Vinyasa yoga lends itself to wide classification. Commonly (mis)translated as "moving with the breath," it generally denotes a flowing, dynamic physical practice that uses the breath to cue transitions from pose to pose. It also refers to a specific sequence of poses—plank, caturanga dhandasana, cobra or upward-facing dog, and downward-facing dog—that comprise part of the surya namaskara of the Ashtanga series. For me, Vinyasa yoga is that deliciously sweet and sweaty mixture of body, heart, and mind—blended with a healthy dose of laughter, music, and creativity—that I concoct each time I come to my mat.
But there’s more to it than that. The Sanskrit word vinyasa means “to place yourself in a special way.” It refers to how we consciously navigate our lives both on and off the mat. The decisions we make, the thoughts we harbor, the company we keep, the actions we take, and the words we speak are all a reflection of the things we choose to align ourselves with—the special way we choose to place ourselves.
I often liken practicing yoga (and, by extension, living life!) to writing poetry. Every aspect of a poem—from the presence of a comma, to the use of one word instead of another, to the choice of subject and form—plays a crucial role. Nothing is insignificant; each word, phrase, punctuation, and pause is there for a reason, serving some essential purpose. The strength and beauty of the work depend on that precise manner of articulation.
The same holds true for our yoga practice. Each time we come to our mats, we make conscious choices about the way we move our bodies, quell our minds, lengthen our breath, and open our hearts to receiving the gifts around us. These conscious choices—to pay attention, to probe deeply, to explore the optimal alignment for our bodies, minds, and souls—are simply a metaphor for the decisions we make out in the world. We are, after all, the poets, the painters, the authors—the artists creating our lived experience. Practicing yoga teaches us to become more aware—more deliberate—about this creative process. Just as there is nothing arbitrary about the artist’s choice of color or form or perspective, neither should there be anything arbitrary about where, how, why, and with whom we place ourselves.
When we think of life in these terms, we can’t help but become conscious, mindful, and aware of everything we do. Each poem has its own distinctive rhythm and harmony; the “whole” is somehow greater, more magical, than the mere sum of its parts. As the fashioners of our own experience, we can choose to make every thought we have, action we take, and value we hold an exquisite, deliberate expression of ourselves. As Walt Whitman famously celebrated, we are vast—we contain multitudes. At times, we contradict ourselves. (“Very well then! We contradict ourselves!”) Yoga—“to yoke”—is a way of uniting, harmonizing, and weaving together, the different parts of ourselves into an enchanting, coherent whole. Vinyasa is poetry in motion. It’s soulful, artistic, special placement.
As one of my beloved teachers and mentors told us in class recently: Be the best pieces of yourself all put together.
Be the most poetic, articulate, perfectly placed expression of yourself.