january spotlight on: one by one (vinyasa)

In the Ashtanga yoga tradition, each asana, or pose, is learned one by one. Each pose builds on the next, and then over time, maybe even years, through discipline and hard work and early mornings and self-doubt, you’ve built a practice, an experience.

Last summer, my teacher stood by as I was in the final poses of my daily practice, and said to me, without much fanfare, “Okay, it’s time. You’re ready. Let’s move you on to the Intermediate Series.” My eyes boggled. “Really?” I said, equally earnest and skeptical. He smiled and shrugged. “Don’t get so worked up. Just one pose today.” And that’s how we learn: one by one.

Vinyasa yoga, as we know it, is best described as “flow” yoga, where movements are linked together by breath, and each movement transitions right into the next. (Modern day Vinyasa yoga classes are directly based on the Ashtanga tradition). Translated from Sanskrit, vinyasa means “to place in a special way, step by step.” Although it seems a Vinyasa practice constitutes the flowy movement as a whole, it’s not just one practice, but it’s all the poses, each experience so far, that lead us to this moment and our understanding of it.

You celebrate your birthday every year, every 365 days. But it’s not just the day before your birthday that makes it your birthday, it’s every day that came before it. And in this way, the path of life mirrors the path of yoga. One by one, step by step, breath by breath, makes wholeness, completeness. Observe lyrics from the aptly titled Wilco song, “One By One:”

One by one my hair is turning gray
One by one my dreams are fading fast away
One by one I read your letters over
One by one I lay them all away

One by one I hear the soft words that you whispered
One by one I feel your kisses soft and sweet
One by one I hope you’ll say the words to marry
One by one to one by one forever be.

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