LESSENING THE DEMANDS…
The whole idea with Virya yoga was born while I was teaching a group of yoga students in Thailand in 2004. Some were beginners while others had been practicing for quite some time. We were all struggling together, trying to grasp the primary series of Ashtanga Yoga, without being too “unfaithful” to the vision Pattabhi Jois had had. My friend Malin Flinck (who is a naprapath) and I were sitting one evening on the beach, wondering how you could maintain a dynamic flow (such as the one in Ashtanga yoga), yet lessen the demands for beginners? How could you get to know your body in a friendly, curious manner? How could yoga’s various asanas be introduced to beginners without their causing their joints to squeak and complain? And how could you form a type of yoga that allowed advanced students to further develop their practice without injury?
We spoke with the participants in the group and inquired as to they felt was difficult, what they liked, and what they would like more of. Many enjoyed having structured series that you recognize and repeat. (I, myself, also prefer repetitiveness, since yoga becomes more like a meditation in movement.) But we agreed that doing the same thing over and over again could become boring.
So we got some ideas to work with: We wanted the yoga to be dynamic yet accessible to beginners. We wanted muscles to increase in strength and flexibility slowly but surely. We felt that the body’s joints shouldn’t be pressed to their limits, but rather they should be strengthened and prepared for more advanced asanas in a conscious, gradual fashion. We wanted our classes to offer variety and a repetitive series at the same time. Hmm….How exactly does one go about doing that?!
Upon returning home I thought more about it and came up with the idea of constructing a modular system using short, structured series; just like a modular system you can experiment with. Within a certain, defined framework, you can devise and alter your program to suit your students and/or yourself. At this point in time I was introduced to Anusara yoga, and with that the pieces started falling into place. All the ingredients were there: the dynamic way of thinking from Ashtanga, Anusara yoga’s emphasis on biomechanics along with a deeply rooted connection to yogic philosophy (Kashmir Shivaism), my passion for organized systems, inspiration from my past as a dancer, my students’ feedback, and Malin’s “naprapathic” eyes. Now all I had to do was devise a yoga system that would build power and energy, which was safe and fun.
The journey begins
Since this meant organizing and classifying a variation of hatha yoga, it seemed only natural to find a name for this particular yoga system. So deciding a name became the first stop on the journey. The term “virya” turned up time and time again. “Virya” means “power”, “energy”, and “enthusiasm”. In the Yoga Sutras virya is explained as being one of the five fundamental attitudes in life and in yoga. These attitudes are: Shradda – developing the belief that you are on the right path, Virya – the strength and energy to go in the direction you believe to be right, Smriti – developing the mind and reflection, Samadhi – contemplation, and Prajna – the search for higher wisdom.
Afterwards, it was time for the really long part of the journey. To start with, I dove into the enormous number of asanas there were to choose from. Malin and I then looked at what each asana’s purpose was, and which positions that built up to other positions. Eventually we categorized all the asanas into three levels of difficulty (a fourth is in the works). From there it was time to make up the ten separate modules for each level (thirty in all). Finally my dear friends and patient students were called in to act as “guinea pigs” in order to make sure that it really worked.