What is Vinyasa Krama?
Many of you have expressed to me a shift in your practice after coming to vinyasa krama. Not negating the benefits of other schools and approaches but merely stating that the orientation of the tradition on breath and attention over expression and aesthetic has been transformational in your sadhana. This is also my experience. So what exactly is Vinyasa Krama?
Patanjali describes two key paths of yoga sadhana in the Sadhana Padah. The first is kriya yoga consisting of austerities, self study and devotion. The second is Ashtanga yoga. This 8 (Ashta) limbed (anga) path is the foundation for our yoga sadhana and consists of internal and externally oriented ethical observations, postural practice, pranayama, sense withdrawal and ultimately the upper limbs that coordinate to meditation. The Vinyasa Krama tradition blends all of these anga with the touch of a skilled artist: conditioning and preparing their tools, studying each stroke with complete attention, eventually going beyond technique into an experience of grace. In the coming days and weeks we will come back to this path as a point of reference often.
Now let’s look at the term vinyasa krama specifically, first in association with the 3rd anga: asana.
Used generally by many teachers and school this term, Vinyasa, comes from two roots combined:
Visheshah (Vi) means unique or variation
Nyasah (nyasa) which means “within prescribed parameters”
Krama means in steps or in sequence.
So Vinyasa Krama is, generally speaking, the careful placement and variations within practice following an intentional sequence. Many teachers profess this to mean “placing oneself in a special way”…but of course we must go a bit deeper to get at the real meaning…
Going Deeper : into the 4 qualities
The parameters (nyasah) spoken of refer to the classical parameters of yogasana as laid out by Patanjali in the sadhana pada sutra 46 and 47
These two sutras lay the groundwork for the vinyasa krama system offering 4 qualities to attend to in practice: Sthira, Sukha, Prayatna Shaitilya & Ananta Samapattibhyam…
- sthira- steady
- sukha- “good space” indicating a level of ease
- asana- the seat, yoga posture
First Quality is Sthira (STEADINESS). For an asana to qualify as yogasana it must be one where the practitioner can remain steady no matter the orientation of the body (balancing, standing, seated, supine, inverted etc). While there are hundreds of asana and potentially thousands of vinyasas in the teachings, the point is not accumulation but integration. What is necessary is that that brings overall stability and….
The Second Quality is Sukha. Translating directly as “good space” this term indicates the quality of EASE. This distinction is important and does not (necessarily) indicate that all yogasana are meant to be “easy.” As our Acharya, Ramaswami, and his Guru, Krishnamacharya have so beautifully made clear…what makes the posture easeful is not it’s lack of difficulty BUT rather our ability to maintain a sense of calm and relaxation throughout. In the tradition we don’t move mechanically and forcefully into an asana. Rather we coax the body through repetition into a sustainable place with observation of the next two qualities which are described in the next sutra…
- prayatna- effort
- shaithilya- smooth
- ananta- the infinite -or- breath
- samapattibhyam- with complete attention
The third quality is Prayatna shaitilya:
Prayatna means effort. It is important that we understand the RIGHT EFFORT towards which this sutra points. According to the Nyaya, a sibling philosophy, there are generally three types of prayatna. “Pravritti-Nivritti-Jivana Prayatnam”
First is pravrtti prayatna- the efforts we take to get what we want…primarily based on raga (desire). Next is nivrtti prayatna- the efforst we take to get rid of what we don’t want typically governed by dvesa(aversion). While this is happening all the time we may also look at this from a point of the stages of our life. What we accumulate in the pravrtti stage (younger and mid years) often is what we eventually cleanse in the nivrtti stage (later in life as we consider all this impermanence). However there is a third prayatna: JIVANA prayatna. It is this effort of which we are speaking. jivana prayatna is the effort related to Sharira Dharaka (which is another term for prana (the bearer of the body)) and here indicates the effort of THE BREATH or proper yogic effort to maintain life. Another way of looking at this would be to apply “Pravritti-Nivritti-Jivana Prayatnam” to the aspects of breath. Pravrtti to indicate the inhalation (gathering in), Nivritti to indicate exhalation (moving out) and jivana cumulatively the breath as a whole. Both interpretations work well will each other and indicate that the breath is not only for pranayama practice but instrumental in our entire sadhana, hence the influence in Vinyasa Krama.
Shaithilya means smooth. So the effort we exert in yogasana through proper breathing should first have the quality of being smoooooth. Krishnamacharya also emphasized the quality “dirgha” or long. So the breath should be long and smooth. Generally in our waking moments we are breathing around 15 breaths a minute. With these qualities of long smooth breathing we can cut that down drastically, sometimes as little as 2-4 breaths a minute or less. In yogic theory the span of one’s life is governed by the number of breaths we take so the task of bringing that number down (of course without strain) would be of considerable interest to practitioners. And thus the vinyasa krama of the asana should prepare with such skill that in pranayama there is even more ease within the ratio of the breath.
And finally the fourth quality: Ananta + Samapattibhyam.
Ananta means the infinite (hear referring to the BREATH)
Samapatti means with COMPLETE ATTENTION on it.
So Ananta samapatti means that in yogasana our attention, the faculty of the citta, should be completely and ENTIRELY on the breath without interruption. Therefore in vinyasa krama practice we continuously draw our attention back to the prana sthana- seat of prana, described by Sir as the place we feel the first draw of the breath in the heart region. Another meaning of ananta is the infinite, so as we do our practice, bring our attantion back to the breath we go a little deeper in our contempation of that which has no end, no conditions, no dukha…the real self.
These paramaters (nyasa) are unique (vi) from day to day function where the senses are typically expanding outward. Here the body through the quality of sthira and sukha, the breath through jivana prayatna and the mind through ananta samapatti all join together in the practice. This organization of body,breath,mind are the logical and truly beautiful preparation for our seated practices of pranayama and dharana. Therefore vinyasa does not just mean movement with breath…we have to be more discerning.
Finally Krama. As seen above Krama means “IN SEQUENCE.” Therefore we move from simple to complex in our movements. We work with the breath as means of maintaining the above qualities. Krama does not just mean a sequence of postures. Krama is indicative of the way we move intelligently and skillfully within asana and between asana towards stillness. In the vinyasa krama methodology of Krishnamacharya this is characterized by often moving in and out of a particular asana from the sthiti (preparatory) position to the purna (full expression) several times (Sir suggests 3-6x) with attention on the breath (and other qualities above) before settling in. Additionally the krama is characterized by unique pratikriya (or counter positions) so that the body is equally addressed.
Krishnamacharya called yoga a sarvanga sadhana meaning that all (sarva) parts of the body (anga) are equally addressed. (Another way of seeing this is that yoga is not only ONE limb of the 8 described by Patanjali and Yajnavalkya but that all limbs are to be included; all areas of our living are addressed with care to reduce the faulty associations and their results). By following the vinyasa krama system we kindly and compassionately prepare our body/mind complex to go deeper in to what yoga really is.
Here we can also see how the two roots (Yuja and yuj) of yoga “to unite” and “absolute peace of mind” are present in this system. As Sir writes:
By using breath as a harness, vinyasa krama yoga integrates body and mind and so is the yoga of union. And because the mind follows the breath, the mind is made part of the whole process and achieves an elevated level of mental peace (samadhana). Thus the undercurrent of peace and joy is established permanently~Srivatsa Ramaswami, Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga
Finally I leave you with this lovely account on the word “vinyasa” from Krishnamacharya’s daughter Shubha, a beautiful teacher and devotee.
See you tomorrow 🙂