Written for the IFY Journal (2023)

Adaptation (viniyoga)

by Lina Franco Morrison (2023)

Adaptation is one of the characteristics of the Yoga taught by the Institut Français de Yoga (French Institut of Yoga), inspired by the teaching of T.K.V. Desikachar, whom Martyn Neal, IFY yoga teacher, talks about in the tribute he wrote to him in September 2016. Lina Franco Morrison, an IFY yoga teacher, shares with us her views on what adaptation in yoga means.

Adaptation (viniyoga) is the idea of an appropriate use of techniques in light of a maximum amount of information gleaned through observing and listening.

What does adapting mean? In yoga, more specifically when we are talking about postural and breathing techniques, it means adjusting, modifying and sometimes harmonising one’s behaviour with new situations.  Adaptation indicates an action but also a faculty, that is an individual’s ability to change what has been acquired, what is known, either about technique (‘our’ knowledge) or our way of acting (‘our’ experience).

Why change? To take a different approach, integrate what up to now has been inaccessible, unknown or that we are not used to. Adaptation seeks harmonisation between old and new. Between the known and the unknown. Between the possible and what is perceived as impracticable, inapplicable or unfeasible. On the mat, there is no place for what Spinoza called ‘the frictionless body’, friction with limits, constraints, disturbances or passions. Practice teaches us to confront the mat, adapting (accommodare) as much as the nature of things demands (quantum rerum natura exigit).¹ As much as the situation and the individual’s nature require.

All adaptations are fuelled by precise observation and careful listening. They can be considered to be an upāya,² that is a tool or method for getting closer, arriving, managing to clarify false perceptions, defeat resistance and overcome refusals, in short get moving again whatever is blocked at a deep level and also question established habits, those of both students and teachers. What is at stake is much more than an appropriate application of techniques, for in the very fact of starting from where you are then ‘walking, going’ differently the possibility of a profound transformation of the being comes into play. 

Adaptation does not happen episodically but rather by stages. When we apply it we mark out a pathway of accompaniment and progression which is called Viniyoga.³ It is undoubtedly over the long term that the two aspects of upāya – adaptation and progression – reveal their true treasures: awareness opening up to letting go, thanks to which whatever was weighing down the yogin drops away.  The veils part then drop, returning a new clarity to awareness.

¹ YS, II 26 vivekakhyātiḥ aviplavā hānopāyaḥ : Upāya, from the root I– ‘to go, to walk, to start moving, to reach, to arrive at…’; the word means ‘tool, way, strategy, remedy…’ and also ‘term, arrival’.  The prefix upā, which indicates ‘a situation or a movement towards’ precedes the noun aya : ‘the fact of going, walking’.

² YS, III 6.

³ YS, III 6.