The three pillars of yoga practice - Tristana
Pranyama, drishti and bandhas...if you've attended a few yoga classes, you probably heard those names before. But what do they actually mean and how do they work together?
What is Tristana?
Following on from my last blog where I explained what the word Yoga actually means and how we could be doing yoga literally anywhere, as long as we are deepening our awareness of the thought waves in our minds, I'd like to introduce the idea of Tristana. A three-fold approach that could take your physical practice of yoga to the next level and increase the benefits of your practice.
Although today's topic applies originally to the physical practice of Ashtanga Yoga, which is another style of yoga, that I currently teach only once a week, I really believe Tristana could apply to all practices of yoga.
The purpose of Tristana is purification. The three elements (pranayama, bandha & drishti) are utilised by the practitioner to develop greater control of senses and a deeper awareness of inner sensations, emotions and the fluctuations of the mind. The three elements of Tristana are important and powerful on their own, but even more so when they work together.
Pranayama mean breath control or expansion, and here refers mainly to the Ujjayi breath that we use during yoga practice. It is achieved by clenching the back of your throat, the same as you would if you were to steam up a mirror with your breath. When you inhale and exhale through your nose whilst clenching the throat at the back, you will begin to notice a hissing sound.
The sound itself keeps the focus on the breath which allows the mind to remain calm and steady when we try more challenging postures. Focusing on the sound stops the mind from focusing on all the thoughts that take us away from the present moment, such as 'what's for dinner?', 'why did the teacher stop counting?' or whatever else your mind decides is more important than actually taking some time to 'meet' yourself.
This type of breathing also aids the slowing down and lengthening the breath, which in turn helps to fill the lungs fully and increase supply of oxygen to muscles and organs.
Once you gain greater control over your breath during the physical practice of yoga, you will not tire yourself out so much, even during challenging sequence.
It still amazes me how much calmer and less tired my body is during vigorous practice when I focus on the way I breathe.
Bandhas are commonly known as energy locks. The literal translation would be to bond together, which highlights that these locks refer to connection - in this case, the inner connection with the flow of energy inside our bodies.
There are 3 bandhas used in yoga, but only the first two are used in physical practice.
Uddiyana bandha (the belly lock) often described as drawing the abdomen muscles inward and upward. This locks the energy in that area and stops it from escaping towards the upper body.
Mula bandha (the root lock) often described as activation of the kegel muscles or lifting of the pelvic floor, locking the energy at the base of our spine.
Jalandhara bandha (the chin lock) achieved by extending the chin forward and then tucking it back in, aiming to lock the energy at the top of the body.
** the first two bandhas are actually located a lot deeper within the core of the body and to fully connect with them requires more mental effort than physical one. It can take years to develop but it's good to begin the process early on ;)
The bandhas are key in asana practice. By helping the energy flow in the body, which of course helps the energy of the pose, the bandhas create support for the spine and lower back during transitions. Using bandhas creates “lightness” and grace in some of the more challenging poses. Something as simple as activating your core muscles when going into a balancing posture can really improve your steadiness...I'm sure you've noticed yourself, and if not, why not give it a go now? Stand up and try a challenging pose; once without engaging your core muscles, and once with full and deep activation of the abdomen.
Drishti is your point of focus. Having a set point of focus for your eyes to rest upon helps to keep the distractions to a minimum.
How many times have you found yourself staring at something on the wall or checking out another student in a class? What is your mind focused on then? Most likely, whatever your eyes are looking at, and not what is going on in your body.
Drishti is not about external vision but looking within. You're almost encouraged to softly look beyond the point of focus, let that become blurred out so that you can really tune into the inner sensations.
Additionally, following the drishti helps with correct alignment when in a pose.