What is the meaning and origin of the concept ‘The Viniyoga of Yoga’?


Quick Links:
1. Understanding the context of the term Viniyoga as meaning the application of Yoga
2. The shift from the ‘Viniyoga of Yoga’ as a process to the name Viniyoga as a ‘Brand’
3. The Viniyoga of Yoga or application of Yoga according to the person and their situation

“This is what Patañjali says in that everything must be given step by step.
Yoga Sūtra Chapter Three verse 6 reflects this idea.”
– TKV Desikachar France August 1983

1. Understanding the context of Viniyoga as meaning the application of Yoga

The principles that underpinned Krishnamacharya’s approach to applying Yoga to the person became collectively grouped under the term ‘the Viniyoga of Yoga’ by TKV Desikachar around 1980. Consequently, from this time the term Viniyoga also came to be integrated by TKV Desikachar into his teachings as a means to identify Krishnamacharya’s methodology of teaching Yoga.

“The spirit of Viniyoga is starting from where one finds oneself.
As everybody is different and changes from time to time,
there can be no common starting point,
and ready-made answers are useless.
The present situation must be examined and the
habitually established status must be re-examined.”

– TKV Desikachar

Thus the term the Viniyoga of Yoga became a way for Desikachar to collectively describe the Yoga concepts arising from his twenty-seven year study with his teacher Śrī T Krishnamacharya. These principles collectively named by Desikachar, in response to a request from his Western students, as Viniyoga, described the personalised application of Yoga, taught by Krishnamacharya, in order to make the essence and depth of Yoga available to all types and levels of practitioner.

TKV Desikachar had described the Viniyoga of Yoga in May 1983 as the ‘systematic application of Yoga’:

“Yoga is a mystery. It does not mean the same thing to each and everyone.
In spite of the vast field it covers curing chronic ailments, extra-sensory perception, etc,
hardly anyone is able to define it in simple terms.
Where is then the hope of experiencing its true significance?

What about the risks of inappropriate use of Yoga methods and practices?
Why are so many people all over the world taking the word and
the substance of Yoga so lightly, so ridiculously?
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.”

2. The shift from ‘the Viniyoga of Yoga’ as a process to ‘Viniyoga’ as a ‘Brand’

His original intention was that the term the Viniyoga of Yoga, or the application of Yoga, would collectively describe an intelligent and systematic approach to teaching Yoga, collating the teachings of T Krishnamacharya, within individual situations for a Yoga teacher trained by TKV Desikachar, or one of his students.

“Teach what is inside you,
not as it applies to you yourself,
but as it applies to the other.”
– T Krishnamacharya

However, in 2002 Desikachar began to disassociate himself from being linked to the singular word Viniyoga and its use to commonly identify his teacher’s teaching. This was because of the shift in popular perception from his description of the ‘Viniyoga of Yoga’ as referring to the appropriate application of Yoga, now not just shortened to Viniyoga as a generic collective, but also its use as a marketable branding handle or even in time to a registered trade mark.

Thus the process, originally named by Desikachar as the Viniyoga of Yoga had become popularised around the Yoga world as a style or brand name now identified generically as Viniyoga. This, Desikachar felt, had also, in many instances, actually replaced the word Yoga rather than being a collective term for a range of application tools to draw from, support and utilize as a teacher of Yoga. Thus his and his teacher’s approach to teaching what is Yoga had now become trademarked as ‘Viniyoga’ as a means to generically identify either himself or Krishnamacharya as if just another ‘style’ or ‘brand’.

This view was expressed by Desikachar through a seminar in Omega, New York in May 2002 around the theme “The Ocean of Yoga – From the Parts to the Whole” as:

“The current world of Yoga seems to be made up of many small parts,
each one competing with and often confusing the other.
This is not consistent with the spirit of Yoga, whose very meaning is “to unite“.

To read or download an interview with Desikachar conducted during this May 2002 seminar, and published in Yoga and Health magazine in the UK in July 2003, click here.

It was the replacing of the word Yoga by Viniyoga as a ‘Brand’ name, rather than the use of the term Viniyoga as a collective description of the tools seen as integral for the appropriate application of Yoga, and his concern about the distortion and confusion where this had become the case within the wider field of Yoga, that led to this re-appraisal of its choice, use and value.

