My experience of the application (though not known as Viniyoga till some years after I began my studies in India) of Yoga as a 121 personalised practice methodology transmitted from teacher to student has been formed by a 23 year apprenticeship through intensive immersions in personal lessons, from numerous visits to Madras in South India, learning Yoga practice techniques and theory and associated Yoga and lifestyle texts study under my root teacher TKV Desikachar.
My journey to this relationship with 121 lessons as an authentic and traditional medium for adults learning Yoga as a practice tool and study reference for our personal support and development started in 1972, as for most of us with joining a group Yoga Class. In my case from an interest in meditation coupled with an inability to even sit on my heels.
The following year, a lifestyle move to a small holding in the East of England and a dearth of group class choices anywhere around me led to a chance meeting at a Yoga Congress in 1974 with an individual student of TKV Desikachar who had recently returned from a 4 months study intensive with him in India.
This meeting led to me, firstly discovering that 121 lessons was the primary medium for teaching adults within the tradition of T Krishnamacharya and TKV Desikachar and secondly a curiosity around the 121 process and what it could offer for my own attempts at establishing a home practice with both a consistency and a wider ranging developmental thread in terms of the many aspects of practice and study.
I remember my first lesson vividly in that I was asked to stay and to time the breath in
Bhujaṅgāsana for 4 seconds each on inhale and exhale. Even though I had used this posture for some two years, I could not do it. This inspired my curiosity as to why and determination to explore the mystery of the breath in Āsana rather than just the mastery of the form of Āsana.
“Yoga must be adapted to an individuals needs, expectations and possibilities,
rather than adapting an individuals needs, expectations and possibilities to Yoga.”
This curiosity and inspiration for home practice, from the experience of having a uniquely customised and developmental guidance, linked to an assessment and review process, combined with the progressive introduction of Yoga techniques and teachings, sustained through frequent lessons, nourished my Yoga study till 1976 and culminated in a meeting with TKV Desikachar.
This meeting in 1976, through a weeks retreat in Cambridge, coincided with my then 121 teacher leaving the UK to live in the US with his American wife and also led to my saving for three years to leave the UK, having been accepted as a personal student, in 1979 to live and study with Desikachar in India for two years, returning to live in the Cotswold area of South West England in 1981.
“Like everything, Yoga must be presented intelligently. It should be spoken of carefully and offered according to the aspiration, requirement and the culture of the individual.
This should be done in stages. Systematic application of Yoga – be it concerned with physical exercises, deep breathing, relaxation, meditation, lifestyle, food, studies – is the need of the day.
This I believe – is what the word viniyoga represents.”
– TKV Desikachar
This first stay of two years as a pupil, living within the home of Yoga and studying in the home of my teacher, was followed by some thirty return visits of between one to three months over the next 23 years immersing myself through 121 lessons into the skills and teachings of working with Yoga under the individual guidance of a personal teacher.
The outcome of this sustained immersion in the teachings of TKV Desikachar and Śrī T Krishnamacharya, is that the deeper significance of what later came to be collectively described as the viniyoga of Yoga, can only be effectively realised through 121 personal lessons, supported by associated Yoga textual and theory study within small group projects.
“The viniyoga of Yoga describes a process to train a student,
not a training to process a teacher.”
However teaching lessons within a personal context remained at the heart of Krishnamacharya’s and Desikachar’s priorities throughout their lives and it still remains the vital element in appreciating what Desikachar intended when he introduced the term viniyoga in 1983 as a collective description of a process for a systematic development of the students personal experience of Yoga.
Care has been taken to preserve the spirit of this transmission which emphasises:
- The Adaptation of personal practice, to our starting point and potentials, in the fields of
Āsana or general postures, Mudrā or special postures, Prāṇāyāma or seated breathing,
Dhyānam or seated meditation and Adhyayanam or chanting and sound practice.
- The Integration of Yoga Āsana with slow meditative movement blended with profound breathing, mindful attention and in certain situations chanting processes.
- The Transition of Yoga Āsana from movement with stillness towards stillness without movement through the refinement of Mudrā, Prāṇāyāma, Dhyānam and Adhyayanam.
- Our Yoga practice as a personalised process that moves from a short term practice adapted to our outer limitations towards a longer term practice that explores our inner potentials.
- The individualised and progressively developmental priorities around the importance of the breath as a primary practice tool to influence our emotional, mental, energetic and physical states.
- The integration of Lifestyle Skill Strategies according to an individuals constitution, living rhythms and dietary patterns to support and optimise health, energy and psychological vitality.
- The value of an ongoing, personalised and collaborative 121 relationship between the teacher and the teachings and the student and their practice.
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