Ready for take-off!
Vyayam (vee-uh-YAHM) is a breath-infused whole-body system of movement that develops mobility, coordination, respiratory function, alacrity of mind and lightness of body. Physically, we focus on opening, lubricating, and heating the joints, on maintaining the ability to move gracefully in any direction, including reaching, twisting, squatting, bending over, standing up and sitting down, and developing a strong sense of balance, both physically and mentally. Energetically, a major aim of the practice is learning to move the body from the breath. This differs from simply coordinating movement with the breath. Connecting the practitioner to the subtle energy currents within their own bodies, and eventually learning to direct these energies through mental efforts alone is a major reason to take up the practice.
Vyayam builds functional strength, mobility, coordination and balance
Vyayam develops the qualities you you need to function optimally in daily life. As humans, we don't walk around in straight lines and right angle alignment like robots. We perform a wide range of complex, coordinated movements such as walking, sitting, hurrying, lifting, pushing, pulling, bending, twisting, turning, standing, starting, stopping, balancing, lunging, and so on. All of these activities involve mostly smooth, non-linear, concurrent motions in multiple directions. The practice of Vyayam hones the coordinated working relationship between the mind, the nervous system, the muscles, and the breath that is needed to execute daily activities effectively, safely, and gracefully, without wasted energy. Take a look at the video to get a feel for what Vyayam can be like:
Vyayam Develops Concentration, Coordination, and Spontaneity
Just as in life, the practice includes concentration, coordination, different types of muscular contractions (concentric, eccentric, isometric), changes in the speed of movement (from stillness to rapid), and variations in the amount of effort required. A major goal of Vyayam is to establish an inner stillness and concentration in movement that remains in place at all times, no matter what challenges come your way. Learning to continuously use the breath to infuse the movements and modulate your energy to match the feeling and intent of each form creates a flow-like "in the now" experience that directly translates to your other activities. The practice of Vyayam does not require a mat any more than your life does.
What is the origin of Vyayam?
Vyayam may be thought of as a bio-energetic form of exercise that uses fairly simple dance-like forms to connect practitioners with the subtle internal energies. It is derived from the ancient Indian arts of internal power (chi gung in Chinese) from which the more well-know martial arts of China, Korea, and Japan originated.
Why is the breath so emphasized in Vyayam? Yoga postulates an integrated breath:energy:mind connection where a change in any one of these ripples through to the others. We learn to control the breath to control the mind, which is easier for most people than controlling the mind directly. While most studio yoga classes mention the breath, most of the talk and action is about anatomical positioning. In a vyayam session, there is less talk, more concentration, and much more attention to maintaining specific breathing patterns. The breath is, of course, our main source of energy, so many of the movements themselves are designed to emphasize opening and building up the breathing apparatus, addressing the lungs, pleura, and diaphragm, and releasing the tension in the ribs and upper back that restrict optimal breath function.
How is Vyayam different from Tai Chi? While both systems emphasize slow, flowing movements, there are significant differences. Central to Vyayam are techniques of pranayama, a practice foreign to Tai Chi. Vyayam also modulates the speed and amount of force used in movements in order to physically strengthen the body. Most forms of Tai Chi that are popular today, on the other hand, do not employ breath techniques, nor do they build strength in the body or vary the speed of movement. The movements of Vyayam are also considerably simpler and easier to learn. Although there are set forms, students learn to tune in to their own energy signature to direct the flow.