Viniyoga is a style of Hatha yoga that promotes the personalisation of yoga practices to suit each individual yogi. From Sanskrit, the prefixes vi and ni denote «adaptation» or «appropriate application».
It involves adapting yoga methods to ensure that they are exactly what the yogi needs in mind, body and spirit.
The Viniyoga approach is believed to originate in the teachings of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya and Desikacher; and was, in part, popularised in the West by Gary Kraftsow.
It is considered an authentic transmission of yogic teachings, integrating asana, pranayama, use of bandhas, chanting and meditation.
Viniyoga, not to be confused with vinyasa flow yoga, is an approach that emphasises the appropriate application of the tools of yoga to the individual needs of practitioners using differentiation and adaptation.
It is a complete and authentic transmission of yoga teachings including asana, pranayama, bandha, sound, chanting, meditation, personal ritual and text study. Viniyoga includes the practice of yoga therapy, adapting the tools of yoga to individual health conditions and wellness goals.
Defining characteristics of viniyoga
– Breath-oriented movement and breath adaptation: In Viniyoga, a breath-centred practice, the breath is considered to be the medium for movement. That is, as the breath moves, the spine and limbs follow, so every movement is initiated and associated with the breath.
In a Viniyoga practice, the emphasis is on the movement of the respiratory muscles along with each breath. The upper body extends upward on the inhale, and the abdominal muscles are activated by drawing them inward and upward on the exhale.
In addition, breathing patterns can be adapted or intentionally changed during practice to achieve certain structural and energetic effects.
– Function over form: The emphasis in Viniyoga style is on the functional effects of a particular posture (asana) rather than trying to achieve a classical representation of form. Adapting the forms of the postures creates specific effects and is used to personalise the practice to individual needs.
Viniyoga can adapt each asana not only to suit limitations, but also to achieve a different result from the same pose, or simply to enhance the results of any pose for a particular body type. For example, in postures such as Warrior I or Cobra, the placement and movement of the arms can be varied to help reduce excessive rounding in the upper back or to stretch the muscles of the upper chest.
– Repetition and staying: Move with the breath in and out of a yoga pose several times before holding or staying in the pose. This eases the body into the posture and allows the practitioner to get the maximum benefit from that particular posture.
– Art and science of sequencing: yoga practice sequences are carefully crafted according to the intended effects for the practitioners. Duration, orientation and intensity are tailored to the practitioners.
Practices may incorporate some or all of the components such as asana, pranayama, sound/chanting, meditation and personal study of inspirational texts. In addition, the sequences follow a particular order that not only allows the practitioner to move towards a particular posture or effect, but also to release accumulated tension through contrapositions.
What are the viniyoga classes like?
In a Viniyoga class you will find highly qualified and trained teachers. As well as having personalised settings, some classes will have pranayama breathing, chanting and meditation, all depending on the need of the class. Classes can be gentle, but not exclusively so. If there are more advanced students in the class, the teacher will adapt to their needs.
There is also a strong focus on alignment and holding postures after the body has warmed up sufficiently. Be sure to inform a teacher of any injuries or complications when you are in class, that way they can better personalise your yoga experience.
History of Viniyoga
T.K.V. Desikachar, the son of Krishnamacharya, modernised and popularised Viniyoga. Born in 1938, he was immersed in yoga, although he did not care much for Hatha Yoga. He reportedly found it so boring that he climbed a coconut tree to escape the practice. At the age of 20 he began studying with his father.
Then, in 1976, he opened Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in India. Desikachar built directly on his father’s teachings and developed Viniyoga. Since then, the Yoga Mandiram has led the way in research into yoga and the impact it has on people suffering from schizophrenia, diabetes, asthma and depression. Yoga is basically a programme for the spine on all levels: physical, respiratory, mental and spiritual.
A different kind of yoga
As such, a Viniyoga teacher will never push you into a posture or encourage you to use force. The teacher may suggest that you don’t do a posture or that you do it in a different way to others, so that you can feel the benefit of the posture.
This may involve softening the classical form of the posture by bending the knees or elbows. Always include moving slowly with the breath. Adapting postures to help the student feel the benefit is essential to experiencing the full benefits of yoga. It means that anyone can do yoga.
This may seem gentle or weak to some people who are used to generating an aerobic workout, but it is actually very deep and challenging internally, especially for the mind. The main focus will be on finding a long spinal sensation and maintaining an even and smooth breath at all times. The legs, arms and head will find their place in relation to the spine.
The experience of the posture will be directed from the teacher as an internal process generated from your own breathing and finding your own alignment/integrity in the pose.
The practice of Viniyoga also includes the art of how the postures are sequenced. If you do the most difficult posture too soon, you will not be well prepared. If the body does not loosen up and warm up, you will not be able to do a pose very effectively or safely. So, a Viniyoga class includes a lot of movement, repeating postures, to warm up the body.
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