By Matthew Krepps, C-IAYT
At the heart of the Classical system of Hatha Yoga is the principle of Vinyasa Krama.
Utilizing the principle of Vinyasa Krama benefits the student in several important ways: the step by step method of presentation teaches her to continually establish a stable space within which she can clearly experience the breadth of physical and psychological effects generated by the practice. It allows her to gradually discover the edge of what she is currently capable of in relation to the work being done; and this in turn supplies her with the pre-requisite experience for eventually assuming responsibility for what is chosen as practice material, and what is left out or discarded. If the student does not begin to learn to modify practice, to make intelligent changes in relation to the permutations of existence, one of Yoga’s richest gems has been covered over in the foray.
As T.K.V Desikachar says, “developing a practice according to the ideas expressed in the Yoga Sutra is an action referred to as Vinyasa Krama.” (Desikachar, 1999, pg.25) Vinyasa Krama is then the guiding principle that weaves a thread of continuity between modern adaptations of yoga and the classical formats. The prioritization and utilization of the five fundamental techniques - - - asana, vinyasa, pranayama, bandha, and drushti - - - is directed by the underlying concerns that it emphasizes.
The word vinyasa is composed of the prefix “vi” which translates as “in a special way”, and the verb root “nyasa”, which literally means to “place” or “arrange”. (Desikachar, 1999, pg. 25) When we practice vinyasa in the context of postures, we “place” or “arrange” the movements of the body in exact coordination with the breath: “the correct linking of breath and movement is the basis for the whole asana practice”. (Desikachar, 1999, pg.19) When vinyasa is practiced with care, the movements of the large anatomical body subordinate to, and then harmonize with, the movements of the physiological body - - - specifically the respiratory system. We begin yoga practice in the state where these two apparently distinct structures manifest a deep, conscious union in action, where the expansion and deflation of the lungs begins to dictate when all voluntary movement takes place, how long it lasts, its tempo, and its intensity.
The word “Krama” literally means “step”. (Desikachar, 1999, pg. 25). Desikachar also translates it as “gradual”. (Desikachar, 1999, pg. 53). Hence, regardless of whether they are primarily mental/concentrative, or overtly physical, the techniques of yoga are introduced in a series of steps that are directly relative to a particular student - - - or group of student’s - - - physical, emotional, and mental capacities. So, the process of training that constitutes the embodiment of Yogic technique unfolds along a sequenced continuum, arranged in a series of steps that unfold sequentially, and in exact coordination with an inhalation and an exhalation. This continuum includes increasing and decreasing degrees of intensity and complexity, and the steps insure that the learning process does not create instability as the inevitably challenging situations begin to arise.