(My post below needs a drastic rewrite - it's more of a work in progress)
"VINYĀSA: Medieval and Modern Meanings
"The term vinyāsa rarely occurs in medieval yoga texts. However, it does appear more frequently in the ritual sections of medieval Tantras. Nonetheless, never does the term vinyāsa mean the movement that links breath with postures (āsana) as is the case in modern yoga."
A lot of focus is given to the term Vinyasa in the teaching associated with Pattabhi Jois, as well as 'methodologies' that have derived from his teaching which also emphasise 'Vinyasa', going so far as to name the latter approach to practice Vinyasa Yoga.
Pattabhi Jois, when asked what the method he taught was called supposedly just said Ashtanga. For Pattabhi Jois it seems Yoga was the eight limb Ashtanga methodology outlined by patanjali in his yoga sutras, 'though he focussed on asana as an entry point to that methodology it was still as far as he was concerened, just Yoga, Ashtanga yoga. Later with the focus on vinyasa coming to the fore, no doubt in the 90s especially when Lino Miele and John Scott focussed on the Vinyasa count it started to be referred to as Ashtanga Vinyasa, I tend to call it that myself to distinguish it from Patanjali's Ashtanga in my writing on the blog. Sharath oflate seems to be referring to the practice as Ashtanga Vinyasa Krama. To his crefit pattabhi Jois never wanted to refer to his teaching as Jois Yoga, unfortunately referring to it as Ashtanga has caused perhaps more confusion than it's avoided.
Vinyasa in Pattabhi Jois' teaching has come to be associated with the dynamic movement that perhaps characterises the style/approach/methodology, this is unfortunate. And it is this association of vinyasa with movement that the Luminescent article seems to be addressing. Pattabhi Jois' methodology is claimed to be Old, going back to a mythological text Yoga Koruna, the only quote from which is supposedly "Hey yogi don't practice asana without vinyasa'. The Luminescent article questions the understanding of vinyasa as movement historically by pointing out that nowhere is such a usage found in the ancient texts.
I argue here that vinyasa for Pattabhi Jois and his teacher Krishnamacharya is connecting each movement to and from an asana with a stage of the breath such that each stage can be counted, giving a vinyasa count. Also a point of attention is given (fixed) for each movement. For the purpose of shorthand perhaps we may refer to vinyasa as movement but what we are really saying is that each vinyasa is breath stage-movement-with fixed attention. In paschimottanasana in this system there are fifteen such breath stage movements with fixed attention leading too and from the asana. And this is still an asana practice, the vinyasa is the framework for the asana. Krishnamacharya suggests long stays in most of his asana with a pranayama kumbhaka aspect. Rather than just dropping down into one asana then get tingup and doing another, every movement in this approach to and from every asana is fixed on a stage of the breath and point of attention, the whole practice has a focus on the breath as well as perhaps cakra focuse (drishti).
Of course many of Pattabhi Jois students and Krishnamacharya's also were young and focussed on the dynamic aspect of this movement rather than perhaps the asana itself, the breath focus has always been there but the attention perhaps has shifted to the movement and this is perhaps why vinyasa has become associated with movement e specially perhaps to those looking in from outside or who focussed on different aspects of Krishnamacharya's later teaching
''Vinyasa' has been used to ground the practice historically, it being suggested that the approach to asana practice derives from a text 'Yoga Korunta' by one Vamana Rishi, the only quote passed around being ' Hey Yogi, don't practice asana without vinyasa'. Pattabhi jois credits his teacher Krishnamacharya with his methodology but other later students of Krishnamacharya have perhaps down played the more dynamic aspect of vinyasa and reinterpreted the term or denigrated it's usage somewhat in Krishnamacharya and his early students teaching
The Luminescent article looks to Vinyasa's historical usage in this article to suggest perhaps that it gives no ground/foundation to the current practice in that vinyasa is rarely used in historical documents and suggest that current usage is a misuse of the term.
