Have you ever practiced Vinyasa Yoga? No? Have you ever practiced flow or power? Have you ever done a sun salutation? Yes? Well then! You have done Vinyasa! I’ll explain… but to do so we have to go back, way back, back in time and to a place called India. Heard of it? It’s where Nag Champa comes from.
In 1888 a man named Sri T. Krishnamacharya was born. Read more about him on krishnamacharya.net We now refer to him as the father of modern yoga and he was responsible for the revival of yoga asana practice as we know it today. Legend tells that he learned the method from ancient papyrus scrolls of unknown age provided by his teacher in a cave in the Himalayas. Intriguing, isn’t it? The method he taught was Vinyasa Yoga. Vinyasa refers to the interconnection of breath and movement and dynamic sequencing where each asana or posture is linked by specific transitions, creating a constant flow where from the first breath and movement to the last there is steadiness and continuity, allowing for elements of moving meditation. His many students spread out into the world teaching methods based on their personal experiences as students and teachers such as the students they worked with or the time of Krishnamacharya’s life that they were students (he taught differently as he aged). We won’t go into all of those divergent methods - that’s a topic for a much longer article - but I will drop a few names right here: B.K.S. Iyengar, Sri Desikachar, Indra Devi (a woman!) and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois took over Krishnamacharya’s teachings in Mysore, India when the master moved to another part of India (and continued to teach, by the way). The method that Jois inherited from his teacher and then further developed came to be known as Ashtanga Yoga. Just as Krishnamacharya taught it, Ashtanga was a set sequence of postures, the same poses done in the same order, every time. The organization is progressive so that each asana prepares the body, nervous system, mind, and personality for what follows. It is very structured and intentional and has been practiced very much the same way, with some changes dictated by the benefits that experience and time and thousands of students provide, since the early 20th century. So like - a hundred years.
It is only since the 1970’s and 80’s that Ashtanga began to spread in the west and specifically America. Some students of Ashtanga began to imagine other approaches to yoga asana and the Vinyasa method. Particularly they wanted to alter the sequencing, be more creative and free from the structure that was Ashtanga. these new methods came to be known by the more general term Vinyasa as they maintained the dynamic linking nature of movement, and focus on breath, but could not be called Ashtanga as they did not maintain the set sequence. The term “Vinyasa” became westernized into “Flow” meaning basically the same thing in a non-sanskrit kinda way. Other students of Ashtanga focused on the dynamic, athleticism of the Ashtanga practice and chose to organize their sequences in a way that prioritized power and endurance, hence “Power” yoga was born. Others blended what they knew from Ashtanga with other lineages entirely, like Sivananda (again, a topic for another time) and Jivamukti was born. All of these methods are younger than one lifetime of practice, like 30 years.
Even today students of the “traditional” methods, those with a strong lineage and tradition of parampara (receiving transference of knowledge directly from a master teacher), are creating their own approach to this ancient practice of self discovery and transformation. At its purest, yoga is a spiritual practice that leads us to awareness and experience of our true nature as divine beings. But whatever your reason for choosing to get on your mat, yoga has benefit for that as well. And whether you choose power, flow, Vinyasa, Iyengar, or Ashtanga, you can offer thanks to the father, Krishnamacharya.