Roots of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

The Yoga Korunta is an ancient text on Yoga, transmitted orally to Tirumalai Krishnamacharya by his teacher Rama Mohan Brahmachari in the early 20th century, and passed on to to Sri K Pattabbi Jois beginning around the late 1920’s. It is said this then forms the basis the system of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga introduced in 1948.

The proof for this transmission cannot be verified, and the text has not been preserved. It is said to have been made up of stanzas using rhymed, metered sutras.

The text described lists of different asanas divided into groups, many more than was said to have been usual for this time. The text contained original teachings on vinyasa, drishti, bandhas, mudras and general teachings. The name Yoga Korunta is a Tamilized pronunciation of the Sanskrit words Yoga Grantha meaning “Book about Yoga”.

Krishnamacharya:

Travelled to Tibet where he was taught Yoga. The Astanga Vinyasa sun salutations are painted on the walls of the Potala Palace in Tibet. The British Army used very similar exercises and gymnastics to keep young soldiers in vibrant health.

The Ashtanga Vinyasa Systems are all individual Vinyasa Kramas and the different series of Ashtanga Vinyasa System all add to one complete Kinyasa Krama.

Vinyasa Krama often described as breath and movement, is far more than this very narrow view.

Vinyasa krama: the art of sequential variations within prescribed parameters. The Sanskrit syllables for vinyasa krama are defined in this way:

vi = variation

nyasa = within prescribed parameters

krama = sequence

There are four parameters in vinyasa krama: sthira (steadiness), suhka (comfort), prayatna (effort of life, meaning breathing), and saithilya (smooth long breath). They are set out in sutras: II-46 “steadiness and comfort characterize the yogic posture (asana)”; and, II-47 “by making the breath smooth (and long), and focusing the mind on the breath, the perfection of the posture is obtained.” (Ramaswami pointed out that Krishnamacharya interpreted sutra II-47 as focusing the mind on the breath and not on the asana.

Krama is special and appropriate individual steps taken as the process of exploring and mastering that is becoming established in each asana. These steps though related for each person are also completely unique for each individual and their development.

Vinyasa krama is appropriate in our daily lives as well. Cultivating an awareness of the steps we take during our day. As yoga teachers we can use the art of vinyasa krama towards our students. I plan and run my intensive yoga teacher training around vinyasa krama, taking my new students on day one from ground zero up to a peak, and gradually leading them into their final class assessments.

So you can see how sophisticated the art of vinyasa krama is, and how shallow the term breath and movement is. That said, the beauty of the Ashtanga vinyasa system is how the postures are arranged and how, with sustained focus linking the breath and movement will open up the body and mind. They are the perfect example of how Hatha yoga works when taught and practised with integrity and sincerity.

Martin Thompson