Vinyāsa Krama Mandiram
Vinyāsa – Movement for the Body
Krama – Stages of Development for the Mind
Mandiram – Home – Spaciousness of Spirit
VKM Core Principles
- Individual – Vinyasa Krama is Yoga tailored for individuals – sequences that are scaled and modified for students with any physical condition. Students learn sequencing as a model for exploration rather than a goal to be reached. This enables all Vinyasa Krama teachers to help a huge variety of students with different rates of learning. One claim we make on VK teaching is that we are able to teach more students than other Vinyasa methods – as neither age nor ability is a barrier.
- Inclusivity – This means that potentially any sequence, tradition or practice can be used under the VK umbrella. The VK method encompasses all possible physical activities including strength and conditioning, cardiovascular and aerobic fitness, use of weights, props and other devices.
- Self Practice – rather than focusing on Led classes where the teacher will often teach what he or she is best at, we focus on self practice so the emphasis is on student maturity and learning / experiencing at your own pace. Self practice is the key to all other aspects of Yoga – Pranayama, meditation, and self inquiry. A key point we make is the importance of not relying on only one technique, sequence or tradition – the technique or tradition is the map, not the territory. A Self Practice teacher guides and encourages; he or she has to be objective and able to provide time, space and feedback. Self Practice class sizes are also generally limited in order to give individual attention.
- Pranayama – VK breathing techniques are comprehensive, taught over a period of time, in a step by step manner, via self practice. Students learn based on commitment and ability, and are assessed as to whether each technique is appropriate. As most Pranayama classes are taught in a group format, this comes with some significant problems. That is, a lack of individual guidance, plus the tendency to teach more advanced techniques (Kumbhaka for example) before a student knows how to breathe properly and without effort.
- Self Inquiry – we explore self awareness in the context of our relationships to others. This key aspect of integrating Yoga, Self and relationships is usually overlooked or even abused by many teachers, Yoga or otherwise. A teacher / student relationship must be ethical first, and technical second. It is personal and therefore requires a clear mind and open heart.
- Meditation – we also focus on the big picture, continually returning to the spaciousness of the natural, effortless, non-dual self. The techniques are simply pointing at the same universal truth every time – I am that.
The term Vinyasa Krama, otherwise known as ‘moving by numbers’, is the tradition of practicing asana in a flowing sequence connected harmoniously by the breath. Krama means ‘a step’ or ‘in stages.’ It also means to learn the postures one by one, observing the correct order.
Vinyasa Krama was also a phrase used by Professor T. Krishnamacharya to convey two different, though complementary approaches. The first he called Vinyasa Chikitsa, a therapeutic method of movement providing the steps needed to accomplish an Asana – as dictated by your individual constitution. The second he called Vinyasa Shakti, a method by which he counted numbers to a group so they could follow the movement patterns precisely and consistently. The first method is about tailoring the practice to suit the individual. The second is about fitting the individual to the practice. Both have possible drawbacks and advantages.
The five sequences displayed in my book (of the same name) are interconnected asana practices in increasing order of difficulty. Vinyasa Krama is also my attempt to provide useful and interesting Asana variations to practitioners and teachers of any tradition, age or ability. These flowing sequences, guided by the quality of your breath, will bring balance to your regular practice, particularly if it has become stale, painful, or incomplete in some way. They will inspire and guide your practice to new heights, bringing fresh light and awareness to each and every moment.
The development of these sequences has been ongoing for more than twenty years and through the participation of many students each sequence has been organised into the comprehensive format that is presented in my book, DVD and booklets. Each of these are available as digital downloads from the online store. Teachers and students alike can adapt and use the sequences to suit their particular needs. To develop these sequences adequately requires discipline and self awareness – to be learned properly they should be taught by a qualified instructor.
The system of Yoga is not static. There are as many methods of Yoga as there are practitioners of Yoga. In offering these sequences to the general public I do so with the understanding that once in the public sphere they are going to be re-arranged. They will evolve and change with each new student who attempts them, just as they have evolved and changed to suit my own growth and the growth of many students that I have taught. The variations in Asana and Vinyasa practice that I am conveying reveal just some of the wonderful possibilities that your Yoga practice can have. Try to balance this creativity with commitment and consistency.
Combining Ashtanga Yoga with Vinyasa Krama
Developing your Asana practice with Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga does not usually follow a straight line. The traditional sequences are usually taught one by one, and the postures one by one in the order you practice them. It is obvious that due to both body types and other conditions some postures are easier and some are harder, but never exactly in the standard order you practice them. For example, for many students the postures in the middle of the Primary Series, such as Marichyasana D, are harder. For some, the back bending postures at the end are harder, and for others the jump backs are the hardest. So the question is, how effective is it to teach the postures in a strict order? If different body types and other factors mean we integrate the postures in a different order and at different rates, is it best, or even possible, for all students to learn in a standard way? If not, what variations are acceptable?
