Last week, I introduced a few key concepts for you to consider as you think about trying to design a home practice using T. Krishnamacharya’s approach (see Sequencing in the Style of Krishnamacharya). Before diving into today’s discussion, you might want to take a few seconds to review that post. As we build our understanding of how to put a practice together, I’d like to share another foundational perspective and also introduce the concept of the “mini-vinyasa.”
In addition to having an eye to a goal for your practice, and understanding which stage of life you are in and what additional work or reflection you need to do as you start your practice, you need to evaluate on any given day whether your overall system in a state of fatigue, depletion or weakness or if you are in relative good health, energized, strong and balanced. Once you have an honest sense of that, you can apply another essential concept to how you will design and approach the yoga today.
Two terms help to clarify the way in which you will practice and even the attitude you will cultivate as you work: brahmana and langhana. Both concepts are very helpful when you are addressing injury or illness, but I find them helpful for everyday practice as well. And although Desikachar first connects these terms to how you breathe as you move between poses, I find the concepts can also be applied more generally.
Brahmana, which can translate as “to expand,” refers to a lengthening of the inhalation, with the possibility of adding a short pause or retention at the end of the inhale. This tends to energize and heat the body, which could be perfect for someone who’s underlying energy is a bit sluggish. Brahmana breathing tends to affect the chest and lungs more and anatomically fits better with back bending poses.
Langhana, which can translate as “to fast” or “to reduce,” refers to extending the length of the exhalation, with a possible pause or hold at the end of the exhale. Langhana practices tend to have a quieting and cooling effect on your system, so could be helpful in anxious or stressful times, as well as when you are generally depleted and need support. Langhana breathing tends to work better for forward bending practices and has a greater effect of the upper and lower belly, so could be good for processes of elimination.
In this system, unlike some others, you start working consciously with your breath with your very first asana sequence, since something called a “mini-vinyasa” is used. Instead of coming into a pose, say Warrior 2, and holding it for one to two minutes, with the mini-vinyasa method, you begin from a starting position, coordinate with your breath as you come into the full pose, and then return to the starting position with the next part of your breath. Typically this cycle is repeated about six rounds.
As an example, for Warrior 2, you would begin with your feet four feet apart, adjusted as usual, with your arms relaxed to your sides. On an inhalation, you would lift your arms up parallel with floor and bend your front knee to 90 degrees. Then, on your exhalation, you would lower your arms and straighten your front leg. You would then repeat this cycle five more times. And after completing six rounds on the right, you would repeat six round on the left.
To any mini-vinyasa, you could apply the concept of langhana or brahmana. In our example, since there is a natural expanding quality to the Warrior 2 pose, brahmana works more easily. So, as you enter the pose, you could take a four second inhalation, pause for one to two seconds in the pose, and then exhale naturally out of the pose. If your breathing gets ragged after only one or two rounds, you may not yet be ready to do this brahmana variation, so go gradually.
A full sequence or practice would involve a series of mini-vinyasa linked together to move you closer to your goal. To see illustrations of mini-vinyasa, see The Heart of Yoga by TKV Desikachar or Yoga for Wellness by Gary Kraftsow.
We’ll continue our journey toward understanding sequencing in the style of Krishnamacharya next time in Part 3!