I received this question and have been wanting to discuss the question of sequences in Vinyasa Krama and Ashtanga for some time.
Question: When did Krishnamacaharya start teaching the Vinyasa Krama system? He must have been teaching this method before he started teaching Ramaswami but is there anybody else who mentions this metholodgy?
I wonder when he created the sub-routines and sequences as in the books (Yoga Makaranda/ Yogasanagalu) these don't exist...
I tried to search your blog, if you have written on this before (evolution of teachings of Krishnamacharya etc.) it would be great if you could send the link.
Did Krishnamacharya teach Ashtanga
Something I've tried to stress in a number of posts in the last couple of years ( although there is no one post that spells it out) is that Krishnamacharya seemed to be teaching both, what we think of now as Ashtanga Vinyasa and Vinyasa krama, at the same time.
There was not a switch from one approach to another, no early and late Krishnamacharya although in working one-to-one almost exclusively in later years he had the opportunity to focus more on the therapy aspect (therapeutic benefits are also included for each asana in Yoga Makaranda pub.1934) .
There seems to have been the large class with the boys of the Mysore palace, a more flexible Ashtanga vinyasa than we see in Pattabhi Jois, Krishnamacharya not feeling tied it seems to a fixed series but rather, looser groups od asana that no doubt had a similar overall structure to modern Ashtanga vinyasa as we can see from his Yogasanagalu (1941) table.
But he was also, it appears, teaching in a side room ( often with Pattabhi Jois and other senior students taking the Led class) and here he was no doubt teaching along the lines of Vinyasa Krama that we see in Ramaswami' teaching.
Krishnamacharya's private students in the Mysore years were mostly older perhaps and he was probably including less if any jump backs and jump throughs. He would no doubt have taught slower movements than with the restless young boys, longer breaths, kumbhaka perhaps (all these elements are there in his 1934 Yoga Makaranda).
We can see from the Yogasanagalu table that many asana are linked to each other, one a more challenging variation of another, and we know that Krishnamacharya was adding in and around the key asana many other postures to help lead up to and away from the key asana (Jois refers to Krishnamacharya's "mountain of asana") manju Jois Interestingly refers to his father Pattabhi Jois occasionally doing the same.
Many of the shoulderstand and headstand movements in Ramaswami's book are seen in the old Black and White Mysore Video from 1938.
So it was all there in Mysore in the 1930s, Ashtanga and Vinyasa Krama.
Krishnamacharya seems to have later taught the small room approach to Ramaswami in their private lessons but, as Ramaswami mentions in his writing, it was only when Ramaswami started teaching the flexible girls of the dance school and asked for more asana that Krishnamacharya started bringing out everything, more and more asana, and highlighting how the asana were related to eachother, at some point he seems to have suggested to Ramaswami that he document and list all the asana in the different families as a pedagogic aid to teaching.
Ramaswami has stressed in his newsletters that the Vinyasa Krama sequences found in his book aren't how we practice daily. We learn the sequences to see how the asana relate to each other and highlight the wide range of asana possibilities. In our daily practice we would choose asana from those sequences sometimes in large groups or subroutines but also individual asana.
See Ramaswami's How to practice Vinyasa Krama Newsletter Sept. 2009
We actually see one form of this in the Ashtanga sequence, I've showed at the back my Vinyasa Yoga Practice Book how the Ashtanga vinyasa series are made up of smaller sub-groups, often pretty much just as we find them in Ramaswami.
I currently tend to practice Ashtanga Second series which is a triangle subroutine, an On-one-leg subroutine, routines from the Bow sequence, some more advanced Asymmetric postures, arm balances (found at the back of Ramaswami's book) and Inversions followed by a supine Shoulderstand routine and Lotus subroutine at the end.
On alternate days I practice Ashtanga Primary, the same Triangle subroutine, an On-one-leg subroutine then Seated, a long Asymmetric sequence, more Seated subroutines then the Supine shoulderstand rountine and inversions leading into the final lotus subroutine at the end.
I usually cut out some asana from the current Ashtanga series because I like to breathe more slowly and employ kumbhaka, occasionally I'll add in more prep asana from Vinyasa Krama if I'm stiff or perhaps more advanced postures if I'm feeling particularly flexible.
In most asana I take only three long slow breaths rather than five short ones allowing time for longer stays in certain key asana that Ramaswami highlights.
