Our Danielle LaRock travelled to Mysore, India, in early 2015 to deepen her practice and study under Vinay Kumar – the yogacharya who conceived the Prana Vashya (“PV“) series, an intense sequence of asanas where there is a strong focus on maintaining the rhythm of breath.
The PV series utilises Kumbhakas (breath locks) in certain movements while performing asana and vinyasa, which results in a powerful and dynamic effect that develops intense stamina physically, physiologically and psychologically.
This teacher is there for me all the way, in all ways. He has truly inspired me just by being who he is and living his life with purpose and integrity. Because of him, I feel like I can fully appreciate the gift of my Prana, my life force, and my Vashya, the ability with which I harness it. – Danielle
My Prana Vashya Experience – by Danielle LaRock
I walk in to the small grey concrete shala (Sanskrit for “house” i.e. yoga studio) after stepping somewhat ungracefully off the back of a motorbike. Removing my sandals at the threshold, I enter a small office, with a desk, a padded bench. Behind the desk, I notice a large cabinet filled with trophies and medals, that despite the collection in it, is quite unassumingly set back behind the desk. One of the quiet Indian men there politely offers me a seat and said the teacher will be here in a moment. I inspect the poster of the Prana Vashya primary series. It is very similar to the Ashtanga Vinyasa Primary Series I had been practicing over the last several years, with a few poses (Marichyasana D, thank God!) omitted and a few poses added and in a slightly different order. I feel like I had a pretty good handle on it after reviewing it a few times, and then set it down as another man walks in.
When he greets me, I almost am not sure this is the teacher. He is young man. But that is not why. For some reason, I pictured an Indian yoga teacher as a formidable force, someone who may be strict and aloof, or float six inches above the ground. The man who speaks to me does not strike me as that. He is warm and welcoming. I even, in my nervousness, ask him what his name is, and he politely answers, as any person on the street would, that his name is Vinay Kumar. I feel instantaneously included and cared for by him as he gives me an overview of the month-intensive course I signed up for and listens intently as I share my background with yoga and how my body is feeling. When I walk out of the office and back to my room at the guesthouse, I have a sure knowing that I have made a great choice of who to help me deepen my yogic studies.
I could not comprehend at that moment how much that man would change my life.
The first class kicked my a**. I had been traveling for a few months prior and had not been practicing regularly. Even though I had still been active, running and doing a practice a few times a week, it was a whole other level taking a led class with Vinay. The sequence flows smoothly, but quickly, with a certain breath pattern. During some movements we hold our breath and I know I was gasping at certain points. It certainly did not help that I was getting over a sinus infection. And the heat was wicked. I’ve done Bikram yoga a few times, and that is hot, but in this class my mat was a pool of sweat.
By the time we got to pranayama (breath control), I only had one nostril working well. However, Vinay was great at teaching the new students who had arrived in a steady way. We started out that first day with simpler breathing techniques and more breaks. It went pretty well and I did find moments of focus, when I was not thinking about how am I going to breathe out of just the left side of my nose and what I was going to order for breakfast right after class.
After pranayama and my amazingly awaited brunch, I went back to the shala for the 2:30pm backbending class. Once again, my butt was kicked, but again in a different way than I have experienced from yoga in the past. This class was also methodical, with an inherent understanding of the human body in his teaching, with a different intensity than the morning flow. We would do certain back bending postures four times, five breathes each, with a break in between. Vinay would walk around giving each student specific poses to do based on their physical ability. By the end, I felt like a good tuckered wet noodle.
Over the coming weeks, I experienced a whole gamut of thoughts, emotions, and physical experiences. There were days I would look at the clock in the hopes we were near the end. For a week I had to modify nearly every pose due to an intensely tightened muscle in my left leg. Some of my fellow students and I would greet each other mutely at the gate of the shala in the mornings, because we were happy to be there and at the same time felt a sense of foreboding of the next several hours of our lives.
I also had some of the most enlightening experiences of my life thus far…
One time I got very emotional and started crying before pranayama. During the practice, it sometimes would bring up an intense fear in me, and that day, it was really overcoming me before we even began. Vinay spoke to the whole class with our eyes closed. Thank God, because if he had come up to me personally I would have just cried more. He spoke kindly and clearly about “allowing our inner Nature to be in charge and not allowing the emotions and external experiences run us.” Somehow, in one instant, I felt my Higher Self take over. It was the only way I was going to be able to do this. I felt an extreme sense of peace, space, and observance, even as I still was sniffling. It’s a state I have experienced several times since and it is always an amazing gift. He helped me prove to myself what he embodied and taught to all of us: that a teacher is there for the student to help them find the teacher within.
During one back bending practice, I was feeling particularly down in the dumps. I cannot recall why I was in this state. I do vividly remember the feeling during our warm up twists that I just wanted to run out the door and not come back. But through the practice, that intense emotion lessened its grip on me slightly. I just kept listening to what Vinay would tell me to do, did it, and went on to the next pose. Eventually, he told me to stand up and do back bends on my feet (leaning back as far as I could). Then, totally unexpected to me, he said, “OK, now drop back.”
I totally did not think I was ready. But he assisted me and I trusted him completely. When my hands touched the mat, I felt the most intense surge of empowerment I had felt in a long time. I left that class walking on air, so excited to come back for more. Talk about complete and instant transformation.
I could go on and on about what I learned while practicing with Vinay. All that I learned about myself, my True Self, my body, my mind, my breathe, my yoga postures, and what I am capable of. I could go on and on about Vinay and his qualities as a teacher and a human being—someone so humble, so inclusive, and so sweet, while at the same time so powerful, so tough, so wise, and so not going to let you get away with anything.
Really, there is one story that could sum up what kind of person and teacher Vinay Kumar is. One Prana Vashya practice, I was clipping along merrily, keeping up with the breath pretty well and moving well in and out of the poses. At one point though, I went through a transitional pose and my mat wrinkled up in the back. “Oh, well,” I thought, “I’ll fix it my next go round.” When I got to the next round, it was flat again. I didn’t give it much thought, maybe it just fixed itself. A few poses later, my foot caught my mat, and it rolled up again. Vinay was walking around the room, counting the breath clearly and steadily, giving each student precise and pose transformative cues as he did every day. As he walked by my mat, without missing a beat in the teaching, he takes his toes around the edge of my mat and flattens it for me.
Maybe that is the simplest act and does not seem like much. But that act made me want to cry again; this time with tears of gratitude. This teacher is there for me all the way, in all ways. He has truly inspired me just by being who he is and living his life with purpose and integrity. Because of him, I feel like I can fully appreciate the gift of my Prana, my life force, and my Vashya, the ability with which I harness it. My practice of Prana Vashya is a physical reminder of my choice to live a fulfilled and empowered life as the powerful and loving being I truly am.
Please visit http://www.pranavashya.com/ for more information on Vinay Kumar and Prana Vashya yoga.