I asked Guru-ji what the word Vinyasa meant in 1982, while he was teaching a 2 month Intensive in Austin, Texas.
(Photos here above are from that time and place!)
"Vinyasa is the Breathing System, he answered."
I had looked the word up in my Sanskrit dictionary and it didn't say anything about 'breathing systems!' AND, it was his perfect answer. Perfect for Ashtanga Yoga because there is a constant focus on the Breath! Every moment is associated with a specific breath. There are movements that we do that are expansive and go with Inhalation, other movements that are contractive and they go with Exhalation!
Vinyasa, the dictionary stated, is a method of learning something that involves a gradual step-by-step approach.
A way to get from where we are now to somewhere else. It is how all great things are learned! Lots of little things make up ALL great things!
I like the combination of Guru-ji's answer with the dictionary! Yes, it the linking of Breath and Movement, to the point where we can write the two as one word, BreathMovement! Unhyphenated! Oneness! Yoga of Breath & Movement. And these BreathMovements are the Steps we take on this very interesting walk called Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga! The "Yoga" of Breath + Movement. Sama of breath and movement... SamaVinyasa even!
Gradual, Step-by-Step, Approach! All three of those are interesting in the explorations of Ashtanga Yoga.
Gradual is something that needs to be determined, in Real-Time, as we go, in the Here and Now! It will change all the time! That, in itself, helps us to become more Present! Perhaps the greatest Gift of the practice! It is also the very first word of Patanjla Yoga Dharshana, or 'The Yoga Sutras.' It is never done! It is never finished. That idea is false, Maya, an illusion! As if it could be grabbed! Not!
Now! We are ready to Begin! To be "Beginners!"
To be Fully Present, Right Here, right Now. To be ever more and more Present with what is, as it is!
That is the essence of all Great Practices, where they are all the SAME! Sama...
Gradual needs to be managed, in real time, ALL THE TIME!!!
Each student needs to take responsibility to perceive what Gradual means, in the present moment! It is not static. It involves perception, listening to the body/mind. Feeling the muscles, and ligaments, the joints and organs! Feeling the effect of our practice in the Breath! Adjusting to keep it returning to this state of balance and Oneness we are calling Sama!
Step-by-Step refers to the linking of the BreathMovements into a flowing sequence. It is like taking a walk. Each step is connected, leads to and follows another. Each step is both a preparation for the one to come, a balancing in the Present, and a clearing of any stress from the one we just passed. The steps are unified BreathMovement. A Continuum. They are linked together like beads on a string. That string could be seen as our consciousness. The beads are not pieces or glass, or dead wood. They are alive. Like Seeds! Each seed needs to be planted in the fertile ground of our practice. Cared for, tended, cultivated until they wake up and begin to grow. We soak them with our love, in our sweat! They get fat, they swell, they wake up, just like seeds. A Root is formed, from Consciousness and Energy! That root pushes through the hard shell of the outer layers and finds the Ground, the Earth! The Earth gives back as much as she receives, or more! And there is a Magical Springing Up!
It is a Rebounding, an Uprising! It is Radical, of the root!
Uj, or Ud as in Ujjayi, or Uddiyana. From the connection to the Roots, we reach up into the Heavens, and we occupy the place between. Sama.
Approach is also an appropriate and interesting word! It involves some different qualities. There is an aspect of perspective, of which way and how we are looking, like the Buddha's 'Right View!' That aids us in deciding the direction we choose to go. The word 'approach' means to move towards, and there can be in that a feeling of moving gradually.
It is like the word Attitude, our mental state which influences our positive and negative attractions. A way of looking at the world which affects our feelings and reactions and responses. It changes the way we 'see' the world. The way we 'see' our selves. It changes the way we all perceive how we 'sit inside' of ourselves. It shapes our life! And our Life and our Practice become ONE! Sama...
It is said that at first we must make an effort to practice, and we strive to become a yogi.
When you become a yogi then everything you do is Yoga!
Understanding ever deeper and deeper, the meaning of the word Vinyasa, is important for those of us intent to learn, to study, to practice this great method called Ashtanga (vinyasa) Yoga!
I went upstairs to thank Guru-ji one day after morning practice, maybe it was in 1984:
I had an experience of the continuity of the practice and wanted to share my thoughts with him. I told him that the breathmovements were like beads on a string, like a string of prayer beads, what in India is called a Mala.
He got excited and told me the name of his book was "Yoga Mala." It was as yet only available in very limited supply in his native language, Kannada. He pulled out a handwritten manuscript and let me make a copy. I thought maybe someone could translate it! (Eddy would go! Thanks!)
The thought developed in me to where I saw that the "Beads" were not dead, not dead wood or stone, rather they were living breathing movementbreaths all connected on the unbroken stream of Consciousness. They were more like seeds than simply beads! Living seeds that need to be tended to, cared for, nurtured, sprouted and grown in the fertile soil of our daily practice!
As such they required time, patience, and constancy in that care... each seed waking up, swelling, softening, and growing through the old container of the outer layer to reach into the earth with its root, and up into the sky with its stalk. Growing and maturing in its own sweet time. Each as it can... A Gradual, Step-by-Step, Approach! A VINYASA!!!
Or to see each branch and each root, the tips of which are ever growing, as a metaphor for Vinyasa. Not a finality. Not something that is ever 'done' or finished. Rather a journey, a never ending process of waking up and being Present. Learning to feel more, to pay attention more, to respond to what we feel, to navigate and press forward with kindness, care, consciousness, intelligence and love... to use the practice for that purpose, as a Mirror, a "Tool for Observation" to help us see the ways we are trapped and to free ourselves! It requires ever more and more letting go, releasing of attachments. We cannot be Present if we are holding on, stuck in the past, nor if we are overly concerned with projecting ourselves into an imaginary future!
Our role is to free ourselves from the external push and pull of the 'Pairs of Opposites' and to get free of the external Authority. To bring that authority back inside where it belongs. To become once again more naturally who we are already. Here and Now! To Be Authentic, an authority to and from our Self! It is about LIFE! Consciousness! Love and Truth...
The result of Yoga:
"Tada! Drashtuhu Swarupe Avasthanam!!!"
Tada is a great sanskrit word! It means just exactly what it sounds like it means! TADAAA!!! 'Here it is! Here is something great!' 'After that, this...' or 'and then...' And then, after that has been, something great happens...
Drashtu, the seer, the perceiver, the witness, that part of ourselves that is witnessing all that we do, all that is happening...
Swarupa, our True Self, our True Form (that is Formless and unchanging)...
Avasthanam... abiding in That! It has the word Stha, or sthana in it... stable, steady. Abidance. To live in...
We abide, we live in, we sit in, the steady state of Sama, the smooth, non-violent, ever Present Realization of our True Form... Centered. We witness what is happening, as it happens, as it is. Un-colored, un-biased, Pure, Clear Authentic, Natural...Connected to all that is... The Same as all that is... not different, not separate...
OM... home... All one...and none... Beyond description or intellectual grasping...