This article was written by Srivatsa Ramaswami and is reproduced here with his kind permission:
Krama and Karma: both the words come from the root kr to do. While karma in general refers to action, krama usually indicates an orderly way or method of doing a karma or action. Anything done in a proper way would be krama karya/karma .The word akrama, the opposite of krama is also used very commonly in India. Akrama would indicate anything done in a disorderly or unlawful, unjust, unacceptable way.
Sri Krishnamacharya used the word krama in several contexts. The most well known usage of krama is in the term vinyasa krama. It is a method of doing yoga using vinyasas, or variations, in several well known asanas. In this he also stressed that the movements should follow the parameters mentioned by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. Complete synchronization of breath with the movement is a prime requirement of this method or krama. You start the movement with the controlled ujjayi inhalation or exhalation as the case may be and end both the movement and the inhalation/exhalation at the same time. Additionally one should keep the mental focus on the breath in the pranasthana.
Both these parameters are found in the sutra “prayatna saitily ananta samapattibhyam”. Of course I have written about these parameters earlier but in the context of this article this is relevant. What are the other parameters of this system? Sthiratva or steadiness. The practitioner should be well anchored and balanced, whether it be headstand or paschimatanasana. The next parameter is sukhatva or comfort. Obviously if the ansanas and movements are done correctly it would be enjoyable and not painful. So one has to slowly and progressively achieve the posture and as per Patanjali’s advice it may well be achieved gradually taking the help of proper breathing in asana practice.
Yoga Teachers need to learn as many asanas and vinyasas as possible. While all asanas and vinyasas cannot be practised on a daily regular basis, since the requirements of students would vary enormously, the teacher should learn as much as possible so that he or she could tailor make a program for students with varying requirements– a child, youth, middle aged, old, sick, infirm, physically challenged. How to learn the large volume of asanas and vinyasas available?
Then we have the sikshana kram of Krishnamacharya. It is the method of studying/teaching the subject of asanas even if the student may not practice all of them on a daily basis. In fact, in the vinyasakrama I learnt from my Guru there are more than 150 classic asanas and more than 700 vinyasas. To practice all the vinyasas and the static asanas with slow breathing and required stay in asanas like headstand and shoulder stand even once would take more than 10 hours. So there has to be a method of teaching a subject like asana vinyasas and that is sikshana krama. This way the student will be able to understand the subject in its entirety to the extent possible. My book “The Complete Book of Vinyasakrama” is an attempt to teach vinyasas and asanas, in Sikshana Krama, like a text book. Thus people who wish to learn the various asanas and vinyasas yoga offers, could be taught the Vinyasakrama.
Abhyasa krama is what one would do to design one’s own practice. This could be tailor made to an individual and may be altered on a regular, even daily, basis.
Sri Krisnamacharya, my Guru, is well known for his mastery of physical aspects of yoga, the varieties of asanas and vinyasas and the finesse associated with asanas. His early movies and book, Yoga Makaranda, bring out his mastery of asana practice, the alignments, the difficulty levels, his own physique–these are well known. Several of his well known students developed and brought to the yoga enthusiasts exquisite asana systems. However equally important was his ability to adapt yoga for health and curing diseases, called the cikitsa krama. During his Madras decades (even in his Mysore days), several people came to him for managing different ailments especially chronic ones. He had an uncanny knack of assessing the patient’s condition and prescribing a combination of asanas, movements, breathing, meditation and very useful advice about life in general based on his vast experience and conventional wisdom as contained in classics like the Bhagavat Gita.
He also used his understanding of the Ayurvedic system and prescribed ayurvedic medication, some he even would prepare at home. His understanding of the human system based on marma sthhanas, position and condition of the six major kosas and his own vast personal experience of the various aspects of yoga—asanas vinyasas, pranayama, mudras, meditation and philosophy came in handy. His cikitsa krama approach was holistic. However his cikitsa krama of yoga is not so well known or appreciated as his vinyasa krama of asanas.
Yoga also is a philosophy. Some consider it as a stand alone darsana. So Yoga, or the Raja yoga approach, is sometimes called darsana krama or the philosophical methodology. Krishnamacharya taught Yoga darsana and also several other ancient texts like the Bagavat gita and others all of which could be classified as darsana krama.
