The Tristana Method
The yoga practices offered at Shanti Yoga Shala utilize a three-fold approach to asana entitled the “Tristana Method”. Asana’s are the physical postures as described in Hatha Yoga Manuals such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (15th Century CE), Siva Samhita (15th Century CE), or Gherands Samhita (17th Century). According to Pattabhi Jois, the Tristana Method is comprised of “three places of attention or action: posture, breathing system and looking place”. “These three are very important for yoga practice, and cover three levels of purification: the body, nervous system and mind.” They are always performed in conjunction with each other. Tristana consists of ujjayi pranayama (the breathing technique) with bandhas (energy locks or seals), the posture or asana’s and dristi (looking place). Although bandhas are not delineated in the tristana method, they are implied. One cannot properly perform ujjayi pranayama without bandhas. Through this method practitioners develop control of the senses and a deep awareness of themselves and their inner sensations, emotions and workings of the mind. By maintaining this discipline with regularity and devotion yoga practitioners will develop steadiness of body and mind. Asana creates the conditions for the bandhas to engage properly, the bandha’s create the breath and the dristi occupies the mind. “The breath, bandhas, and asana all have a relationship whereby they support and reinforce one another. This relationship is at the heart of the Ashtanga Yoga method and leads to a refined state of mental focus.”
Ujjayi Pranayama or ujjayi breath is the method of gaining control over the subtle energies in the body by using the breath. This particular pranayama involves partially closing off the glottis (The glottis is defined as the combination of the vocal folds [vocal cords] and the space in between the folds) as you inhale and exhale. To practice it you can tighten the throat in the same way as when you whisper, or in the same way you would fog up a mirror, and breath through the nose to make a whispering sound at the back of the throat. It is always practiced with the mouth closed to keep prana from escaping. Prana is the life force sustaining the body whereas the breath is an external manifestation of the subtle life force. Pattabhi Jois, was quoted as saying, “Ashtanga practice is a breathing practice … the rest is just bending”.
The word bandha means “lock” or “seal” and refers to the activation of certain isolated muscle groups that act to control the flow of prana around the body during practice. There are three of bandha locks, although only two are engaged during the asana practice. With proper use, the bandhas have the effect of retaining the prana that is created in the practice and channeling it around the body to cleanse and energize the system. Ideally, we want to send the prana up through the Sushumna nadi* that runs along the spinal cord. The Sushumna is said to be dormant with no prana inside until we achieve mastery of the prana through asana, bandha, mudra, and pranayama.
Uddiyana bandha is located about 2 inches below the belly button. This bandha is engaged when this area is drawn towards the spine while retaining a soft upper abdomen (the area above the belly button). This action of lifting through the lower belly helps maintain a strong inner core and brings lightness and grace to the asana. To avoid confusion, this is not the full Uddiyana banda with breath retention that is engaged in pranayama practice by drawing the belly in and up to meet the diaphragm. The full Uddiyana banda with breath retention would make asana movement nearly impossible.
Mula bandha or root lock is located at the base of the spine and can best be understood by a firm lifting of the pelvic floor (at the perineum). To begin with engaging this bandha feels like a clenching of the anus, but in time and with practice this becomes a gentle lifting of the pelvic floor.
Jalandhara bandha or chin lock is performed by extending the chin forward and drawing it back toward the throat where the clavicle bones meet. This bandha is not used in the physical practice of asana but more when practicing advanced pranayama with retention.
Dristi is your point of focus and should be used to assist in drawing your awareness inward. If you are unsure of the drishti for a certain pose, it is safe to focus your gaze in the direction the pose is moving (i.e. when lifting the arms overhead you look to the hands). Drishti is a specified gazing point for each movement. So, for every asana there is a specific breath, body position, internal focus, and gazing point.
Nasagrai : tip of the nose – Utkatasana or standing forward bend
Nabi Chakra : the navel – Adho Mukha Svanasa or Downward dog
Hastagrai : the hand – Trikonasana or Triangle
Padayoragrai : the toes – Pachimottanasana or Seated forward bend
Angusta ma Dyai : the thumbs – Standing with arms over head
Urdhva / Antara Drishti : up to the sky (past the thumbs)- Virabhadrasana 1 or Warrior 1
Parsva Drishti : far to the right – seated twists to the right
Parsva Drishti : far to the left – seated twist to the left
Ajna Chakra / Broomadhya : the third eye / between the eyebrows – Supta Kurmasana or tortoise, sirshasana – headstand, matsyasana – fish pose
Tristsna is a key to the spiritual side of yoga. When this state begins to be achieved the lotus blossom of yoga begins to unfold its petals. When, through repetition, these individual elements of experience come together into an effortless absorbing state make the practice an elegant meditation in action.
* Sushumna is the central nadi channel and is associated with
the river Saraswati. Running up the body from just below
Muladhara chakra to Sahasrara chakra at the crown of the head. In addition to the seven chakras of the subtle body, the Tantras
have described a network of subtle channels known as nadis.
According to the tantric treatise Shiva Samhita, there are
fourteen principal nadis. Of these, Ida, Pingala and Sushumna
are considered the most important.