Viniyoga – the ‘Therapeutic’ Yoga
From the ashrams of India to the studio down the street, yoga has been gaining popularity in every corner of the world. As with any evolving art, different schools of practice, or subsets, emerge. Different cultures and philosophies affect yoga and an ancient art becomes contemporary and reflective of the modern way of life.
In the 1970s, S.T. Krishnamacharya created Viniyoga after a deep study of the Sutras of Patanjali (a sacred text of yoga). A legendary guru, Krishnamacharya’s students included K. Pattabhi Jois (Ashtanga yoga master and founder of the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute) and B.K.S. Iyengar (renowned author and founder of Iyengar yoga), and they were instrumental in spreading yoga to the western world. Currently, the Viniyoga legacy is being carried out by Krishnamacharya’s son, T.K.V. Desikachar. He founded the American Viniyoga Institiute and is still considered the foremost authority on Viniyoga today.
In Sanskrit, Viniyoga is said to have multiple different literal and common meanings. Literally, it is translated as ‘separation’ or ‘detachment’ while the common translations are: ‘employment’, ‘use’, and ‘application’. The root word viniyuj means ‘to use’, ‘to employ’ or ‘to do’. Analyzing the Sanskrit translations, Viniyoga’s adaptability and emphasis on the individual student’s style and performance is realized.
Viniyoga is usually taught privately due to its emphasis on the individual student. In Viniyoga, the specific postures, or asana, are modified to fit each practitioner. The student/guru model involves an experienced teacher creating a personalized yoga program for a student, factoring in health, past or current injuries, age, and physical condition. This ability to ‘diagnose’ and ‘treat’ their students means that Viniyoga instructors are highly trained in both the asana and pranayama (breathing techniques) of yoga but also human anatomy.
At the American Viniyoga Institute, they refer to Viniyoga as “an approach to Yoga that adapts the various means and methods of practice to the unique condition, needs, and interests of each individual – giving each practitioner the tools to individualize and actualize the process of self-discovery and personal transformation.” Using this model, the Institute’s instructors hope to bring out the best in each practitioner.
The one-on-one technique, unique approach, and emphasis on the individual that Viniyoga offers allow each student to master the art at his or her own pace. It encourages the student to feel peaceful and relaxed; so much so that it has gained a reputation all over the world for being the ‘therapeutic yoga’.
In an individual Viniyoga session, practice may include: asana, pranayama, chanting, and meditation all depending on the needs of the student. This form of yoga can be very gentle, but not exclusively so. Depending on the experience and ability of the student in yoga, the asana will be tailored to their physicality and skill level. However, no matter the injury, illness, or age, Viniyoga focuses on alignment and poses are usually held for a consistent number of breaths with suitable rest in between.
During a class however, the Viniyoga approach is more general and the teacher may walk among the students, suggesting various different types of positions after finding out basic information about injuries or health. However, there is no serious attempt to find out more in-depth information about individual factors that may affect yoga practice.
Each asana is led by a breath (or series of breaths) and Viniyoga has a much more relaxed approach than Ashtanga or Power Yoga. It does not focus as much on placement of the body as in other forms of yoga, like Iyengar. In fact, there are four distinct differences in the Viniyoga’s practice of asana, than in other styles of yoga:
Repetition and Stay
Viniyoga has a very distinct method of holding postures and repetition into and out of different positions. They are done repeatedly rather than held in position for a long length of time. The constant movement and repetition add to the therapeutic aspect of VIniyoga.
Function over Form
Viniyoga emphasizes the function, rather than the form, of asana practice. The adaption of asana forms in achieving the desired results for the body of an individual student is more important than the exact form of the posture.
Breath and Adaptation
Viniyoga uses breath and breathing as medium for movement in asana practice. The pattern of breathing is used to create desired effects on the practitioner’s body. Pranayama, like asana, are individualized for each student and used in the same way that postures are to achieve results.
Art and Science of Sequencing
Viniyoga instructors create sequences of different orientation, length, and intensity in the asana using their experience and the science of combination. The movements and breathing techniques are adapted to and combined together for the benefit of an individual student with individual needs.