The Difference Between Vinyasa and Ashtanga Yoga

Vinyasa and Ashtanga according to Patanjali
The terms Vinyasa and Ashtanga are derived from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Vinyasa and Ashtanga are different but have similarities, according to the Yoga Sutras.
Patanjali is the sage who lived about 2000 years ago. He compiled with excellent detail in very few words (196 sentences) the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which are divided into four chapters..The first chapter deals with advanced yogis who can attain control over the wandering thoughts of the mind; which is the goal of yoga; union with God/Goddess.In chapter two he explains the eight limbs of yoga or Ashtanga (Ashto=8, Anga=limbs).
The eight steps or limbs work as a ladder which we can use to climb into the state of yoga; union with God.  The body is purified of past actions with the first four steps, so that the last four steps can be practiced with higher states of inner concentration for Self-realization and liberation. A yogi/yogini that attains the goal of yoga becomes enlightened. The temporary pleasures of this world do not interest the yogi/yogini and there is no longer fear of death or doubt in the existence of God/Goddess. The yogi/yogini abides in peace having risen above the delusions of this world.
In the yoga sutras, the term “Vinyasa” is referred to in two sutras from chapter two: according to Ramaswami, a student of Krishnamacharya for 35 years or more.
2.46 is the most famous sutra in the world
2.46 Sthira Sukham Asanam, or: Sitted position should be comfortable and steady.
2.47 prayatna saithily anantasam apattibhyam, or: Effort should be accompanied by smooth breath.

It is from chapter two, that the term Vinyasa refers to the effort of asana with smooth long breath.
Ramaswami explained: Sri T Krishnamacharya had said in his Yoga Makaranda (read it here for free) and also in Yoga Rahasya that full benefits of yogasana cannot be obtained without vinyasas.  Regarding the Yoga Sutra reference it would be about the use of breath in the practice of asanas. The interpretation of the terms in the sutras “sthira, sukha, prayatna saitilya and aananta samapatti” the four paramenters mentioned. These refer to comfort, steadiness, smooth breathing and focus on the breath while practicing asanas which is the way Sri TK taught me vinyasa practice.
Ashtanga refers to the system of eight limbs that yogis/yoginis practice on their path to reach the state of yoga, or liberation.  Vinyasa is the art of utilizing the breath, in deep and smooth ways, as in the “hissing of a serpent” (as Krishnamacharya puts it in his book Yoga Makaranda (honey)) while practicing the asanas or poses of yoga. Vinyasa is also the way in which we enter each pose and come out of it, or as Desikachar would tell us in his book “Health Healing and Beyond”, the process by which the teacher receives the student at the door, takes it to the studio, teaches and then sees the student out to the door again”, the steps we take.  For more on that see comment below on Richard Freeman’s talk.
The Lineage of Vinyasa and Ashtanga
Ashtanga: Sri K Pattabhi Jois coined his style Ashtanga.  His institute, the “Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute” is located in Mysore India, and the way the system is taught is also called “Mysore”. Mysore (as in “my-sore”) in Southern India is the Mecca of Ashtanga and a place of wonder.
The starting point is asanas or poses as this ends the delusions of the mind quickly, coupled with the codes of conduct of the first two limbs of yoga, the yamas and niyamas.  There are 6 series of asanas that grow in difficulty.  The poses are done by breathing deeply and with a strict count, no breath or movement is left to chance.The series are taught individually in a setting where students come to class at their own time and practice their own series.  Teachers come around and adjust students depending on their own individual level.  New poses are given only when the student has mastered what she or he already has.
The poses are practiced using bandhas (internal locks) the hissing of the serpent type of breath and specific looking points (hand, alongside the nose, side etc).  Jois has taught students that the yoga Korunta says, “Oh yogi, do not do yoga without vinyasa”. (note: a book in which he based his system; but that was unfortunately eaten by ants, as the story goes, with no copy left behind)
Once a week there are “led classes” where the teacher leads by counting in and giving the names of the poses in sanskrit.  This is a way to help students learn the proper count. Vinyasa yoga was popularized by Srivatsa Ramaswami a living yoga master and student of Krishnamacharya for a long time, in his book “The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga”. It also has series, although these are called routines. It is done at a much slower pace than Ashtanga yoga and including small resting; corpse pose; when one gets winded or out of breath.  The breathing component is of course key and done in a deep way, with sound.The practices are more integrative than those of Ashtanga, as each practice will not only include asana or poses, but also pranayama (breathing exercises), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), and concentration on one point with singing of mantra.
Yoga taught in America
Ashtanga yoga stays within the tradition. Instructors in most cases tend to be authorized or certified by India (Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute) and stick to the traditional way of teaching it. A teacher will show you the beginning of the first series and you will start from there.  He or She will add poses as you become comfortable with the series and can breathe well in the poses you already have. You will have your own practice from day one and build from there.
It is a vigorous style of yoga that demands focus and dedication, it is practiced 6 times a week with rest on Saturdays and moon days.Vinyasa is a term which has been used in context that differs greatly from the original, there is vinyasa flow, flow, trance, etc, and other terms of the kind.Vinyasa in America is more associated with a practice that flows and never stops with breathing. Some studios add music to it. Also in Vinyasa classes, as taught in America, the instructors create the sequences that are to be taught rather than follow pre-established methods or routines. Yoga classes taught in this way are less structured.

About ~Gurudevi

Gurudevi Ma, Satguru Shri Mahashaktiananda The path of yoga is meant to be practiced as a devotional experience in loving God and the Goddess in all manifestions. In the teachings of yoga a student is a yogi or yogini; man or woman. Spiritual teachers may be referred to as gurudev or gurudevi. I am grateful to my personal guru, Premavatar Paramahansa Yogananda, and other great masters who have assisted me. It is a blessing to practice and teach yoga. Wherever we are, is where we should blossom. God/dess is everywhere." Aum

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