From this situation arose the consequent request not to use the word Viniyoga as a ‘Brand’ name to represent his teacher’s teaching. He also emphasised through this interview that he did not wish the ‘Viniyoga’ brand label to now be replaced with an identity using either his or his teacher’s name.

What if people started calling it Desikachar Yoga?
Would that ruin it too because you suddenly have a label?

It is really murdering – they are murdering my spirit! What I have received is from my teacher and what he received is from his teacher. There is a lineage of more than 2000 years. How can they label this Desikachar? They are murdering me because they are murdering my teacher.

If they named it after your father that wouldn’t be good either?

No, my father would be in tears. Whatever he invented, he never said he invented it. I know that he innovated things, but he would never say ‘it is mine’. That is the Indian philosophy of humility and respect for the teacher. They always would say, ‘my teacher taught this to me.’

Following on from this on April 24th 2003 there was a general email sent to his senior students around the world which asked them, in the spirit of Guru Daksina, to choose either not to use the singular word ‘Viniyoga’ to represent Desikachar’s and Krishnamacharya’s approach to teaching Yoga or to remove their names from their communications.

Dear Friends,
When I introduced the concept of Viniyoga in the late 70’s and early 80’s,
I never imagined that it will replace the word “Yoga”.

I am extremely disappointed with the situation today,
where this has become the case and caused so much distortion and confusion.
Hence I request you to either delete the word Viniyoga to represent my teacher’s teaching,
or remove my father’s and my name from your communications.
This is the least you can do for me, as a Guru Dakṣiṇa.

Please feel free to forward this to other students whose email addresses I don’t have.
With Best Wishes
TKV Desikachar

View or Download a copy of the original Email from TKV Desikachar

It is this feeling that offers a potential message, as TKV Desikachar discusses in the lecture series published as “What are we Seeking”, in that ‘Yoga is to relate and to unite‘. Yet according to the teaching of Krishnamacharya and Desikachar, Yoga must be taught in a way appropriate for each person and their situation.

3. The Viniyoga of Yoga or the application of Yoga according to the person

This is where Desikachar originally defined the term Viniyoga in the earlier quotation as the Viniyoga of Yoga, meant here as a descriptive collective term for Krishnamacharya’s intelligent and systematic application of Yoga techniques according to the person and the uniqueness of their situation.

“TKV Desikachar did not teach different people different things.
Nor did he just teach the same thing to different people.
He taught different people the same thing in different ways.
The same could be said of T Krishnamacharya’s teaching.
Hence the context of the phrase the Viniyoga of Yoga.”

This, in his opinion, is the Viniyoga of Yoga, it is the intelligent and systematic application of Yoga, be it concerned with physical exercises, deep breathing, relaxation, meditation, lifestyle, food, or studies, according to the person and their situation, and would be a truer way to collectively describe how Practitioners trained in this particular teaching methodology work.

“There is an image in the world today that the guru has a following
and his students follow him like the Pied Piper. This is not good.
The true guru shows you the way.
You go your way and then you’re on your own,
because you know your place and you are grateful.
I can always thank my guru naturally and enjoy the relationship,
but I do not have to follow him around, because then I am not in my own place.
Following the guru’s destination is another way of losing yourself.
The yoga concept of svadharma means “your own dharma” or “your own way”.
If you try to do somebody else’s dharma, trouble happens.
The guru helps you find your own dharma.”
– TKV Desikachar

Irrespective of any collective grouping terminology, the main aim of Krishnamacharya’s and Desikachar’s teaching is to personalise Yoga according to the individual and their situation, through respecting differences in age, gender, mental and physical health, lifestyle, occupation and interest, together with the person’s current situation.

“Welcome to the world of Viniyoga,
where we start from where you are,
not where your dreams are.”

Behind this concept, it is a methodology that offers a depth of tools, rather than just a breadth of tools, however, the tools also sit a bit like Russian dolls in that one must be opened before the next reveals itself.

“The Viniyoga of Yoga is a process
rather than just a collection of techniques.”

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.

Thus the Viniyoga of Yoga is a collective term for a process arising from a deep training in a Yoga methodology specific to the teachings of Krishnamacharya and Desikachar. It requires a commitment to explore all aspects of Yoga through the lens of our personal practice. This means a core commitment as a student to a personalised and developmental Yoga practice in this methodology as the experiential reference.

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