“Real art is not knowing where you are going, but are listening intently to something you don’t understand. And if your ego doesn’t interfere, this something you don’t understand may guide you to much more than you ever expected.”
Robert Pirsig

October 2009

Religiousness in Yoga Part4: Vinyāsa, Laṅghana & Bṛṃhaṇa


Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

Part1: Vinyāsa

… Will someone who knows nothing about Yoga recognize the difference between it and gymanstics … merely by looking at a book on Yoga āsanas? Yoga … is not an expression of form for others to watch. We are doing it for ourselves. We are the observers and we are the observed … if there is no self attention, it is difficult to call it Yoga …

It is important that Yoga practice be planned in a sensible, organized way … we have a starting point. Our condition before beginning the practice, which we discover through some investigation, is this starting point. We then ascend gradually … we prepare the body … After we slowly ascend to the “crown” or apex of our day’s practice, we slowly descend …

In Sanskrit, this concept of intelligently conceived steps in order to reach a desired point is called vinyāsa. If we want to do a particular posture, we need to find out what is involved in the posture, then prepare the body and breath so that the posture can be done without strain. In planning a sequence of āsanas there must be preparation.

… Postures must not inflict torture. We must take steps that will make us happy, sukha, to be in a posture.

… While preparation is important, another important point to explain is the descent from a posture or its compensation. Compensation is to counter the negative effects of a posture … We call such compensation a counterpose … we first teach preparation, then we teach the counterposture …

… We should always start with the easiest things … and little by little we can introduce the more difficult …

The counterpose for a given strain is generally the easiest pose opposite to the direction of the strain … The reason we do this is to return the body to a normal condition … The counterpose for a given posture is not always the same. The counterpose is decided by the effect of the original pose rather than its form.

… Postures can be done in two ways, either dynamically through repetition or statically, by staying in the posture for some time.

It is always better to do a posture dynamically before we try to stay … allowing the body to get used to the position, and compensate.

… Rest is also important to our planning. Obviously we must rest if we become breathless of unable to control our breath … [or if] some part of our body becomes tired and sore … During rest periods we have a chance to feel the muscular effects of the posture … Rest is also required before doing prāṇāyāma … the more time spent doing āsanas, the more we rest.

Part2: Laṅghana & Bṛṃhaṇa

… There are four parts to breathing: inhalation, exhalation, and retention after inhalation and exhalation. In āsanas we should never hold the breath if it is going to reduce the length of the inhalation or exhalation … Holding the breath can be used to intensify the effect of a posture … retention after exhalation increases the posture’s effect on the abdomen . On the other hand, if we inhale and hold the breath the effect on the chest is increased … In forward bending postures there is a tendency to hold the breath after exhalation. In backward bending postures … we hold the breath after inhalation.

We can also use retention of the breath to increase the duration of inhalation and exhalation … In Sanskrit this practice of making the exhalation longer and holding the breath after exhalation is called laṅghana … “to fast.” In this case we are “fasting” the lungs. Whenever there is a problem below the diaphragm, we do laṅghana. Likewise the concept of increasing the length of inhalation and holding the breath after inhalation is called bṛṃhaṇa … “to expand.”

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