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’.

 


The best yoga-related snippets from the web part 3

Lets jump straight in this week and start with a video from the New York Times in which Eddie Stern talks a little bit about Ashtanga Yoga. From what we see of Eddie on the web, we really like him.

Canadian teacher, Paul Gold, asks an important question in this article. Fewer practice days or less practice every day? Sharath was asked this same question in London last August and he said ‘You just have to do what you can’.

Two videos of Guruji in Copenhagen in 2006. I’ve already posted these on our facebook page but here they are again for those of you who missed them. First, a short video documenting Guruji’s visit to Copenhagen followed by a 17 minute conference given by Guruji with Sharath and Saraswathi.

We came across this film about bio-dynamic/organic farming in India. It raises a lot of questions about working with nature (as opposed to trying to conquer nature) to produce food. Peter Proctor (the father of modern biodynamics) is a New-Zealander who now lives just outside Mysore at the Bhaktivedanta Academy for Sustainable Integrated Living. We are told in the film that he knows more about soil than probably anyone else on the planet. This is well worth a watch.

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Articles, Blogs and Tweets of the week

This is the first of a weekly roundup of some of the best yoga-related goings-on around the worldwide web.

  • Great notes from Sharath’s conference in Mysore, via Suzanne El-Safty’s blog. Many thanks to her for her great posts.


  • From @ayvic The Sages & Ancient Yogi Seers Knew This before Science could validate it. Youtube


  •  There’s been a storm (in a teacup?) over the last week due to a certain article which appeared in the New York Times. Many teachers have given their responses and @yogadork has kindly collated them all for us here along with a link to the original article.


  • David Robson of the Ashtanga Yoga centre of Toronto wrote a blog about Ujjayi breath, or lack of it. You may be surprised, I was.

 

  • Yoga Stops Traffick is an amazing worlwide event which is coming into its third year. This year it will be taking place on the 10th of March. Make a donation, roll out your mats and join us in 108 sun salutations (or as many as you can manage). You’ll really feel like your making an effort for those less fortunate than yourself. There’s a story from one of the founders of Odanadi here



Ashtanga Yoga: The no-frills approach

Sometimes I wonder what people think when I tell them that I practise Yoga. I think very few of them would have a clear picture in their heads of exactly what it is that I do while they are all still sleeping.

It is my guess that the predominant mental picture that people have, is that I do a few stretches and maybe some deep breathing, sniffing incense, sitting serenely, buddha-like, on my yoga mat and chanting Oooooooooommmmmmmmmmm.

The truth is that, actually, that is a small part of yoga practice but it paints a much-too-comfortable picture.

Ashtanga Yoga is hard work.

It’s not all lavender-scented eye-pillows and getting-in-touch-with-your-emotions.

It is not for pampering yourself. The purpose of Yoga is not relaxation. Some days I feel extremely relaxed after practice, some days I don’t.

People tell me that they’d like to try Yoga but they prefer things that are more physical, or that make them fit, or that make them sweat. Let me just say, for the record, that I have run, cycled, rowed, lifted weights and done thousands of sit-ups in my time. Nothing I have done has been more physical than Ashtanga Yoga. Nothing I have done has produced a more profuse sweat than Ashtanga Yoga has. And nothing I have done has matched the physical benefits I have received from this practice.

This yoga method is a method of hard work and discipline, which is designed to result in the purification of body and mind, through the practice of physical postures and breath control. Purification of body and breath in this way leads to the purification of the mind. The ultimate goal of yoga is to escape from the constant mental chatter, which is going on in all of our minds.

Ashtanga Yoga differs from new-agey spirituality because it is based on something that is very real (we could even say mundane); the body. There is nothing wishy-washy about this practice. You either do or don’t do (to paraphrase Yoda). It is not escapism. You are forced to face yourself every day and observe your own reactions. In this way you get to know yourself a little more all the time. When it becomes clear what your habitual thought-processes are then you can begin to see through them towards the true Self (note the capital ‘S’). This, ultimately, is called self-realisation or enlightenment.

Ashtanga Yoga has great physical benefits but that is not the ‘point’ of the practice. Pattabhi Jois said, “This yoga is not for exercise. Yoga is showing where to look for the soul – that is all”.

So the reason for the title of this blog is that I see that yoga is being marketed as the ultimate in relaxation and serenity, and yes that can sometimes be a pleasant by-product of the practice. But do not be completely fooled. In the Ashtanga practice we are encouraged to take the ‘no-frills’ approach.

You will not be told to ‘feel like you are floating like a cloud’ or to ‘feel like their is a rainbow coming out of your chest’ in a traditional Ashtanga class. But what you will receive is an extremely powerful method, which it is then up to you to practice. As Sharath is so fond of saying; “Anyone can practise”. Eddie Stern adds, “Not everyone wants to practise”.

I can only encourage you to get onto your mat every day and see what happens. If you feel like there’s a rainbow coming out of our chest then let me know. I know a good doctor!

John

No frills in Guruji’s old shala in Mysore


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