The word krama is quite often used in the sense of a sequence. In fact the classical Ashtanga yoga of Patanjali is a sequence of steps and the eight limbs are also the yoga sequence of eight Raja Yoga steps. A firm foundation of yama and niyama are very necessary for the Rajayogi. Then a good stint of asana abhyasa will help the yogi to sit comfortably for a sufficiently long time to do the other angas like pranayama and antaranga sadana. In the Hathayogapradipika the author Svatmarama clearly says that a good asana/posture is a sine qua non for Pranayama. ( atha asane dhrudhe yogi…). Then the next anga, pratyahara, which brings the wandering senses also under control is to be resorted to.
Then the antaranga sadana or the meditation would be done. Even this meditation is a cute little sequence. The abhyasi picks up an uplifting object and starts meditation by repeatedly bringing the wandering mind to the object of contemplation. Once this first step of dharana matures it seamlessly leads to the next step in the krama known as dhyana. The continuous flow of attention leads to the next step in the krama Samadhi. And ultimately the yogi is able to remain in a state of samadhi without any object which is known as nirbija samadhi. And according to Patanjali this is the end of the sequence or yoga krama (parinama krama samaptih gunanam)
Patanjali uses the word krama to indicate a method or a path. Yoga is said to be transformative. It transforms the mind, the citta of the yogabhyasi. One who has a distracted mind would like to try to make it one pointed, focused. A mind which remains distracted develops the habit or samskara of distraction. It cannot concentrate. This is the path, or krama, the mind or citta takes, the vikshipta krama. By first preparing oneself with yamaniyamas, pranayama and the pratyahara, the abhyasi makes an earnest attempt to change the krama his/her mind operates into another krama or path in which the mind become habitually one pointed.
By resorting to antaranga sadhana the yogi slowly but steadily makes his mind change track, change from the krama of distraction to a new beneficial krama of being focused. By staying moment after moment in the new path of ekagrata or one pointedness, for a long time,the yogabhyasi transforms the citta to ekagrata cjtta. Now the mind has taken a new path or krama. This is a krama different from the old krama of distraction. If nothing is done the mind or citta will operate only in the old groove or path or krama of distraction. So if you want to change track of how the mind or citta functions, Patanjali would say practice a new krama after a very good preparation. In course of time the habitually distracted mind (vikshipta) transforms (parinama) itself into a habitually focused mind.
Further transformation would be to keep the mind in Samadhi wherein the abhyasi loses awareness of oneself. This is new refined path or krama for the Yogi. This new transformation of the mind is called samadhi parinama following the samadhi krama. And finally the yogi is able to keep the mind absolutely peaceful even without an object to hold on to by taking a new krama, nirodha krama. In this the yogi’s mind remains contained without any object to contemplate upon. This leads to yet another transformation of the mind called nirdha parinama.The yogi resorts to three kramas leading to three parinamas and beyond that there is nothing else to do as the the goal of yoga cittavritti nirodha has been achieved. Every parinama or transformation requires a new krama or path. III 14 says “ “krama-anyatvam parinama- anyatve hetuh” or change the path/krama to make a desired transformation
The old shastras refer to four stages of life known as ashrama. The first stage of life is known as the Brahmacharya ashrama or student life, which may last upto the first 25 years of life. Since the students or Brahmacharins were required to maintain strict celibacy Brahmacharya came to be associated also with celibacy as many yogis know. The next stage of life is that of family people wherein one raises a family. It lasts until about 60 to 65 years and then the third stage known of vanaprasta begins wherein the couple lead a retired life, go to secluded places for study and contemplation travel around religious and divine places. The last stage is known as the sanyas ashrama wherein one is wedded to (nyasa) finding the absolute Truth or sat, leading the life of a renunciate. If one goes through life one ashrama after the other in that order then when one reaches the last stage it is known as krama-sanyasa or orderly sanyasa.
Many religions including some sections in India short circuit the second and the third ashramas and encourage some to take to sanyasa after the Brahmacharya stage thereby requiring them to remain lifelong celibates. Some sections of the Indian society however, even in the olden days, never encouraged this as many were found to be unprepared physiologically and emotionally to take the sanyasa life. So they would not encourage life long celibacy. Only those that are naishtika brahmacharins or those that have absolutely no desire in sex both physically and emotionally, without even nocturnal disturbances, were allowed to remain lifelong celibates. Thus going through the four ashramas in life, first the studentship then the family person, then the retiree and finally the renunciate was the order or krama of leading a full life.
Such progression in life leads to krama sanyasa.