The Dance of Breath: Vinyasa Krama Yoga

When mastered, this vinyasa practice becomes an inspiring artistic expression; a flowing dance set to the rhythm of the breath.  

Guru Shishya Parampara, an unbroken chain of direct discipleship through one-to-one teachings… this is the traditional means of transmission through which I have studied yoga, meditation, classical Indian dance and Indian martial arts.

What might appear to be disparate subjects in fact are various limbs of practice which express the profound philosophy and spiritual culture of Vedic wisdom taught to me by His Holiness Swami Vidyadishananda Giri.  I could not begin to explain the tenets of our yoga practice without mentioning this essential medium through which this wisdom has been conveyed to me.  As mother teaches child essential wisdom out of the purest love, so the teachings of Guru are steeped in a profound love which sink the wisdom to the deepest regions of one’s heart.   These teachings of Vinyasa Krama Yoga were given to me by my Guru over an extended period of time.

The principles of this practice are subtle in nature, so a common pitfall is to view our own human body as a purely physical and not a complex microcosm of both subtle and gross aspects.  Often yoga is praised for its pleasant effect of stretching muscle tissues, but if we could only extend our field of possibility a bit further, the powerful healing effects are far more profound.

Vinyasa Krama Yoga hails from the Himalayan mountains where monastics and yogis still practice this system rooted in traditions dating back to Vedic antiquity.  It is a breath based practice which synchronizes graceful flowing movements with deep Ujjai breathing in series of choreographed sequences (vinyasa).  

The foundation of the practice is the Ujjai (victory) breath: Deep steady breaths through the nose as the glottis of the throat is contracted, creates a soothing sound that becomes the anchor point for the mind.  Through deep yogic breaths we slow the heart rate and release excess carbon dioxide (associated with grief and sadness) from the lungs and increase oxygen levels (associated with bliss and euphoria).

Prana is our life-force or vital energy and Vinyasa Krama Yoga allows us to experience the subtle movement of prana throughout our body.   By practicing Ujjai breath prana intake is increased and therefore is deposited in the joints offering deep rejuvenation, healing and a sensation of lightness in the body (a sign of increased sattva).  The joints begin to feel smooth and movement becomes supple as the muscle tissue, ligaments and fascia ‘blossoms’ with the breath.  The tissues of the body receive a fresh blood supply which delivers important oxygen and nutrients (caused by increased prana circulation) flushing away toxins and stagnant energies.  Prana follows the breath, it is linked to the breath, but prana is not simply the breath.  We intake prana from 3 sources: food, drink and breath.  

The prime objective of Vinyasa Krama Yoga is to cleanse the Nadi, to transcend the body.

Nadi are energy pathways in the body.  While there are many ways to clear the nadi, and increase pranic intake, breath is one of the most important.  By clearing the nadi and directing energy through these pathways we can activate higher aspects of ourself through elevated states of consciousness.

The breath is said to be ‘the link between the mind and body’ and the means to overcome physical and emotional disturbances. (Yoga Sutras 2.46)

This Vinyasa Krama Yoga practice helps to cultivate sattvic (pure) energy – so that we may be more receptive to meditation.  Our goal in the daily practice is to keep the mind focused on the breath – letting the breath guide the movements.  By trusting in the natural rhythms of our body (the breath) we connect to the natural rhythms all around us and become more in tune with our surroundings.  If mediation is defined as focusing the mind on one thought, we could say that Vinyasa Krama Yoga is a moving meditation on the breath.

“Yoga considers emotional disturbances a far great obstacle to mediation than physical disturbances.”– Swami Vidyadishananda Giri

The classical teachings of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras defines the very meaning of Yoga in its second verse: “Yoga is controlling the fluctuations of the mind” (Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah – Yoga Sutras 1.2).  Through the practice of Vinyasa Krama Yoga our breath deepens and slows down, and in turn our mind slows down to a state of peace, steadiness and pure awareness.

“Concentration is dependent on the rhythm of restful breathing” Swami Vidyadishananda Giri

When mastered, this vinyasa practice becomes an inspiring artistic expression; a flowing dance set to the rhythm of the breath.  My Guru frequently describes his years as a monastic in the Himalaya mountains when he would spot yogis from a distance moving through a most extraordinary slow dance, as if moving to the pace of the rising sun.  Advanced yogis extend their inhale or exhale for minutes at a time and are even known to accomplish transcendence of breath itself, reposing in the breathless state of samadhi, such as the monastic master of my Guru; Hariharananda Giri who was recorded to have stopped his heartbeat in numerous occasions. 

Graceful, fluid and strong, it is no wonder that Vinyasa Krama Yoga is considered a complementary limb of Vedic practices such as martial arts (Kalarypayattu) and classical Indian dance traditions (considered advanced yoga vinyasa practice).  

In Indian classical dance, mastery is marked not only by physical control, but more importantly by mental control – concentration.  Abhinaya, which is the storytelling aspect of Indian classical dance, is often defined as “well organized emotions”.   Meaning to be a successful performing artist, one must have mastery to transcend personal emotions and fluctuations of the mind so that the artist can convey the sophisticated nuances of Bhava and Rasa – literally the essence of character. Similarly, concentration and presence (which is achieved through stillness of mind) is the goal of martial arts, so that one may be in a constant state of readiness.

Through trusting in the breath, the body seems to follow its own inherent wisdom.  I have been facilitating Vinyasa Krama Yoga classes in my workshops and dance school as an essential part of our programs for over 10 years.  As a classical dance teacher it is my job to inspire my students to reach for higher versions of themselves as a daily practice – to literally redefine their perceived limitations each and every moment.  What I know to be truth after years of teaching is that our limits exist in the mind and simply express themselves in the body.  By incorporating a daily yoga practice that neutralizes the internal chatter (which is most often self defeating or simply distracting) students arrive to the dance floor in a state of sattva – apure, non judgmental state of balance, fullness and peace.  To start the day’s work from this open place, it helps us remain in our non judgmental ‘witness consciousness’.  Competition, self defeating behavior or lack of self awareness simply cannot exist in this yogic atmosphere we work to create.

Lately I have been sharing a free Vinyasa Krama Yoga Practice every Wednesday on Instagram LIVE.  I hope these deep breaths which the practice offers help you continue your day’s work from a place of fullness and peace.

Jaya Guru!