, Asian or Italian? Then you need to adjust the meal to the time of the day; is it breakfast, lunch or dinner? If it's dinner, you won't serve porridge. If it's breakfast, you won't serve wine. What season is it? If it's summer you won't serve hot, spicy stews. Or pumpkin soup if it's spring. Also, you must be prepared for those with food allergies and intolerances and have, for example gluten-free bread or a vegan dessert to offer. And most importantly, if you are creating a dish for the first time and you are trying to create an unusual mix of ingredients and spices, you really must know what you are doing and why, and taste it before you serve it. If you are a skillful chef, each one of those guests will leave well fed, nurtured and happy. However,the general rule applies that you should serve only what you know how to prepare well and have done so many times.
It is the same when sequencing a Vinyasa Yoga class for a group of individuals. You must be a skilled teacher and think about what theme to choose and why, consider the time of day, season and the individual needs of your students. Practice can be more vigorous in the morning, yet in the evening it should be more gentle and grounding as we prepare to rest. Every season brings its own qualities which should be respected on and off the mat. As we adjust the clothes, rituals, meals etc. every season, so should our yoga practice be adjusted. As teachers we must respect individual needs and create modifications and a safe environment for every student coming to our class.
All of these principles, in essence, coalesce to form a set of very specific rules which, I believe, makes Vinyasa Flow Yoga a system. When I teach Vinyasa Yoga to new teachers, I share with them these tools so that they can create meaningful, simple sequences which they can later build upon.
For me, Vinyasa Yoga is an art; an art of creating sequences with respect to cycles of nature, to the natural flow of our bodies and with respect to individual needs. Not just a fun, fluid and creative sequence of asanas, but a therapeutic nurturing of body, mind and spirit.