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Tristhana

When a friend or family-member says, “Hey, you’re into yoga aren’t you; what’s the story with that?”, I bet you say “Yeah, it’s ASHTANGA yoga. It’s not like NORMAL yoga classes”. In other words, you don’t want them to think that you go to this class where it’s you and a load of grandmothers in leotards (especially if he or she is an attractive member of the opposite sex; or same sex if that’s how you roll). But what is Ashtanga Yoga?

The answer is: Tristhana.

Tristhana is what constitutes the Ashtanga Yoga practice but it’s possible you might never have heard the word.

There are three elements to Tristhana (as you might guess from the ‘tri’ part of the word):

Asana

We all know this one. It’s the postures. The most obvious/least subtle part of the practice. Asanas purify, strengthen and give flexibility to the body.

Breath

We know about this too because we can hear all of our fellow practitioners “breathing with sound”. The sound is very important for two reasons. First, the sound of our own breath draws our attention inwards and makes it easier to achieve pratyahara (the fifth of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga) or withdrawal of the senses. Second, when we can hear straining or unevenness in our breath it acts as a warning sign that we may be pushing too hard and could potentially be about to injure ourselves. The inhale and the exhale should be of equal length and should be as steady as possible.

Breath deeply and slowly, with attention to, and interest in, each breath and you will go deeper into yoga practice.

Correct breathing purifies the nervous system.

The kpjayi.org website says

For cleaning the body internally two factors are necessary, air and fire. The place of fire in our bodies is four inches below the navel. This is the standing place of our life force. In order for fire to burn, air is necessary, hence the necessity of the breath. If you stoke a fire with a blower, evenness is required so that the flame is not smothered out, or blown out of control.

The same method stands for the breath. Long even breaths will strengthen our internal fire, increasing heat in the body which in turn heats the blood for physical purification, and burns away impurities in the nervous system as well. Long even breathing increases the internal fire and strengthens the nervous system in a controlled manner and at an even pace. When this fire is strengthened, our digestion, health and life span all increase. Uneven inhalation and exhalation, or breathing too rapidly, will imbalance the beating of the heart, throwing off both the physical body and autonomic nervous system.

An important component of the breathing system is mula and uddiyana bandha. These are the anal and lower abdominal locks which seal in energy, give lightness, strength and health to the body, and help to build a strong internal fire. Without bandhas, breathing will not be correct, and the asanas will give no benefit. When mula bandha is perfect, mind control is automatic.
Note that bandhas are considered an extension of the breath, not as a separate technique in themselves. If you can try to mentally connect breath and bandhas you will find strength which you never knew you had.

Dristhi

Dristhi means ‘looking place’ and it is just as important as the asanas and the correct breathing method. To maintain consistent and correct dristhi through the entire practice is a huge challenge, and one which is really interesting to try. You may have heard people (including Suzanne and I) refering to the Ashtanga method as ‘like a moving meditation’. The mediatation part is very unlikely to happen without observance of dristhi.

There are nine dristhis: the tip of the nose, between the eyebrows, navel, tip of the thumb, tip of the middle finger, tip of the big toe, up, right side and left side.

From kpjayi.org:

Dristhi purifies and stabilizes the functioning of the mind.

I have heard Sharath mention also that the practice of dristhi can greatly aid people suffering from depression.

So these three elements are equally important in the practice. It is easy to neglect dristhi and breath in favour of focusing all of our energy on the asanas but without all three elements in place the practice will have much less benefit.

So maybe, instead of saying that we are doing ‘yoga practice’ or even ‘asana practice’, we should say that we are doing ‘tristhana practice’.

 


Benefits of Primary Series Asanas

This week we’re including (almost word for word) the benefits of each asana of primary series as specified by Pattabhi Jois in his Yoga Mala.

The Surya Namaskara (sun-salutations) are essential in the practice of yoga as they help to gather the strength of the mind in one direction, control the breath and help mental focus.

The first 2 standing poses (thumbs to feet and hands to feet) Padangushtasana and Padahastasana: They dissolve the fat of the lower abdomen and purify the egg shaped nerve plexus in the anal region and rectum as well as purifying the kidneys.

Utthita Trikonasana (Triangle): Dissolves the bad fat around the waist and brings the body into shape. It also expands the narrow portion of the breathing channel and strengthens the spine.

Uthitta Parshvakonasana: Purifies the ribs and lower abdomen, dissolves the bad fat at the waist and softens the limbs so that the subsequent asanas can be practiced more easily.

