A very general, broad and inclusive definition that describes the approach of Viniyoga in the most expansive way is: those actions and practices which complement a person’s constitution, capacities and personal desires, on all levels: physical, mental, and psycho-spiritual, and which bring the individual closer to an authentic and lasting fulfillment.
The qualities of asana that uniquely define Viniyoga can be described to a certain extent in terms of biomechanics. While using the classical forms of postures as a starting point, the postures can be almost infinitely adapted to make maximal, optimal use of alignment, breath and movement. The goal of creating strength, flexibility and ease in the body is a question of understanding the body.
Understanding the body is a general pursuit and goal for any yoga teacher. All bodies have muscles, bones, joints, etc and these structures generally work in the same ways in most bodies. However, what characterizes Viniyoga is that an experienced teacher understands both the individual body before her, and the myriad ways to adapt the postures to create an efficient and effective practice, for that individual and consistent with his goals. This, of course, requires highly developed responsiveness and observation skills. So ultimately, the Viniyoga teacher has very thorough understanding of both general and specific biomechanics, as well as anomalies, injuries, chronic stress, movement patterns, misalignments, ( at least the ones in the bodies of her students ) — just for starters.
The function of breath in close association to the movement of the spine is a classic example of the biomechanical principles of Viniyoga. As the inhale fills and expands the chest cavity, the thoracic spine becomes slightly less kyphotic. In other words, the natural rounding of the upper spine between the waist and neck becomes subtly less rounded. (In the case of those with flattened upper spines, the upper spine may flatten even more, in rare cases even becoming concave, which may not be an asset to the individual.) As the exhale releases from the body, if the practitioner accentuates the contraction of the abdominal muscles, the lordosis of the lumbar spine becomes less pronounced. In other words, the low back curve subtly flattens.
Both of these actions can ease spinal compression and encourage axial extension or lengthening of the spine. Lengthening of the spine in most cases creates less pressure on the physical level, potentially increasing comfort, range of motion, mobility and supporting the function of the nervous system since the spinal cord is the central core of the spinal tract. As we age, the cumulative effects of gravity on the spine are important to recognize and compensate for, and axial extension is such a strategy.
The subtle effect of axial extension in the energy system is also central; most classic or traditional yoga approaches recognize the nadi system, susumna, and cakras. The Viniyoga approach of using breath and spinal movement in close synchronization in every movement and posture acknowledges this link to a refined level that is distinctive among schools and traditions.
Viniyoga openly and deliberately extends into dimensions beyond the physical, or asana practice. Since we are not only physical beings, Viniyoga applications also expand to other methods of creating balance and harmony in our beings.
Singing, chanting, reciting religious verse, and rituals or praying in any religious tradition can bring inner peace, closeness to God, and spiritual well-being. Enjoying nature, one’s family, creating or appreciating artistic interests all bring a deep satisfaction to levels of the individual that promote wholeness, balance and personal enhancement that is not directed solely to the temporal or visceral.
This is a primary principle of Viniyoga, to recognize dimensions of human experience in the ways that uniquely suit the individual. So the final question about Viniyoga might be, what are your goals? On every level of your life, how could you be more peaceful, comfortable, closer to your own self-realization? Viniyoga has suggestions and strategies that can help make your practice efficient and effective, if you are ready to take the steps. Peace.