This post comes from my wonderful teacher and mentor, Mark Stephens, in conversation about the differences between Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga. I hope this blog encourages more such conversations in the future. Thank you, Mark!
"What a wonderful set of reflections on Vinyasa Flow and Ashtanga Vinyasa. It's a familiar aire having spent many years doing Mysore-style Ashtanga Vinyasa before jumping off that train about eight years ago. Why? A slightly different take on some of these differences.
On #1: Where do energetic actions and refining movements arise from? How "subtle" is the source or the quality of the asana? A case can easily be made that we anything but static being, and that part of the practice involves bringing stability to our natural dynamism not by "holding" but rather by going with that dynamism. In every breath there is movement. Allowing this to happen, even going with it to find a simpler way to a deeper opening (or, as you put it, "to do what feels good") as part of the process of vinyasa krama, or gradual progression into deeper practice.
On #2: Offering a Vinyasa Flow class variations in asanas is really no different than what happens in a Mysore-stytle class whewre different people are doing different practices. The prmary difference is that in a Flow class it is offered to the entire class (or not!) and guided. One certainly is likely to challenged in any of the six set series in Ashtanga Vinaysa, starting with the "beginning level" Primary series which contains several complex and bio-mechanically questionable asanas, including Marichyasana D and Setu Bandhasana, both notoriously injurious. There's also the added factor of repetitive movement (and thus repetitive stress risks) that arises from doing the exact same sequences of asanas six days per week, which would less an issue for the physically resilient teen yogi's for whom Krishnamacharya designed these sequences that say, your typical Westerner diving into yoga at age 35.
#3. It's been great to see qualities of Iyengar and other styles of yoga seeping into Ashanga Vinyasa over the past 20 years, including the use of props. I suggest no limit to props at all, but rather use them as much as it takes to have a safe sustainable and transformational practice!
#4. Down Dog to Warrior I on that single inhalation is prescribed in Ashtanga Vinyasa is probably the prime suspect is this being among the most sloppily expressed asanas among Ashtanga Vinyasa practitioners: a compromised foundation as the back foot is usually not well established with pada bandha, excessive anterior rotation ofthe pelvis and consequently undue (and unnecessary) pressure on the lumbar intervertebral disks, and limited internal rotation of the back leg... The technique of inhaling the leg up behind from Down Dog and then exhaling the step forward for Warrior I allows the more natural flow of the breath and the more patient set-up for Warrior I.
#5. One can be equally "meditative" or "distracted" doing anything, or any style of yoga. Even the student with gaze to nose and steadily audible Ujjayi breath might be thinking about...who knows! And the students in the flow class, or Gentle Yoga, Power Yoga, Pre-Natal Yoga...so whether one gets off their mat, pauses to sip water, or looks around may or may not reflect their depth of their practice. I certainly encourage "staying with it," meaning to stay on one's mat, the breath a seamless sutra, from Samasthihi to Savasana, regardless of style..
Thank you again for bringing up these questions and sharing!"