What is the viniyoga of Yoga?


Quick Links:

1. Understanding the word viniyoga as meaning the application of Yoga
2. The shift from the term 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
4. The Study and Practice of the viniyoga of Yoga as a process for applying Yoga entails

1. Understanding the term viniyoga as meaning the application of Yoga

The principle of applying Yoga to the person is called the viniyoga of Yoga. It use, underpinning the teaching of Yoga according to different needs and situations, has long been referred to as ‘Viniyoga‘. The term viniyoga had come to be associated with TKV Desikachar’s methods 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

It was transmitted as a core concept from his twenty-seven year study with his teacher Śrī T Krishnamacharya. The principle of viniyoga, as taught by Krishnamacharya, was the personalised application of Yoga in order to make the essence and depth of Yoga available to all types and levels of practitioner.

TKV Desikachar had described it thus in May 1983 under the title ‘The viniyoga 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 term the viniyoga of Yoga as a process to the name Viniyoga as a ‘Brand’

However from 2002 Desikachar began to disassociate himself and his teacher’s teaching from being linked to the word Viniyoga because of the shift in popular perception from the concept of the viniyoga of Yoga not just to viniyoga but to Viniyoga. His original intention was that it would refer to an intelligent and systematic approach (viniyoga) to teaching Yoga within individual situations for a Yoga teacher trained by T Krishnamacharya, 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

Furthermore the word viniyoga had even became popularised around the Yoga world as a style or brand name now known as Viniyoga. This he felt had in many instances actually replaced the word Yoga rather than being a principle to draw from, support and apply as a teacher of Yoga. It had become known as  ‘Viniyoga’ or a means to identify as if another style or brand name.

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, as a PDF file – click here.

It was the replacing of the word Yoga by Viniyoga (rather than the viniyoga 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 it’s choice, use and value and the consequent request not to use the word Viniyoga to represent his teacher’s teaching. He also emphasised through this interview that he did not wish the Viniyoga label to now be replaced with another identity using either his or his teacher’s name.

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

Desikachar: 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.

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

Desikachar: 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 in April 2003 he emailed his senior students around the world and asked them, in the spirit of guru daksina, to choose either not to use the word Viniyoga to represent his and his teacher’s Yoga teachings or to remove his and his teacher’s name 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 dakshina.
Please feel free to forward this to other students whose email addresses I don’t have.
With Best Wishes
TKV Desikachar

It is this feeling that offers a potential message, as TKV Desikachar discusses in “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 word viniyoga in the earlier quotation as the viniyoga of Yoga, or the intelligent and systematic application of Yoga techniques according to the person and the uniqueness of their situation. This is the viniyoga of Yoga, it is the intelligent and systematic application (viniyoga) of Yoga, be it concerned with physical exercises, deep breathing, relaxation, meditation, lifestyle, food, studies, according to the person and their situation, and would be a truer way to 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

The main aim 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 persons current situation.

Care has been taken to preserve the spirit of transmission which emphasises:

  • Adaptation of all aspects of personal practice to our starting needs and future potential, integrating Yoga postures with movement, breath and attention, for better physical and mental health and enhanced awareness.
  • A process that moves from a personalised Yoga practice adapted to our outer limitations towards a personal practice that explores our inner potentials.
  • The individualised and progressively developmental use of the breath in Yoga practice as a primary tool to influence a person’s emotional, mental, energetic and physical well being.
  • The value of a personalised relationship between the Yoga teacher, the Yoga teachings, the Yoga student and their Yoga practice.

4. The study and practice of the viniyoga of Yoga as a process for applying Yoga entails

The viniyoga of Yoga is a deep training in a specific Yoga methodology that requires a commitment to explore through 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.

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

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.

Amongst the techniques that can offer a developmental structure (vinyāsa krama) for the content and process of a personal home-based practice Sādhana, or ‘means’ for the student to explore with the teacher the notions of self and non-self, are:

Integrative development through Study and Practice of the following components:

This needs to be supported by a Personalised Textual and Oral Study Sādhana involving:

  • Experiential application of the principles in the Haṭha Yoga texts emphasised by Krishnamacharya.
  • Experiential application of the Yoga Sūtra through an in-depth exploration as a self-inquiry.
  • Guidance with linking Indian texts emphasised by Krishnamacharya with Yoga study and practice.
  • Guidance with linking Krishnamacharya’s writings and compositions with Yoga study and practice.
  • Experiential self-study of the core constitutional, diagnostic and lifestyle principles in Āyurveda.
“The paradoxical -
and tragic -
situation of man
is that his conscience is weakest
when he needs it most.”

Erich Fromm