Krishnamacharya was a sanskrit scholar and creative debater, I would argue that he made full use of linguistic variants of the term in coining vinyasa in relation to his teaching. I argue below that vinyasa was one complementary aspect of his teaching of yoga and of asana. Vinyasa as breath linked movement acted as compliment to the static nature of his approach to asana with it's long stays and employment of kumbhaka.
Did Krishnamacharya invent this approach to practice, did it derive from his own teacher or a text, we may never know but asana is ancient, as is pranayama, the framework in which that asana is approached no doubt less so, it may only be 80 years old, this should not concern us, asana practice is old enough if such things interest us. As far as the framework is concerned perhaps its enough to ask if it's useful, beneficial and not to lose sight of what is contained within that framework rather than focus too closely on the framework itself.
Note. Some (Vinyasa Yoga ) teachers have sought to ground their teaching in historical accounts where 'vinyasa' is said to be employed, with suggested (perhaps tenuous) links to Krishnamacharya . However, this research never seems to be presented in journals of their peers but rather online magazines and downloadable online courses. I'm not a sanskrit scholar nor an historian, until such research is reviewed by it's peers it's pretty worthless to me, interesting perhaps fascinating even but worthless without review of the evidence by someone qualified to do so, without that it is perhaps f no more value than my own speculations here, based on Krishnamacharya's own texts ( freely downloadable) and my practice of them.
This line below from the Luninecent article struck me and seems to tie in with my own understanding of Vinyasa.
"In discussions on the practice of āsana and other techniques in medieval yoga texts, the term vinyāsa is not used. However, when related verbal forms (such as vinyasya) are used, they mean 'to fix or place'."
This makes sense to me, we tend to focus on the movement these days and think of that as 'the vinyasa' but my understanding is that the vinyasa is 'fixing' the movement to the stage of the breath. Arms going up say on the inhalation, folding over on the exhalation. The point is NOT the movement or the count (vinyasa count - which just follows) but that connection between the breath and the movement as well as the fixing of the attention ( generally the attention is placed between the eyebrows on the inhalation, at the tip of the nose on the exhalation). Lots of 'fixing' and 'placing' in this system. Given Krishnamacharya's fascination with language it would be surprising if he didn't have that usage in mind. I've never tended to believe the system/approach is that old, did Krishnamacharya come up with this inspiration to connect the breath and movement himself, his teacher... it hardly seems to matter.
My current theory is that Krishnamacharya's teacher connected an old text with his interpretation of the yoga sutras and it was that methodology he taught Krishnamacharya over a period of time. Krishnamacharya later sought out the text and perhaps copied out a table of asana with vinyasa and kumbhaka mentioned. Pattabhi Jois mentioned that Krishnamacharya was jumping in and out of asana before he went to teach at Mysore. Perhaps this approach suited the fitness ideas in vogue at the time and was deemed suitable for the boys of the palace. Krishnamacharya put the table in his 1941 text Yogasanagalu, it is clearly incomplete. If Krishnamacharya had developed the table himself surely he would have completed it, I could add the appropriate kumbhaks myself I suspect in a few minutes, Krishnamacharya seemed to want to keep it as it was. BUT Krishnamacharya in his writing always seemed more interested in the Asana, the attention is on long stays, on the breath, the point of attention. While the boys were being led through their dynamic asana practice krishnamacharya would be in an other room teaching private patients where the vinyasa played less of a role although perhaps always implied as it was in his later teaching. It's this weeks theory.
Krishnamacharya only seemed to be interested in the hatha yoga pradipka and tantra inspired texts when it suited him, he seemed to be more concerned with whether his approach to asana was in keeping with Patanjali, his apprach to yoga sutra 2-47 is perhaps telling
'By making the breath smooth (and long), and by concentration or focussing the mind on the breath, the perfection of the posture is obtained'. See the Appendix for Ramaswami's treatment of this sutra.
