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Religiousness in Yoga Part 4: 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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