Karana Krama as part of the practice of hatha yoga has nothing to do with the aesthetics of Indian dance and the practice of martial arts, but the basic movements are borrowed from preparatory techniques of Indian dancers, Kalaripayattu and contemporary Australian teachers of hatha yoga Sandor Remete (Shadow Yoga) and Simon Borg-Olivier (Yoga Synergy), which over the years developed their practice of yoga asanas and pranayama, using elements of the martial arts of India and China, as well as the experience of the traditional Ayurvedic and modern knowledge of anatomy and physiology.
“Karana-Krama” as a Standard of Movement in Hatha-Yoga
What are these movements, who did invent them and what was the reason? Let’s start in a roundabout way but step by step.
Development of hatha-yoga dynamic practices is linked with traditional Indian martial arts and strangely enough… with dances. Obviously, there are borrowings and mutual enrichment of the techniques (but not concerning the goals) between these systems. For example, a book by N.E. Sjoman “The Yoga Tradition of The Mysore Palace” contains illustrations from Mala Purana texts: preparatory exercises for professional Hindu fighters which were selectively used by Shri Krishnamacharya in his hatha yoga teachings. In Southern India in a martial art Kalaripayattu there are exercises similar to asanas and vinyasas.
Warming up and basic movements in Indian dances include not only the elements of hatha-yoga asanas but complete variants of asanas which are considered to be classic.
Especially there are many similarities on preparatory stages of the general physical training, but the technique of the movement is specialized – in each case it serves to meet certain objectives.
Karana is a Sanskrit verbal noun meaning “execution”, “action”, “integration” .
 In the presented context it is used in this simple meaning. In other cases the word may signify “making”, “sound or a word as independent part of the speech (or separate from the context)”, “ascetic pose”, “a position for sex”, “a means of action”, “rhythm”, “body”, “organ of the action/speech”, “mind”, “heart (as in antah-karana)”.
Natya-shastra by a sage Bharata Muni, a basic text on dramatic composition of classic Indian dance describes 108 karanas or key transitions. “Karana” means intergration, combination of movements of hands and feet in a dance, those are movements not poses.
“Krama” in Sanskrit means “a step”, “progression”, “uninterrupted movement (forward)”, “an order”, “a series”, “a sequence, arrangement in a certain order”, “a means”, “method”, “custom”, “a rule sanctioned by a tradition” and also “power”, “force”.
“Karana-krama” means “a practice of uninterrupted movements in a certain order” which smoothly prepares for asanas.
In context of hatha-yoga practice the term “krama” is used by disciples of the late Krishnamacharya (Desikachar, Mohan, Ramaswami) in describing a characteristic methodology in creating sequences of asanas and vinyasas.
Classic Indian dance presented by modern styles like Bharatanatyam, Odissi, Kuchipudi bharatam is characterized by a high gymnastic level of its professionals. Karanas are the foundation of the technique, both esthetic and physical, many of them look like the most difficult hatha-yoga asanas, but they are fulfilled either as a part of a movement or as its finalization with a short detention. Surely, 108 karanas from Natya-shastra represent the basic technique of dancing movements although they include separate asanas.
 Some of the most famous interpretations of karanas were made by Padma Subramanyam using 108 short phrases that describe the specifics of movements of legs, hips, body and hands followed by hasta-mudras as it is given in Natya-shastra and other sacred texts, and as it also can be seen from temple sculptures in Chidambaram in Southern India.
Doctor Padma Subramanyam wrote a book “General dancing codes of karanas of India and Indonesia” based on her own research of a complex of temples in Prambanan (Indonesia) and Tandjavura, Kumbakonama, Chidambaram, Tiruvannamalaya and Virudhachala temples. In twentieth century she was the first dancer who restored karanas as movements which were considered as poses in the past.
Karana-krama as a part of hatha-yoga practice does not have anything in common with esthetics of the Indian dance and combat practice. But the basics of the movement are borrowed from the preparatory techniques used by Indian dancers, from kalaripayattu and from modern Australian hatha-yoga teachers like Shandor Remete (Shadow Yoga) and Simon Borg-Olivier (Yoga Synergy) who have been developing their practice of yoga-asanas and pranayama for many years using elements of martial arts of India and China as well as heritage of traditional Ayurveda and modern knowledge of anatomy and physiology.
Karana-krama exercises mainly consist of the movements inherent to yoga-asana practice, they provide complex and diverse influence on the main directions of mobility of the spine and joints.
How does vinyasa- and asana-krama differ, you would ask, from well-known vinyasas and less known dynamic techniques like sukshma- and stulha-vyayamas?
- Promoting “active flexibility” – the main range of movements (bends forward and backward, twists, rotations, lunges and others) are done without “arms”, for example, in a standing position we move one leg aside and put it back without support of the arms (a sequence Utthita-padangushthasana 1 – Utthita-padangushthasana 2 – Ardha-chandrasana). Backbends, bends forward in twists are also done without help of the arms, the main movements of the spine are fulfilled due to more active work of the body muscles.
- Warming up and redistribution of the muscular tone are fulfilled using special techniques inherent to hatha-yoga and yoga-therapy.
- Developing standard of the movement – gradual awareness and optimization of habitual movement stereotypes. All movements of arms and legs purposely include work of torso muscles and the spine as well.
- Developing skills of concentration and volumetric attention through coordination of breathing and movement.
- Stimulating movement of the prana and taking control over prana-vajyu (subtle vital force) – application of bandhas (special means of muscular tone redistribution) and kumbhakas (breath detention) in a context of dynamic practices.
Besides, series of karana-krama movements as well as asana sequences are characterized by using the following techniques regulating the movement of Prana-vajyu and increasing blood circulation without negative influence to the heart:
- Using the force of gravity (inverted positions)
- Regulation of heart rate (techniques activating the parasympathetic tone of the ANS)
- Purposeful work of respiratory muscles (ujjayi, uddiyana-bandha, tadagi-mudra)
- Active involvement of muscular micropumps
- Joint bandhas
- Asanas are fulfilled in a certain sequence when configuration of elongated and strained muscles creates conditions that cause the circulation of blood from high pressure zone to low pressure zone.
- Relocation of attention
Thus, karana-krama is an interesting, effective and useful addition to the practice of classical asanas and vinyasas.
To be continued…
Website of Mikhail Baranov: mahaihos.com