"Note: Krishnamacharya interprets this sutra differently than other teachers. He gives the correct technical meaning (in this context) fromn prayatna or Jivana prayatna, or effort of life which is breath. he says that it is the breath that should be made smooth and effortless, not the posture. it is not physical; it is the breathing" p55 Ramaswami
Vinyasa has tended to strike me as being overrated in the Pattabhi Jois tradition or rather given too much attention. My main problem with Mark Singleton's book Yoga Body was that he seemed to look at the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, focus on the dynamic, gymnastic, aspect that characterised it's modern practice and then look for gymnastic influences. However a close reading of Krishnamacharya's Yoga Makaranda balances out this view of the practice, the Vinyasa is there to complement the static aspect of the practice of asana, the long stays, the pranayama aspect.
In Krishnamacharya's own writing we do indeed see a focus on the physical quality of the practice, improving the physical condition of the nation was something he argued strongly for in Yoga Makaranda (1934), we see this too in his later Yogasanagalu (1941) where he suggests the vinyasa can keep us strong, even powerful but this for Kishnamacharya is in relation to the other limbs of ashtanga.
Krishnamacharya gives more attention I would argue to the actual asana, where Kumbhaka is practiced and the assumed benefits of the asana stressed. Krishnamacharya writes of long slow breathing, long stays, the vinyasa too and from the asana are more complementary a pratkriya t( counter or compliment in Krishnamacharya usage) to the static nature of asana.
When the Young Americans came to India of course they focussed on the dynamic aspect of the practice, more so those who followed them. In the 1990s attention was given to the VINYASA COUNT, Vinyasa gained in ever more importance while in Krishnamacharya's own teaching it seemed to decrease as he focussed on older students and helping patients. The vinyasa was often implied more than practiced. Each asana may theoretically begin and end at samastithi but more often than not there would movements to the asana then variations of the asana ( also referred to as vinyasa) practiced. A movement back to Samasathi might come after several asana or even at the end of the practice and might have a more leisurely form not fitting in with the original vinyasa count of his table.
Later students of Krishnamacharya seeing the attention given to the dynamic aspect characterising the practice of the young boys of the Mysore Palace and continued into Pattabhi Jois' teaching and the spin off styles would talk almost dismissively of Vinyasa or they would reinterpret the term as Krishnamacharya himself may have done to more closely reflect their current teaching.
As ever we ended up focussing on one aspect of teaching. In the beginning I too focussed on the movement aspect of Ashtanga practice, a moving meditation, where the attention was fixed on the breath. No sooner had I arrived in one asana than I was ready to enjoy the transition to the next.
Later under Ramaswami's influence I began to focus more on the asana and it's variations as well as the study of Krishnamacharya actual text, again with Ramaswami and began to focus more on the actual asana, on the kumbhaka in particular and later with Shribhashyam's influence, the internal focus of attention during those kumbhaka.
At some point I had lost sight of vinyasa, I was practicing them less. It was only on coming back to reading Yogasanagalu yet again and the passage on vinyasa springing out of me that I rebalanced my practice, enjoying the benefits of the vinyasa as well as of the asana and it's accompanying kumbhaka and focus of attention. Krishnamacharya talked about giving equal attention to each and every breath, to each and every stage of the breath, the inhalation and exhalation but also the kumbhaka between.
The vinyasa approach was a stroke of genius, it allowed us to maintain focus to and from an asana, on every aspect of the breath throughout our postural practice, a ninety minute or more meditation but the vinyasa, the attention given to the movement to and from the asana, also complimented the static asana.
Always in Krishnamacharya the asana practice was integrated in the practice of the other limbs, in the yama and the niyama, the asana would be followed by pranayama, by pratyahara and the meditative limbs.
The mistake is to focus too far on the dynamic aspect of postural practice, it's a mistake made by practitioners and teachers as well as by commentators.