Of course most of us accept that there is a general standard to the Primary series: the order of the postures, the Vinyasa between postures, how to breathe and where to look. This standard necessitates teaching the sequencing by following the basic order. The question is by how much?
My professional stance is that when you practice Ashtanga Yoga you should make a fair attempt to do those sequences without variations within them. Rather than altering the sequence as it is, it is preferable to add a whole new sequence.
Chandra Krama: The Moon Sequence
In practicing Ashtanga Yoga your attention will gradually move from gross to subtle. You will tend to feel the physical aspects of your body first, and then eventually, with ongoing practice, feel the more subtle aspects of your body.
The slower you move, all the way to sitting still in meditation, the more subtle is your awareness. The faster you move, the more gross your awareness. However, when doing a faster Vinyasa practice you move energy and tend to release physical blockages more readily. This leads to greater ease in the body.
A balance to the demands of the Surya based Ashtanga is to regularly practice meditation and to practice a softer, gentler Asana practice from time to time. I consider Chandra Krama (or something like it) to be essential for all Ashtanga practitioners, men and women. This sequence will help you rebalance energetically, psychologically and physically. In particular, as over 80% of Ashtangis are women, the need for a sequence that is focused on menstruation, ovulation and the phases of the moon is absolutely necessary.
The Moon Sequence takes pressure off the shoulders and upper body (evidence of the Rajasic elements of the Ashtanga practice) particularly for students who work too much, or too soon on the jump throughs and jump backs. It places more emphasis on the lower body, the hips, and a soft and stable abdomen.
The heating basis of Ashtanga Yoga, in conjunction with the attempt to practice six days per week is inappropriate for most women. It may also be inappropriate for many men, at least long term. This may be a hard thing for some practitioners to accept, nevertheless it is true. Two hours of Ashtanga Yoga, six days per week can cause too much weight loss and can also aggravate joint stability due to repetitious strain. For women, excessive practice can disrupt your menstrual cycle and can add to difficulty having children. Even if the latter is not what you want, an intensive Asana practice without a sequence like Chandra Krama will usually lead to some kind of imbalance, physically or otherwise.
The Moon Sequence is intended to help awareness of the cycles of the Moon and encourage your intuitive faculty. It is not intended to entirely replace your Ashtanga practice, or any other practice for that matter, rather to enhance and balance your weekly routine.
Simha Krama: The Lion Sequence
I tend to teach a student Simha Krama if I have determined that the Ashtanga Intermediate Series is too hard or simply inappropriate, particularly when more than a few of the postures are not possible. This has proven to be a confronting message for some students to hear, but is always beneficial in the long term. You may have trouble letting go of a sequence or practice because of your belief that it is right. You may be holding on to the goal rather than seeing what is needed. Try listening and acting upon what is appropriate.
For some students the Intermediate Series may not work, but this does not mean abandoning the Ashtanga Yoga practice entirely. Neither should you try and push through at all costs. Practice Ashtanga Yoga regularly and allow alternatives. Include both and you will have a smoother journey.
From the teaching point of view it is not efficient or kind to force a student to stay with the Primary Series for their whole life, because they are incapable of successfully doing Intermediate.
For some students the Primary Series may be inappropriate long term. Sometimes because of damage to the wrists or shoulders (making Suryanamaskara and the Jumps inadvisable) or because of fused vertebra in the lower lumbar, or lapsed and herniated discs, or chronic sciatica, making most or all forward bends inadvisable. In such cases I have taught the Lion Sequence instead of Primary and instead of Intermediate.
I also do not teach the Lion Sequence to students just on the asking. Generally there are two pre-requisites to learning this sequence – learning and committing to the Moon Sequence first, and in most cases learning some or all of the Primary Series. If the latter proves inappropriate I do not make it a necessity. In practical terms this usually means I need to get to know a student over a two year period before the Lion Sequence becomes appropriate.
The Lion Sequence, although therapeutic in some areas, is also an Intermediate level practice, which means establishing your basic Primary level Asana and stability first. Having said that, I greatly enjoy teaching this sequence and look forward to doing so even more in future.
In my opinion all long term Yoga practitioners need to be doing at least either two or three sequences in their regular weekly routine. These three sequences should cover all major areas of the physical body and at least touch on some of the areas of the subtle body and mind. It does not matter what or where these sequences come from. It matters that they work for you.
One of the most fascinating things about this process is the inclusion and balance between the traditional Ashtanga practice and offering alternatives as necessary. It is a delicate balance, and I have learned to offer my opinions on what is appropriate, and also to listen to my student’s opinions more and more. It is a co-created process.