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The Special Place: The Meaning of Vinyasa

by Julie PetersJuly 09, 2015
Practice

My dad has a special way he likes to order when we are out at a restaurant. First, order your beer. Then, wait to order your food until it’s also time to order your second drink. It confuses the servers, but it’s brilliant: It extends social time before the food comes, and ensures that you never have to wait for food without a beverage on the table. We do this at home, too, with a slight variation: “beer time” is the hour before dinner when we sit in the living room and catch up as a family before turning our attention to the food.

The word “vinyasa” is usually meant to refer to a specific flowing style of yoga, and sometimes it means that specific repeating sequence involving Chaturanga and Upward Dog. The word itself, however, breaks down in Sanskrit this way: “vi” means special, and “nyasa” means “ to place” or “to install.” So “vinyasa” refers to anything that you place in a special way. My dad’s restaurant rules are not just a habit; they represent a special sequence we move through for specific reasons. He shows up to it just like any other practice—this one just happens to involve a nice cold beer (or two)!

In a yoga practice, there is also a specific order in which to practice the postures. We prepare for the full splits, for example, by doing a few lunges and hamstring stretches first. The vinyasa leads us through a sort of story with a mindful order, and this is what gives the class meaning and flavor.

Placing things in a special way can also sometimes reveal special places. “Beer time” is a special place for my family that gives us a chance to completely focus on each other. I have special places in my yoga practice: I like to feel my pinky fingers just grazing the edges of my yoga mat when I’m in downward facing dog, and I know exactly the spot to where my inner knee connects to my upper arm before I lift up into Crow pose.

In fact, if you look, you’ll find special places all over your everyday life. Your day can be filled with tiny, intimate rituals from how you shower to the way you take your coffee. Sally Albright, from the movie When Harry Met Sally, is someone who really knows the power of the vinyasa, and her special place is “on the side.” She orders a piece of pie at a diner this way:

             Sally: “But I'd like the pie heated and I don't want the ice cream on top, I want it on the side, and I'd like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it, if not then no ice cream just whipped cream but only if it's real; if it's out of the can then nothing.

            Server: Not even the pie?

            Sally: No, I want the pie, but then not heated.

When Harry teases her, she responds, “well, I just want it the way I want it.”

Of course, we don’t want to get obsessed with having things just so—there’s also specialness in novelty and going with the flow. But whether you are in a yoga class or heading to your favorite pie shop, you can bring a playful mindfulness into having it the way you want it. Besides, as my dad likes to say when he orders the same thing he always gets at the restaurant we always go to: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”


Julie Peters

Join yoga teacher Julie Peters on an exploration into the real life of yoga—how the philosophies and experiences of the practice can help us learn from our bodies, enrich our relationships, face our deepest shadows, and laugh at ourselves along the way. Julie is the author of the book Secrets of the Eternal Moon Phase Goddesses: Meditations on Desire, Relationships, and the Art of Being Broken (Turner Publishing). See www.jcpeters.ca for more details.


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