Rethinking Vinyasa: How Synchronised Movement Fosters a Sense of Community
The alluring practice of Vinyasa continues to capture the imagination of yogis around the world. With its long smooth lines and soft sweeping transitions, coupled with the rhythmic beat of the breath, it is in its own right a living, breathing art form encompassing asana, pranayama, meditation, and self-inquiry.
The Vinyasa Experience
The Vinyasa experience can evoke a tender appreciation for the relationship between body and breath, deepening our connection to ourselves, our cells and the world around us. While varying interpretations and styles of this movement can be wildly different, it remains – in essence – about the felt experience of accepting an invitation to surrender the ego and stand in the present moment.
The beauty and dynamic quality of Vinyasa lends itself to creative license for teachers and practitioners alike, but the pursuit to design a class that’s rich and complex can sometimes detract from the actual goal. Explicitly known for its mindful movement synchronised with the breath, it’s critical to remember the practice is far more than just a well-executed series of postures. In a society where we often correlate physical practice with exerting and expelling energy, it’s unsurprising that an asana practice could be dismissed as such.
But the intention behind our asana practice has always been the opposite: to prepare the body for meditation by restoring and replenishing our vital energy.
Moving as One
When we practice together, we move together. And when we move together, the very quality of our movement improves; we breathe better, we stretch better, we work better. Together, we’re stronger. We see this in how social movements inspire solidarity and hope for change in much the same way.
Synchronicity in movement is at the heart of what binds us together and helps build community –a space in which we can truly belong and connect.
As a practitioner of Vinyasa, I love to participate in the hum and vibration of the flow. But as a teacher, I get to observe the unfolding, wrapping and flowing of those moving before me. There are no leaders here –only guidelines, and a collective sense of being in this together.
In the throngs of a practice, it’s the movements of those around you, and the collective breathing, that keeps us all moving as one.
Like a murmuration of starlings, the individuals of a yoga class often move high and low, in total harmony.
The sight of hundreds of birds swirling, diving, circling, and rolling alongside one another is hypnotic. The In the 90’s, Tamas Vicsek revealed the direction of the starlings was influenced by a fixed number of birds directly around it, usually seven. This was further developed by physicists Andrea Cavagna and Asja Jelic.
Like the starlings, what emerges in a good Vinyasa is a collaboration and a collective intelligence. There’s an agreement to come together, whether for protection, solidarity, community, or something else.
It’s a choreography, but not a choreography of perfection. Instead, it’s a skill in deep listening and awareness to the architecture of change and improvisation. Each step, each transition offers up a small space to check in, reassess, notice, slow down where even the most effortful asana is executed with ease, control, and reflection.
Rules of Engagement
So how can we further develop the acquisition of movement, enhancing the ease and efficiency of our practice? Murmuration's are designed and achieved by adhering to a few simple rules:
Move in the direction of the birds in front.
Stay in your lane.
Maintain alignment while following your neighbour’s direction.
Can we embody the same ease and fluidity on the yoga mat?
I find when guiding a class or moving through a sequence, it’s helpful to return to these rules, but slightly modified:
Direction - Give clear and direct cues. Teach the details of the transitions and poses and take the time for people to learn them.
Alignment - This isn’t about the angle or the desired outcome, but rather spatial awareness.
Moving from the central axis - Find movement from the centre of your body to the periphery.
Equipped and supported with these guidelines, we can move through an asana sequence with grace and integrity. Distraction and ego are disbanded, and an attitude of acceptance and compassion is called upon to guide us through, repeated until a flow develops. The movements are delicately placed one after another, but the flow we’re too often aware of doesn’t reveal itself until the moment is right.
Once we’ve followed the guidelines, and learned each pose and transition, our skill develops, and we become fully engaged in the activity. From here, a softness follows, and grace emerges.
For me, this is Vinyasa.