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Viniyoga teachers, myself included, explain to their students that one of the primary things differentiating Viniyoga from other types of yoga is an emphasis on the breath. But, what does that mean? Other yoga teachers remind their students to breathe. What’s so different about the Viniyoga approach?
In this approach, the breath initiates all movement and is coordinated with the pace of the movement in each asana (posture). For example, backbends are typically initiated on inhale while forward bends are initiated on exhale because inhaling is more expansive while exhaling is more contracting. Breathing is done through the nose as the chest lifts and expands on inhale and the belly contracts on exhale. Visualize the inhale moving down the front of the body as the chest, rib cage and belly expand and the exhale moving up the front of the body as the belly, rib cage and chest contract – a top down, bottom up approach to the breath. By the way, when you begin the inhale, retain or keep a slight contraction in the belly – throughout the inhale.
Coordinate the length of the breath with the pace of your movement during the asana – another key differentiator. To understand what that means, come to a standing position with arms by your sides. As you inhale to a count of 4 to 6 seconds, raise your arms over your head toward the ceiling and as you exhale to a count of 4 to 6 seconds, lower them down to your sides. If you run out of breath before your arms are over your head or back down to your sides, you will need to speed up the pace of the movement to match the length of your breath. You want a little breath remaining at the end of the inhale and exhale so that it doesn’t feel forced. Over time, your breath will lengthen and your movements slow to match the longer breath.
In Viniyoga, breath is paramount. It initiates each movement into the asana (on either inhale or exhale) and is consciously coordinated with the pace of movement during the asana. This approach requires and cultivates mental focus.
For such a simple posture, the standing forward bend can produce amazing results. It’s one of the first postures I learned years ago when I started taking yoga classes. At the time, I had low back pain that began to disappear as I benefited from the cumulative effects of practice – especially the standing forward bend.
In my yoga tradition, the primary purpose of this posture, and all forward bends, is to stretch the low back.
Here’s the process:
To do it, stand with feet about hip-bone distance apart, arms by your sides, shoulders relaxed. Take an inhale and, as you exhale, begin to bend forward rounding your low back until you are in a comfortable forward bend, chin slightly tucked. To keep things simple, let your hands slide down the sides of your legs as you bend forward. A couple of keys to this posture are (1) contract your abdomen as you exhale and bend forward and (2) bend your knees to feel more of a stretch in the low back/sacrum than hamstrings.
When exhaling into the forward bend take care not to hinge from the hips with straight legs or to “swan dive” into the forward bend. Over time, doing so can place excessive strain onthe hips and back. Always keep soft knees.
To come up from the forward bend, as you inhale, engage your back muscles and return to standing. Keep a slight abdominal contraction as you return to standing to protect your low back. Your hands slide back up the sides of your legs, shoulders relaxed. Keep your back relatively flat and your head neutral with chin slightly tucked. Take care not to hyperextend the neck.
Repeat the movement 6 times. Repeating the movement several times is key because it causes the muscles to contract and release which results in the muscles stretching.
This process is what helped my back.
Be sure to take it easy and if you ever feel pain, stop immediately.
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Many of us sit at our desks for hours at a time hunched over our computers. By the end of the day, our neck and shoulders feel tight and sore. Following are some easy yoga movements to do at your desk that will help relax and rejuvenate those tired muscles.
- Sit up in your chair and move forward slightly so you back does not touch the back of your chair
- Cross your hands at your chest, palms down. Head is facing center, chin is level and eyes are closed.
- As you inhale, with elbows bent open your arms out to your sides and bring your shoulder blades together. Your arms are in a “v” shape out to your sides. Feel your chest expand and open as you lift your chest slightly. Your chin stays level and relaxed.
- As you exhale, return your hands back to the starting position on your chest and lower your chin toward your chest. Feel a gentle stretch at the back of your neck.
- Repeat these movements slowly 6 times with easy inhalation and exhalation.
Repeat this routine several times a day or any time you feel those muscles in your neck and shoulders start to tighten up.
What is Viniyoga?
This question is very typical because, even though it’s been around for a very long time, Viniyoga as a tradition is not always familiar.
Viniyoga is an ancient Sanskrit word meaning “appropriate application” and this definition can be applied to any situation – not just yoga. But when we use the term Viniyoga in the yogic sense, we are using it to describe a specific tradition of practice that has been handed down over many decades through the teachings of T. Krishnamacharya and T.K.V. Desikachar of Chennai, India.
Every body is different and Viniyoga as a style of yoga adapts the practice to the each person’s specific condition, needs and interests so it becomes uniquely personalized to each individual. Most people get introduced to Viniyoga through practicing the physical postures, a/k/a asana.
What is unique about the Viniyoga approach to asana practice?
- Breath Centered. The approach is breath centered. Each movement originates and is synchronized with the breath. Students learn to match the pace of movement with the potential of the breath. As the breath becomes more calm, the body and mind can relax more fully.
- Function Over Form. There is no “one size fits all” in Viniyoga because the purpose of the pose is emphasized, not the “correct” form. Any posture can be modified to make it more or less challenging which is in keeping with the emphasis on the individual’s abilities and needs.
- Sequencing. Sequencing refers to how poses are combined to produce a desired effect based on the intention of the practice. Viniyoga instructors assess the individual and the purpose of the practice to create a unique, not canned, program.
- Combination of Repetition and Stay. Throughout a Viniyoga practice, repetition (movement into and out of a pose) will be combined with stay (holding in a pose for several breaths) to achieve specific purposes. For example, repetition is useful for warming up the body while stay builds strength.
In summary, Viniyoga is the science of appropriate application, meeting the individual where he/she is by using time tested techniques. Because of this focus, practitioners of all levels and abilities are welcome since classes are designed around a specific intention rather than level of experience. We encourage you to turn your attention inward and discover your individual needs, interests and desires.
“I can’t do yoga because my body just won’t bend that way.” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard some version of that statement . . .
According to T.K.V. Desikachar, “Anybody can breathe; therefore anybody can practice yoga.” In other words, we can all do yoga no matter our age, physical ability or experience level. There are many ways to practice yoga asanas a/k/a postures or poses. Your goal in any asana is to be alert/ stable/ present (Sthira) and relaxed/comfortable/without pain (Sukha) whether you’re doing a shoulder stand or seated breathing. And, if the pose doesn’t allow you to be these things, then the pose needs to be modified to fit you. You do not need to be modified to fit the pose. This concept is fundamental to the tradition of yoga known as Viniyoga because every body is unique.
One of my students had been having trouble sleeping and asked me if yoga could help her. The short answer is “yes”. Yoga is wonderful for relaxing the body and quieting the mind particularly when a calming breathing pattern is utilized.
There are four parts to the breath – (1) inhalation (2) pause after inhalation (3) exhalation (4) pause after exhalation. The first two are more energizing and stimulating and the second two are more relaxing and calming. In yoga terms, brmhana is used to describe an expansive/invigorating breath and langhana is used to describe a more reducing/relaxing breath. So, the breathing pattern used will determine whether the effect on a person is brmhana or langhana.
For encouraging sleep, a langhana pattern would be emphasized. An example of this pattern would be inhale for a count of 4; pause for 1; exhale for a count of 8; pause for 1. Starting with a count of 4 for inhalation might be too intense, so you could drop that down to inhale for a count of 2; pause 1; exhale for a count of 4; pause 1 and work up to the 4/1/8/1 count. It is important to use a pattern that is easy to accomplish and doesn’t create more strain. Also, an important rule to remember when creating any breathing pattern is to never let the inhalation count be longer than the exhalation count – even when doing a brmhana breathing pattern. Continue reading
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