So for me an Ashtanga Vinyasa with more of a Krishnamacharya's approach to breathing is Vinyasa Krama and perfectly consistent. Perhaps this explains how Krishnamacharya was able to teach both approaches at the same time.
Health benefits were already there in Yoga Makaranda but in later years teaching one to one Krishnamacharya was able to focus on the therapy side in line with his Ayurveda background.
It's not about the sequences
Part of the misunderstanding may come with the fixation on sequences. Krishnamacharya seems to have had a general structure to his asana classes, we can see this in the yogasanagalu table. For a specific purpose ( a four year college syllabus) Pattabhi Jois had to turn Krishnamacharya's loose, flexible groups of asana into fixed series mostly following the outline we see in Krishnamacharya's Yogasanagalu. But Ramaswami too was asked to lay out, for teaching purpose rather than for general practice, the asana into their respective families, placing all the On-one-leg asana, the Triangle postures, Bow, Seated, Asymmetric, Inversions etc. and to show in each of those families how the easier asana would lead to those that were more challenging. Because these asana lead from the simple to the advanced within the subgroups that make up the different families it's possible to practice them as a sequence. Ramaswami recommends we do so to learn the relationship between the asana, how they can prepare one for/or progress from one asana to another but this is NOT how we are expected to structure our daily practice.
There seems then to be a misunderstanding regarding Vinyasa Krama that I've been wanting to address for some time. The misunderstanding seems to be that Vinyasa Krama is all about sequences, a number of sequences in fact and to learn Vinyasa Krama is to learn the sequences.
I was guilty of the same misunderstanding. When I first came across Ramaswami's book The Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga I too became hung up on the sequences, I went so far as to hunt out a teacher in the UK and asked him to teach them to me especially those that were a bit of struggle to practice from a book E.G. Inversion sequence.
Ramaswami has made it very clear in his How to practice Vinyasa Krama newsletter that the sequences in his book are a pedagogic tools for learning how different asana relate to each other, how most asana can be seen as either preparation for another asana or perhaps an extension of a preceding asana.
Ramaswami is very clear that we would not practice these sequences in our daily practice but would rather construct an appropriate practice, suitable to our needs of the day, that would consist of certain key asana and as well as other asana some of which may form related groups. Ramaswami did recommend revisiting the tool box of subroutines and sequences he laid out in his book regularly though, to stay familiar with how the asana may relate to each other.
There is benefit then in learning the sequences Ramaswami lays out but only in the sense that learning them may better inform our selection of asana to practice
My personal approach to practice is to broadly follow the Ashtanga sequences ( these days mostly Primary and Intermediate) with which I first began asana practice eight years ago, this gives me an overall shape to my practice that I'm comfortable with. I would then adapt those basic series to what feels appropriate that day. I may add an extra couple of asana acting as preparation for an asana in the series or even as a replacement, I might also add an extension if I'm feeling particularly flexible. More often than not I will practice only half an ashtanga sequence to allow for the slower breathing and occasional longer stays.
Vinyasa Krama is more about the approach to the asana than the order in which the asana are presented. I would argue the same goes for Ashtanga.
Krishnamacharya presented groups of asana, Primary, Middle and Proficient rather than fixed series. the series seems to have come about when Pattabhi Jois, Krishnamacharya's student was asked to present a four year syllabus resulting in four series, Primary for the first year, Intermediate for the second year, Advanced A for the third year and Advanced B for the final year. Advanced A and B were later divided into four shorter series, 4th to 6th. Had Pattabhi Jois been asked to teach in an alternate pedagogic situation in 1941 we may never have ended up with fixed sequences in Ashtanga.
The video below is a full 50 minute version of the On your feet /tadasana sequence pretty much (but not exactly) as it's found in Ramaswami's Vinyasa Yoga book. It's a perfect example of how the sequence shows the options and possibilities available. In our daily practice it's unlikely that we would include the full sequence, with all its variations. I ten to practice a ten minute version that will change daily, I might include more of the back stretch variations if I'm going to practice more advanced backbends later in my practice. I would most likely include one of the twisting variations one day, a different variation the next. The kumbhak and uddiyana kriya are also clearly options. A the beginning of my practice i might include more of the options for working into a posture, going in a little deeper each time to the uttanasana perhaps but after becoming warmed up I might employ less working in options and go straight into the posture, likewise with repeating postures and/or longer stays.
And how one might actually practice tadasana