What is a Vinyasa?

 

By y4c Teacher Ani Weinstein

Translated from Sanskrit, vinyasa means: to place in a special way, order or sequence. Applied to physical practice, this signifies a systematic progression through a sequence of yoga poses that safely and appropriately takes a student from one place to the next, and in which breathing is synchronized with these sequential movements. But the more philosophical meaning of vinyasa has broader implications on both a macrocosmic and microcosmic level, from our phenomenological experience of time, to the life cycle of a cancer cell.

In vinyasa yoga there is equal emphasis on the stillness of each asana and the transitions between them. Moving into, holding, and releasing each pose is a physical representation of the cycle of life, what yoga philosophy calls creation, maintenance and destruction. Vinyasa is a mirror of the progression of time from past to present to future, and of the natural order of our experience: from birth to life to death. So the yoga practice is an opportunity to rehearse being equally awake in each moment of life.  In Buddhist terminology this is the practice of mindfulness, by which it can be observed that all experiences – our delicious meal, our successes and failures, our sense of self – arise, abide and dissolve: the truth of impermanence.

From beginning to end the arc and structure of a vinyasa class is based on these underlying tenets, from the first A-U-M ­­(made up of three Sanskrit syllables that, in part, symbolize the holy vinyasa of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva: creator, preserver and transformer/destroyer) to the final practice: corpse pose. This final pose offers the ultimate challenge of accepting the inevitability of death as an important and necessary part of life.

Cancer is caused by the uncontrolled growth of a cell. This uncontrolled growth is unleashed by mutations in DNA effecting genes that incite unlimited cell growth. In a normal cell, genetic circuits regulate cell division and cell death. Each cell is kept in balance with the health of its system, the body, as it moves through its own genetic vinyasa of division, growth and death. In a cancer cell this vinyasa has been broken, unleashing a cell that cannot stop growing and will not die.

In this instance, health on a genetic level seems to follow a similar pattern as health on a psychological level. Both appear to require a basic acceptance of the law of impermanence.

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