By Jane Mason
Jane lives and works in India and is part of the yoga.in team. She is trained in vinyasa, hatha, viniyoga and prana vashya yoga, having practised with many teachers and explored different techniques around the world. She is currently completing her 500-hour yoga teacher training as well as training in yoga therapy. Here she shares some tips for yoga teachers who are just starting out, or for those who are looking for inspiring ideas on how to thrive as a yoga teacher.
As a follow-up to Jane’s account of her experiences studying yoga with Vinay Kumar of Prana Vashya in Mysore, she has shared with us her notes of a discussion she had with Vinay on his unique style of yoga which is centred on the breath to bring a heightened consciousness to yoga practice. Vinay is perhaps best known for his popular ‘back bending class’ which all Mysore regulars will have heard a lot about. He spoke to Jane about how he developed his approach to Prana Vashya…
How were you first introduced to yoga?
I was 7 years old and very much impressed with the physical approach of gymnastics. A neighbour of ours took me to a teacher who showed me photos of yoga asanas (postures) and they convinced me that it was gymnastics. It took 2 years of me practicing asanas before I understood that it was not the gymnastics I had been looking for. He then introduced me to pranayama (breath control) and said that there is something beyond the physical aspect. It was then that I started experiencing and getting involved more in yoga.
When did you realise you wanted to dedicate your life to practicing and teaching yoga?
It was when I was 15 or 16. By that time I had a very strong practice of asanas and pranayama. Even though I started with the aim of achieving flexibility, I was drawn to pranayama practice which helped me to create my own sequence, which is now a system of practice. There was a voice in me which always kept me on this path. I was a student in electronics and psychology, but I always heard a voice saying this is not the path, you must practice yoga.
When did you start teaching?
I was 13 years old when I started to teach. My teacher opened a branch for me and introduced me to people of all ages, so all credit goes to him. I also worked as a coach to those participants who represent the state and country in competitions when I was 15.
I wanted something beyond just a physical challenge to come through with my own practice. I felt that there was a need for another element to be included so I wanted to connect the breath with practice so that the influence remains for a longer time. This does not mean performing a lot of asanas but just synchronising these two elements to bring about a major change in the mind. It’s a sequence which will keep the person confident, energetic, healthy and highly energetic. That is what we mean by Prana Vashya, it is the controlling of the prana, which is life force.
You talk about the breath being one of the main components. How is the breath different to other styles of yoga such as ashtanga vinyasa?
Breath can be used in many ways in the practice. In Prana Vashya instead of physical accomplishment of a bandha (energy lock), we follow the breath lock which creates a point of focus within the body. So the main intention is to keep the practitioner focussed throughout the practice and provide him with easy elements to focus on. Each practitioner is asked to breathe and move in a particular way for every half breath, so there is constant attention fixed on the practice and no time for the mind to wander as it is completely engaged in itself.
In our approach of abdominal breathing, we don’t just see the lungs as the part of the body which takes in breath because if the lungs receive the breath, it should be with the support of the ribcage sideways and the abdomen downwards, making space for the lungs to expand, which we explain is a complete breath. If we say breathe in from the abdomen first, we are very sure that the breath won’t reach the abdominal part first – it starts working from the chest and then comes down. We expand the abdomen and create space which would not open if the chest expands completely first. Also, when you move the abdomen continuously, it is not happening independently and has to be influenced by the spine. The lungs can move with the help of the subconscious, but the abdomen cannot do that all the time so there is a constant message from the brain and the spine is influenced by the abdomen moving which will keep you more activated in the spine, with more warmth and more circulation.
You limit the number of people in your classes and teacher training. What are the reasons for this?
We keep it to a maximum of 12 in regular classes and we limit the teachers’ training course to four, to ensure everyone is satisfied. This way I can provide my full attention and they get the maximum amount of knowledge.
Can anybody practice Prana Vashya?
Yes, definitely. Because we observe the practice not in terms of only physical accomplishment but also its effect on the body and the mind, we have variations for any stage of the practice – a beginners to advanced. There are variations within the same series, so even though the sequence is made up of 62 postures, we have 62 variations. Even though there are 12 people in the class, every practitioner will work according to his or her breath capacity, physical capacity and limitations.
What type of student do you want to attract?
We tend to seek practitioners who want to build a personal, consistent, regular practice, not those who want to relax. For these people, yoga in Mysore would not be a good option because we believe that yoga asana practice or pranayama is not for bliss now but for bliss later, so we always say the process should be hard and the effort should be blissful.
If you could give one piece of advice to your students about their yoga journey what would it be?
I would say don’t stop with asana and pranayama alone. Give yourself the time to analyse what is happening, because we believe that asana and pranayama are just the pedals of the bicycle but the bicycle is moving and for you to realise it you have to be in a meditative state. So I would suggest sitting for at least 20 to 30 minutes a day observing how the mind is changing, how consistent it is, and how strong it is.
You conduct some yoga therapy, can you explain what this means to you?
From a very young age I was curious to observe the individual muscles and ligaments of the body and try to observe their capacities. This has helped me work with various people according to their requirements. According to me, therapy means bringing something back to normal – so we try to observe what is missing, what is the cause of any ailments or problems, and we try to work from the source rather than with the symptom.
Your back bending classes have become quite popular with people from different schools attending. What do you think makes it unique?
There are a few reasons for this. People call it ‘back bending class’ because they learn a few advanced postures but this course is actually called ‘back bending and overall flexibility development’ where we have not limited it to just back bending but also work on strengthening. I think something that makes it unique is we try to sequence the practice every day so there will not be a common sequence which the person follows. By observing their energy and capacity in the way they perform the sun salutation, we will tailor their sequence every day and try to break down a few postures which we fix as a goal to be accomplished by the end of the course.
For more information on Prana Vashya Yoga, visit their website.
Images courtesy of Prana Vashya Yoga.