In her latest post, Claudia considers the relationship between Vinyasa and Ashtanga Yoga from several different angles. I think this is a very interesting topic, and I'll say a couple of things here as well.
In the yoga world at large, the word "vinyasa" is most often encountered in the context of a "vinyasa/flow yoga class." Because of this, I suspect that for many folks in the yoga world, the word "vinyasa" means something like "movement with breath." Indeed, I have been to a few vinyasa classes where I have heard the teacher explain to the students that vinyasa means "movement with breath". For others, "vinyasa" has become synonymous with that chaturanga-updog-downdog transition between postures that make up the "glue" that links postures together.
Neither of these understandings of vinyasa are wrong. But they do not get to the essence of what vinyasa is about. So if you will, allow the wise yogi of the Dragon's Den (ahem!) to enlighten you about the true meaning of "vinyasa". (see, this is what happens when I withdraw into the Dragon's cave and abstain from blogging for a few days; I emerge from the cave with fresh wisdom :-)) Well, actually, wise I am not, but I may still know a thing or two :-) Anyway, some years ago, I attended a vinyasa conference in Miami Beach organized by the illustrious Jonny Kest (it was here that I first met Eddie Modestini and Nicki Doane, which prompted me to make a subsequent trip out to Maui to study with them, which subsequently led to my getting into Ashtanga; but this is for another post.). By the way, if you have never been to a yoga conference or festival, I suggest that you should try to go to one, just for the experience. It's a veritable yogic smorgasbord where one encounters all kinds of interesting characters spanning the entire range of the yoga spectrum: From feel-good new-age-types to trance-dance-devotees to yoga-rock-star-wannabes/groupies to soccer/yoga moms to holier-than-thou Ashtanga Fundamentalists who consciously or unconsciously think that if you are not doing Ashtanga six days a week and eating vegetarian, you must be an inferior breed (whoa... look who's talking here...). I can't promise that it is necessarily the best learning environment if you are the sort of yogi who is deeply focused on one style of yoga, but from a sociological/anthropological point of view, a yoga conference/festival is a very good place to survey the bizarre character-types that populate the North American yoga subculture. Definitely something one should experience at least once in one's yoga career.
Wow, I just digressed majorly. How did I get from talking about vinyasa to going on this spiel about yoga conferences and festivals? Let's get back on topic. Well, as I was saying, I attended that vinyasa conference in Miami Beach some years ago. While there, a famous teacher (I don't remember exactly who this is; maybe it was David Life?) gave a talk in which he explained that the word "vinyasa" can be broken down into the Sanskrit words "nyasa", which means "to place", and "vi", which means "in a mindful or intelligent way". So "vinyasa" means "to place in a mindful or intelligent way." Applied to yoga practice, then, vinyasa refers to a sequence of postures that have been mindfully or intelligently strung together, with the breath of the practitioners acting as the mala (string of prayer beads) linking all these postures together in a continuous, uninterrupted flow.
In a similar vein, Gregor Maehle defines vinyasa as "[s]equential movement that interlinks postures to form a continuous flow.
It creates a movement meditation that reveals all forms as being
impermanent and for this reason are not held on to." (Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy, 294) Maehle's definition brings to light another important dimension of vinyasa in asana practice: Being a practice that is informed by the continuous flow of the breath, it is a practice in which one pays attention to the moment-by-moment changes of the breath and the body. When we pay such attention, we will also adjust our practice accordingly from moment to moment, and not be too attached to a particular form or ideal expression of a posture. Thus vinyasa can be seen to be closely linked to vairagyabhyam, or non-attachment.
I'm offering my two cents' here, as always. Feel free to share anything you have in mind at this moment.