An Introduction to Viniyoga

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Viniyoga is not the same thing as vinyasa yoga and it is all about adaptation. It takes a holistic, therapeutic approach to teach yoga that is designed to improve each student's health and well-being.

You can think of Viniyoga as yoga physical therapy or have a personal trainer for your yoga practice. This is because the teacher works one-on-one with a student and tailors the practice specifically for them. That is why it's perfect if you need specialized attention due to your physical condition, an injury or illness, or any other concerns.

What Is Viniyoga?

Viniyoga is based on the guru/student model in which an experienced teacher works individually with each student. Teachers create a personalized yoga program for students based on factors like health, age, and physical condition. Viniyoga also takes into account any past or current injuries or illnesses.

When you attend your average group yoga class, there tends to be a one-size-fits-all approach. You are expected to make your body fit the poses even though the poses don't always fit your body.

A teacher may ask if there are any injuries, but no in-depth attempt is made to know more about your personal physical condition. Two students could have, for instance, back pain for entirely different reasons. A Viniyoga teacher would offer each student different modifications tailored to the root cause of their problem.

Viniyoga is intended to be adaptable to any person, regardless of physical ability. Due to this, Viniyoga teachers must be highly trained and tend to be experts on anatomy and yoga therapy.

The History of Viniyoga

Viniyoga is the legacy of the great guru Krishnamacharya, whose students included Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar. These two are arguably the most prominent figures in yoga's dissemination to the west beginning in the 1970s.

Krishnamacharya's son T.K.V. Desikachar carried on his father's teachings as the founder of the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandirum (KYM) in Chennai, India. Here, he began to call his method Viniyoga.

Desikachar died in August 2016. He had not taught publicly for some years before his death due to ill health and dementia. For a time the KYM was led by his son Kausthub. He stepped down in 2013 amid accusations of mental and physical harassment from female students.

Gary Kraftsow, the founder of the American Viniyoga Institute, is the most prominent American proponent of T.K.V. Desikachar's method. Other notable students include Leslie Kaminoff, founder of The Breathing Project in New York City and co-author of Yoga Anatomyand Chase Bossart.

What to Expect

A Viniyoga practice may include asana, pranayama, chanting, and meditation, depending on the students' needs. Because the practice is so adaptable, it makes yoga available to those with physical limitations, whether through injury, illness, or age.

It can be very gentle but is not exclusively so. If a student is more adept, his practice will be changed to suit him. There is a strong focus on alignment and poses are often held for a consistent number of breaths with rest in between.

Though Viniyoga can be taught in group classes, it's not a place to try to fade into the background. Your teacher will want to get to know you so that she can offer you personalized instruction.

By Ann Pizer, RYT
Ann Pizer is a writer and registered yoga instructor who teaches vinyasa/flow and prenatal yoga classes.