In the Krishnamacharya yoga tradition (which we mostly practice and teach in), everything is very logically ordered, including the way asana practice is taught. There are three main krama (stages) that apply to most people:
This is basically Ashtanga yoga - postures are taught in a flowing sequence linked by sun salutations. The aim of this type of practice is to increase flexibility and strength and improve concentration. It is usually taught to children and teenagers. But that's not to say you can't do it as an adult, especially if you enjoy it and have good technique.
Once a student has mastered shristi krama, they move on to siksana krama, with the emphasis on perfecting the classical asana. This is taught in much the same way as Iyengar yoga and is usually taught to older teenagers and young adults.
This stage of yoga practice is for people who have many commitments - children, jobs, running a home and so on. It is designed to undo any damage caused by your day-to-day activities and to provide the necessary strength and energy to cope with life’s demands. Sometimes the practices are quite strong, sometimes they look a lot more like rolling around on the floor. It depends on what suits the individual.
In The Viniyoga of Yoga, TKV Desikachar writes:
‘In planning an asana sequence, asanas are not placed one after another at random, but are arranged carefully. First the student should have a goal for the practice. In a classical situation, the goal is to achieve a specific asana, or to prepare for a precise pranayama practice.
Often, in actual situations, since many people are not ready to practice the classical postures and come to practice yoga for different reasons, this goal can be expressed in terms such as:
- practicing a difficult posture, or doing a daily routine to keep fit
- getting some specific physical benefits like becoming more flexible
- gaining strength or stamina
- improving some mental characteristics - patience, determination, achieving inner calm
- reducing some pain. recovering from an injury, working towards better health.
- preparing for a prayer, a meditation, a specific spiritual practice.’
People who start practicing yoga as adults are usually motivated by one of these reasons, and at KYM healthy adult beginners will usually be taught a raksana practice.
The central concept of raksana is that the practice should not aggravate any pre-existing conditions.
Function is more important than form, so the way an asana looks is less important than its effect.
And it can happen anywhere, as I am proving in the pic below!
This is how we teach, especially when we have a chance to work intensively with people like we do at our retreats. We start by helping you become more aware of how you use your body, what your habits are. Then we layer the asanas on top of that. Similar for everyone, but not the same. Because people aren't exactly the same!
The practice should suit the individual.
For some of us challenging is great, and for some of us a quieter practice is better. In some parts of our lives, or when we are going through certain life experiences, those needs change again. In fact, our needs - and therefore the appropriate practice for us - change daily.
What is needed is an extension of Raksana Krama known as Abhyasa Krama (Abhyasa means 'practice')
In the next few weeks, perhaps take time during your practice to reflect on what makes you feel energised, calm and alert, and what makes you feel edgy or unbalanced.
Paying attention like that will help bring you to YOUR way to practice (which is basically the whole point of Rakshana Krama).