Introduction to Viniyoga

One-on-One Yoga is Typical of Viniyoga
One-on-One Yoga is Typical of Viniyoga. Jean-Claude Winkler/Photodisc/Getty Images

Viniyoga (which is not the same thing as vinyasa yoga!) is all about adaptation. It is based on the guru/student model, in which an experienced teacher works individually with each student, making a personalized yoga program for them based on such factors as health, age, and physical condition, including past or current injuries or illnesses. Viniyoga takes a holistic, therapeutic approach to teaching yoga to improve each student's health and well-being.

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, not the poses fir your body. A teacher may ask if there are any injuries, but no in-depth attempt is made to know more about your physical condition. Two students could have, for instance, back pain, for entirely different reasons, so 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, so Viniyoga teachers must be highly trained and tend to be experts on anatomy and yoga therapy.

Viniyoga's History

Viniyoga is the legacy of the great guru Krishnamacharya, whose students included Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar, 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, where 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, but he stepped down in 2013 amid accusations of mental and physical harassment from female students. 

Gary Kraftsow, 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 or her practice will be changed to suit him or her. 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 he or she can offer you personalized instruction. 

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