The Art & Science of Vinyasa Krama Yoga
Authentic & Traditional Yoga
Vinyasa Krama is an authentic method of learning Hatha Yoga in the Krishnamacharya lineage of teaching. Krishnamacharya was a Vedic scholar, Ayurvedic healer, and Yoga master. He believed yoga was India’s greatest gift to the world and used this ancient wisdom to serve the present and the future.
He didn't blindly follow traditional teachings, he had the capacity to honor tradition and teach it in an appropriate and relevant way to an individual student but also to discard those teachings that were no longer applicable. This is the essence of Vinyasa Krama Yoga and its relevance to the modern world. This yoga did not encourage life-denying asceticism, instead, it encouraged modern yogis to be engaged with the world.
Yoga For The Three Stages of Life
One of Krishnamacharya longest standing students outside of his only family was Srivatsa Ramaswami who studied with Krishnamacharya for 33 years. From the age of 15-48. The teachings Ramaswami received changed throughout his life. As a young boy, he practiced strong asana with vinyasa, difficult postures with lifts & jump throughs. This was all to help his body develop in a balanced way with flexibility and strength. There was also, some basic pranayama, meditation, and chanting to develop concentration and aid learning.
In mid-life he practiced some asana to restore and maintain health. Especially inversions,paschimatasna and maha mudra, and staying in postures for a long time. They practiced lots of pranayamas together.
Ramaswami said that as his teacher got older he noticed that his teacher's practice became intensely devotional. There was still some asana but it was simple. In their last days together Krishnamacharya and Ramaswami would chant devotional mantras together.
I have had the good fortune to do my teacher training with Stephen Brandon of Harmony yoga who is one of Srivatsa Ramaswami's senior students. I have also attended many training workshops with Srivatsa Ramaswami and endeavor to share their teachings with you so that you may receive the many benefits of yoga.
Vinyasa Yoga is different from Western Sports Exercise.
Yoga is holistic for physical, mental, and spiritual health. It is sarvanga sadhana exercise for all parts of the body, ensuring the correct circulation of the blood, lymph, and life energy or prana. All, the muscles and joints of the body are exercised in a balanced way. According to my teacher, the heart should not be strained. So even while you practice yoga asana the heart rate should not increase significantly. This is different from sports exercise.
Yoga exercises the heart without strain.
The heart is contained within a muscular sac the pericardium the yogis call it at a kosa meaning bag. They believe that with age the bag drops due to gravity. This is how we age and grow old. They devised a unique series of exercises to try and correct and prevent ‘bag sag’. Namely, inverted postures.
Also, they wanted to exercise the heart without strain. By increasing the venous blood return to the heart the heart pumps with more force sending the fresh oxygenated blood around the body. In western medicine, this is known as Starling’s Law. Vinyasa Krama increases the venous return. By doing numerous vinyasa movements more deoxygenated blood is wrung out of the muscular tissue and sent into the venous system & the heart rate is kept slow but the heart pumps more efficiently. Combined with slow deliberate ujjayi breathing enhances the effect.
Therefore, yoga practice with numerous vinyasa’s squeeze out ‘bad’ deoxygenated blood and slow deliberate breathing sucks more fresh blood into the heart so that every time the heart pumps it pumps more blood, improving the circulation and detoxification of all the tissues.
Compare this with aerobic exercise, where blood circulation improves but due to faster working of the heart and lungs. According to yogis this is inefficient and strains the heart. Also, an aerobic workout increases the metabolism, in Vinyasa Krama the metabolism increase is minimal as there is an efficient use of energy. The yogi, therefore, requires less food and less sleep.
The Yogis with long & healthy lives.
The breathing rate is slowed in the Vinyasa Krama Yoga practice. five seconds inhale and five seconds exhale give a breathing rate of roughly 5-6 breaths per minute, compared with normal breathing of about 15 breaths per minute. Pranayama furthers slows the breathing rate, The yogis considered this advantageous to reduce the breath rate, because they believe we are born with a certain number of breaths in a lifetime. The fewer breaths we use up the longer we live. They desired to have long lives of at least 100 years because this was considered the required length of time to be able to achieve their spiritual goal of self-realization.
The breath is the link between the body and the mind.
The breath is the link between the body and the mind. The mind is like a wild horse and can be brought under control by using the body and breath as the two reins. So that there is the integration of body, breath, and mind.
When the mind is anxious the breathing is rapid and shallow and the body becomes stiff and tense. When the breathing is smooth and deep the body is more likely to be relaxed and the mind calm and peaceful.
The yogic breathing technique of ujjayi breath allows us to maintain a mental focus on the sound of the breath during asana as well as develop compassion towards oneself during yoga practice. Once conscious awareness of the breathing is lost because of overstretching the body then we lose the state of yoga and the integration of body, breath, and mind.
The perfection of a yoga posture is attained by making the breath smooth and long with the attention focussed on the breath.
Practicing asana with variation (Vinyasa)
Vinyasa means variation in movement. Ramaswami details over 700 Vinyasas in his Complete Book of Vinyasa Krama Yoga. By practicing classic asana with vinyasa it is possible to obtain asana siddhi in that posture. That is perfection or steady and comfortable posture.
The 10 Key Sequences of the Vinyasa Krama System.
For the purpose of learning the Vinyasas, they are presented in 10 core sequences with each sequence containing a classic yoga posture. The sequences are:
1. On your feet sequence (tadasana )
2. Asymmetric seated sequence (maha mudra)
3. Seated posterior stretch sequence (pascimatasana)
4. On one leg sequence (bhagiratasana)
5. Supine sequence (sarvangasana)
6. Bow pose sequence (dhanurasana)
7. Triangle pose sequence (Virabhadrasana)
8. Inverted posture sequence (sirsasana)
9. Meditative pose sequence (vajrasana)
10. Lotus pose sequence (padmasana)
There is an 11 sequence containing unusual postures including the sun salutation.
The art form of constructing a yoga practice which is relevant and appropriate for you (Krama).
The vinyasas within each sequence have an intelligent order. It's not a random practice where you just practice the postures that you feel like doing. Often the posture we are most resistant to doing is the very posture which will unlock patterns of dysfunctional movement and tension. The krama allows the body to gradually open as vinyasa are arranged in progressive order of difficulty.
The sequencing is also flexible so that you can practice different postures every day so regular practice is enjoyable.
An action that restores balance to the body or the mind to ensure that we don't accumulate stress in the system. Simply put I counter forward bending movements with back bending movements. I don't just repeat the same movements over again. Compare this with the exercise of jogging, with its repetitive movement of a few joints. Cycling where the cyclist very often has massive leg muscles, tight hamstrings, and a skinny upper body, the effort has not been balanced.
Yoga is a peaceful exercise.
These are exercises for yogis. Peaceful exercise where the yogi could be independent. He didn't require sports equipment and ultimately wanted to be free of health care systems. He wanted to live a long healthy life and realize the true nature of the self. He didn't want to end up in a retirement home. For us the same is still applicable I am taking responsibility for my health. I can tie my shoelaces up when I get old and get in and out of the bath etc. Krishnamacharya lived to 101 and was still teaching until his last breath.