vinyāsa विन्यास

Vinyāsa is known as a moving-breathing system that was developed in Mysore, South India by Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888 – 1989) and elaborately systemized by his disciple Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915–2009) into the “Aṣṭāṅga Vinyāsa” that we are familiar with today.

Sometimes yoga and meditation teachers say that “yoga is just a preparation for meditation.” It seems to me to be the distinct invitation of the Aṣṭāṅga Vinyāsa that āsana can be approached as a means to meditation within movement, through posture & transition, and not just as a preparation for “later” meditation practice.

In the context of the 8 limbs of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga, vinyāsa takes the third limb of āsana practice as a gateway into all the other limbs, including (potentially) the final 3 and most subtle limbs that are: dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi (concentration, contemplation, and meditation) aka saṁyamaḥ. 

Photo of Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya courtesy

Vinyāsa is an invitation to saṁyama.

As a breathing-moving meditation system, the Aṣṭāṅga Vinyāsa includes Sanskrit counting for just about every inhale and exhale in and out of the poses in order to continually tether the practitioner’s mind to the practice.

Additionally, the Aṣṭāṅga Vinyāsa employs the concept of tristana which means “having 3 dwelling places” (or depending on the spelling, it could also mean “milked from three nipples” – SpokenSanskrit).

The tristana of every posture in the Aṣṭāṅga Vinyāsa is composed of: breath (I now call it “Durga breath” but it’s often called “ujjayi breath”), bandha (energy lock), and drishti (gaze or the soft placement of the eyes).

Aṣṭāṅga Vinyāsa is structured brilliantly through increasingly challenging and nuanced vinyāsa sequences, or series. Despite the plethora of audio-video material documenting and demonstrating these sequences today, there’s really no way to learn them clearly without individual attention from a qualified teacher. The series are:

Primary Series aka Yoga Chikitsa (“Yoga Therapy”)

Primary Series has about 42 postures (not counting Sun Salutations and variations within postures).

Intermediate Series aka Nādhī Shodhana (“Subtle Body Purification”)

Intermediate Series (often called “Second Series”) has about 49 postures not counting Sun Salutations and variations within postures.

Advanced Series A, B, C, D aka Sthira Bhāga (“Sublime Steadiness”)

Advanced Series (often called “Third Series”, “Fourth Series”, “Fifth Series”, “Sixth Series”) has a lot more postures!

Again, there are many visual references online showing the external forms of the series but the best way to “see” the Aṣṭāṅga Vinyāsa is with a qualified teacher who practices them already.

In the traditional “Mysore style” of learning Aṣṭāṅga Vinyāsa, all of these series are learned gradually at the student’s individual pace and are practiced repeatedly by the student. This ritual-like repetition of practice is known in a spiritual light as sādhanā.

As an educational methodology, the Mysore approach to learning and practice supports the safe and longterm advancement of a practitioner’s relationship with āsana, as well as the overall deepening of relationship with one’s mind-body through the mirror of the practice.

In this way, Aṣṭāṅga Vinyāsa is ultimately a very peaceful and gradual means to discover āsana as a gateway to meditation. You can go very far with the practice if you wish, and you can also find contentment and benefit from going only as far as you need. The best way to get a better idea of all this is to try a class!

Thinking about “tristana” brings to mind this story of the goddess Meenakshi:
“The 13th century Tamil text Tiruvilaiyatarpuranam– compsing stories of Lord Shiva dating back to 3000 B.C. , mentions king Malayadhwaja Pandya and his wife Kanchanamalai who performed a yajna seeking a son for succession. Instead a daughter is born who is already 3 year old and has three breasts. Shiva intervenes and says that the parents should treat her like a son, and when she meets her husband, she will lose the third breast. They follow the advice. The girl grows up, the king crowns her as the successor and when she meets Shiva, his words come true, she takes her true form of Meenakshi.” – photo & quote thanks to Wikipedia