Vinyasa krama and sequencing

Having enjoyed my first session with Andrea Kwiatkowski at BWY Congress 2010, and then having been on two of her yoga retreats in Lincolnshire, I was very excited that she was coming near to Aberystwyth (near being a relative term here, Shrewsbury being only 2 hours away on a direct train), for an IST day on sequencing for yoga teachers.

And the day did not disappoint.

Mala beads
Image CC by vociferous on flickr

The sequencing relates to ‘vinyasa krama’, which translates as the orderly placement of a succession of stages/sequence of events, or the succession of changes undertaken with a single intention (Gannon & Life, 2002, p. 143). The krama can relate to the whole yoga class (beginning, middle and end seen as one sequence), as well referring to separate sequences that may be included in a yoga class. The keys to a beneficial vinyasa krama are the breath, the intention, and paying attention (or being involved with each moment). Andrea described a sequence as being like a string of beads on a mala: each bead is a moment (or asana), and the string (or breath) links moments together.

Thinking outside the yoga class, vinyasa krama could also refer to life: a sequence of events, some of which we pay attention to, and other bits which happen without us noticing much. As yogis we’re trying to be more conscious of each moment.  By concentrating on each breath, each moment, we are more likely to reach the desired result (unity) because we have been able to transcend distractions and negative mental qualities.

Perhaps one of the most well known sequences in yoga is the sun salutation (surya namaskar). It’s very easy to do this sequence without thinking. Andrea led us through various different versions and I particularly enjoyed the one using a very regular and consistent length to the inhale and exhale, and it revealed that I often short-change myself of a decent inhale. Andrea explained that sometimes a yoga student should focus more on the breath in a sequence than straining to do the full posture – the breath reveals resistance and a modified position would be more beneficial allowing the breath to be maintained. Andrea also advocates practising with a metronome to get familiar with using a steady and consistent breath. Why is it important to keep a unified breath? Because through a steady and unified breath, the mental state can change.

To help us learn about how to design an effective vinyasa krama we worked in groups to create a short one which we each then had to teach to one other person. It was more challenging than most of us appreciated! Sticking to two or three poses in a sequence when planning one for the first time would be best. The transitions between postures are also very important. As is the intention of the sequence: is there a physical focus (twists, forward bends), or it is restorative, relaxing etc.

The whole day was really informative and enjoyable. Andrea very generously gave plenty of handouts and time for discussion. I really enjoyed the physical session in the morning where Andrea led us through various sequences in kneeling, standing, prone, backbend and seated positions. She also explored the use of music to help with a sequence.

If you are interested in the theory of sequencing and viynasa krama there is more information in a chapter in Jivamukti Yoga by Sharon Gannon and David Life (2002) including many sequences and better explanation than mine of the importance of the breath in the vinyasa krama.

If you want to see more of Andrea Kwiatkowski, she will be at the BWY Congress in April 2012, the London Yoga festival in June 2012, and also teaching her UK retreat in July 2012 (which I cannot go to because I’m going to a friend’s wedding – typical how things clash).

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