Prasarita Padottanasana A to D (The 4 wide legged forward bends): These asanas cure constipation, purify the top part of the spinal column and the waist. The anal canal is purified and the bad fat in the lower abdomen is dissolved.

Parshvottanasana (Prayer position behind the back): Like the asana above.

Basically all the above asanas loosen the limbs of the body. For people who suffer from rheumatic or joint pain, the sun salutations and first six asanas are especially important. If they are practiced properly with the correct breathing method, the pain that occurs in the joints will be eliminated and the body will become light and healthy.

Utthita Hasta Padangushtasana (The leg balancing pose that you really realy don’t like): This asana loosens the hip joints, destroys defects of the testicles and male organs of generation, strengthens and purifies the vertebral column, waist, hips and lower abdomen. It also eliminates constipation.

Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana (half bound lotus): This purifies the rectum and liver. It also prevents gas in the stomach and prevents diarrhea.

Utkatasana: Strengthens the waist and makes the body light.

Virabhadrasana (warrior): All the joints of the body, as well as the lower abdomen, spinal column and organ of generation are purified. Pain associated with the knees as well as the pain from standing or sitting all day while working, is eliminated.

Paschimattanasana (the first seated pose): this pose eliminates gas problems in the stomach, it strengthens the organs of the digestive systems.

Purvatanasana: Purifies and strengthens the heart, anus, spinal column and waist.

Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimattanasana (seated, half bound lotus): Alleviates the enlargement of the liver and spleen. Also cures abdominal distention due to bad food and actiities. Constipation is also cured.

Tiriangmukhaaikapada paschimattanasana (right, then left foot back): Cures a number of afflictions including: body fat, water retention, thighs swollen out of proportion to the size of the body (elephant leg!!), piles and sciatica. Also makes the body symmetrical.

Janu Shirshasana: This posture cures cystitis. There’s a lot more in the yoga mala about the benefits of this asana but too much to reproduce here.

Marichyasana A to D: The benefits of all four are different, though all cure diseases in accordance with one’s physical nature. They each cure gaseous movements in the stomach and intestines, as well as the rectum, such as diarrhoea, and restore digestive power. With that, flatulence, indigestion and constipation are eliminated. Abdominal pain during menstruation is removed. The womb becomes powerful and enables a woman to carry a child strongly. The vata pitta kosha (large intestine and gall bladder) are purified, as is the manicure chakra (the third chakra at the navel centre), and the body gains strength and power.

Navasana (boat pose): The anal channel, spinal column, ribs and lower abdomen are purified. The digestive fire is increased and the waist gains strength.

Bhujapidasana: Purifies the oesophagus. The body becomes light, and the shoulders and waist become strong.

Kurmasana: Purifies the nerve plexus in the anal region from which all 72,000 nadis grow. Also purifies the heart and lungs, and eliminates ailments caused by an imbalance of kapha. The chest becomes broad, bad fat is dissolved, and the spinal column becomes strong. Chest pain due to over-tiredness is cured, disorders from bad food remedied and the fat in the lower abdomen is dissolved, allowing the body to become healthy.

Garbha Pindasana: Dissolves fat of the lower abdomen, purifies the manipura (third) chakra, and wards off diseases of the liver and spleen.

Kukkutasana: The intestines are purified, the fat of the lower abdomen is dissolved, and diseases affecting the bowels and urinary tract, as well as excess phlegm, are cured.

Baddha Konasana: Constipation and piles will be destroyed and indigestion will no longer haunt an aspirant. There is a lot more information relating to Baddha Konasana in the Yoga Mala.

Upavishta Konasana: The grdhrasi nadi (sciatic nerve) will be strengthened, gaseous movements in the stomach will no longer occur and peristalsis will be resolved.

Supta Konasana: Same as Baddha Konasana and Upavishta Konasana

Supta Padangushtasana: Purifies and strengthens the waist region, knees, food and anal channels, and the sperm passageway (virya nala). It dissolves bad fat on the sides of the body and the waist, making the waist slender and strong, and the body light.

Ubhaya Padangushtasana: Purifies the anus, waist, stomach, genital organs and the granthi traya (three knots) which begin at the anal canal. It also eliminates the burning sensation that can occur during urination.

Urdhva Mukha Pascimattanasana: Purifies the lower back and oesophagus, and the swadishtana chakra (region between the anus and navel). When the swadishtana chakra is purified, bodily activities become light, all physical activities are free and easy, and impediments such as disease, do not torture one.

