The Ashtanga Yoga method contains many tools to help build a practice of yoga. One of the tools is the counting of the breaths and movements in the practice—the counting of the vinyasa. For me, in my own practice, counting vinyasa gives a structure and regularity to the movements. It’s the plan, the pattern to follow and the pattern to build from if I need to adapt the flow. Counting gives a predictability to the practice, a consistency, and helps me let go of what is coming next. After one is always two; after two is always three. Ekam, dve, trīṇi.
The count of vinyasa is also a key, a shorthand, with each number representing all the detail of each movement. In my practice, when I count ‘ekam’ in my mind, it is shorthand for all I have been taught about that movement, every time my teacher has adjusted me, each detail I remember of the technique. But it also reminds me to approach the movement like it’s the first time again—there is always a new lesson to learn. Ekam, dve, trīṇi.
In meditation and mindfulness practices, counting breaths is often used as a way to bring focus to the mind. The counting of vinyasa in an Ashtanga Yoga practice can be used in the same way. If ever I feel distracted during practice, coming back to the count brings the whole world back to a place where I feel just a little bit more in control, where things are simpler, clearer. Stilling the fluctuations of the mind. Ekam, dve, trīṇi.
This year marks the centenary of the birth of Pattabhi Jois and in the ‘Monthly Primary Series’ classes at Whitespace Yoga & Wellbeing Studio we are celebrating this anniversary. In the 1962 book ‘Yoga Mala‘, the first thing Pattabhi Jois writes about each asana is the number of vinyasa. It’s that fundamental.
In our April class we spent extra time looking in detail at the vinyasa count and focused on a sequence of three adjacent asana in the primary series: utkaṭāsana, vīrabhadrāsana and paścimottānāsana. Everyone learnt the full traditional count of each of these asana in turn, from samasthitiḥ to samasthitiḥ. We then looked at how these separate asana can be brought together in a linked sequence as more often experienced within the primary series. Finally we practiced these three asana as an integrated part of a primary series practice.
May’s class is on 9 May 2015 and we will be looking at why Ashtanga Yoga is ‘hard’, focusing on simply moving and breathing.
(Drawing of Sūryanamaskāra A © John Scott 1993)