Setu Bandhasana: Purifies and strengthens the waist and neck, purifies the muladhara (root) chakra and increases the digestive fire. It also purifies the oesophagus, heart, and lungs, making them strong.

Next time: Finishing asanas.

Pattabhi Jois specifies (in the notes on the benefits of Baddha Konasana):

A point must be made to readers and aspirants that they should be careful to remember. When one follows the methods of asana and pranayama, there is no doubt that all diseases will be cured. But if an aspirant thinks that this will occur by his merely practising asanas while continuing to eat rajasic (stimulating) and tamasic (heavy) foods, then he is misguided. Such a course will actually lead to an increase in sickness.

If you’re interested in reading more about the practice you could pick up a copy of Yoga Mala by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. It’s the first book I ever read on Ashtanga yoga.

 

 

 


A note on shaucha

 

Your mother always told you that cleanliness was next to godliness and Patanjali agrees. It turns out that your mother is a great yogi!

The word ‘ashtanga’, as many of you already know, means eight limbs. The limbs, as listed by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, are Yama, Niyama, Asana (we recognise that one), Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. If you want to know what they all mean have a read of the ‘What Does Ashtanga Mean‘ article on our website.

The first two limbs (yama and niyama) each have five sub-limbs. Think of yama as being a set of morals and of niyama as being a set of personal observances (together they form a rough guide on living harmoniously with the world both inside and outside ourselves).

The first sub-limb of niyama is often the first one to become most pertinent in a class of sweaty students (and teachers for that matter).

Saucha can be translated as cleanliness or purity, and your mother was right; it is next to godliness.

I have seen and heard so many conversations (online and in the real world) between ashtanga yoga teachers about this subject. Ashtanga yoga is a sweaty practice and some people’s nostrils are more sensitive than others.

Guruji says:
* “There are two types of purification: bahir shaucha (external purification) and antah shaucha (internal purification).
* The first involves washing the body with red clay and water. By rubbing the body with clay, sweat and dirt are removed, and the body becomes soft and shiny.
* The second means viewing everything and every being as a friend, and treating all with affection (maitri). This means engaging the mind with the supreme feeling that all are our friends, and considering everything to be a reflection of God.”

We say:
* Please shower before you come to class in the morning.
* Please wear fresh clean clothes to class (as once you start to sweat in previously-sweated-in clothes they really start to smell; you may not notice this but everybody else does).
* Please air your wet yoga mat after class if possible and wash it regularly (if you sweat a lot then regularly means once a week).

Then, perhaps, you and all of your fellow students (who you now love due to your new-found maitri) might get that little bit closer to the eighth limb of ashtanga yoga: Samadhi (bliss).

Who said yoga philosophy was complicated.

 


South Indian Breakfast at Home

This morning I decided to make my first attempt at recreating the fantastic South Indian breakfast known as chow-chow bath. We ate this most mornings in Mysore at a tiny street-side stand called Sri Durga Bhavan. You may have already seen photos of their breakfasts on our previous blog entries.

First up was the Khara Bath. It’s made with semolina, ghee, onion and a host of spices. Often carotts and peas are added too but we left them out this time. It turned out ok, but maybe a tiny bit on the dry side. Suzanne made the two types of coconut chutney (the recipes for which were given to us by our downstairs neighbours in Mysore last Summer). The chutneys were great.

Khara Bath and Coconut Chutney
The second half of the ‘chow-chow’ is the Kesari Bath. This also is made with semolina and a lot of ghee, but sweetened milk is added so that it is more like a dessert. It should be a deeper yellow colour so I’ll have to work on getting the proportions right. It tasted ok to me. You know; milk, butter, sugar; you can’t go too far wrong. It needs a bit more practice though. Practise and all is coming I suppose!Kesari Bath

Then we washed it all down with a healthy sized pot of masala chai made with a spice mix that we got from Meena Gupta in Mysore. Now this really did taste like Mysore in a cup. Masala Chai


Indian road block

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Cows in India have free reign in the streets. I’ve never seen anyone hassling a cow or getting it to move on.

I came out of our house yesterday and saw this cow sitting happily in the middle of the road. Vehicles which could fit past went around her, and those that couldn’t reversed and went up the adjacent road.

It occurred to me that, if a cow did this in Dublin, it would probably be on the news! But it’s totally normal here.

Going home is going to be quite a culture shock!

John