We practice and teach Ashtanga Yoga in the tradition of Shri K. Pattabhi Jois from Mysore, India (http://www.kpjayi.org/index.html) ; and the Vinyasa Krama sequences developed by Matthew Sweeney (http://www.yogatemple.com) These Hatha Yoga methods are a powerful mindfulness practice based on linking rhythmic breathing to the movements of the body. The four core elements of the breathing system are: ujjayi pranayama (victorious stretching of the breath), vinyasa (breath synchronized movement), bandhas (energy locks or valves), and dhristi (internal gaze). Ideally, these elements are simultaneously engaged as the practitioner moves through a prescribed sequence of asanas (postures) to create a continuous flow of movement.
The simultaneous union of ujjayi pranayama, vinyasa (breath synchronized movement), bandhas (internal energetic valves/locks), and dhristi (internal gazing) is known as Tristana. When this state is achieved, the Ashtanga practice transforms into an experience of seemingly effortless and playful flow; and the practitioner rides on a wave of internal energy infused with joy and grace.
In our own personal practice and teaching, we find ourselves focusing again and again on the refinement of this powerful breathing system. Once the practitioner is comfortable and proficient in the foundation of smooth and even ujjayi breathing; we try to focus the student on the refinement and development of the other core elements, i.e., vinyasa, bandhas, and dhristi.
Vinyasa, in particular, is much more than simply linking asanas together or synchronizing movement with one's breathing. Rather, vinyasa is the conscious yoking together of ujjayi breathing and movement within a steady rhythm. It requires the mindful application of one's own will. When practiced with faith, consistency, and diligence, it is a profound method to gradually settle the mind into stillness. Moreover, when vinyasa is combined with the energetic application of the bandhas, the experience can feel much like that of riding an energetic "breath-wave".
Through this approach, proficiency in asana practice is organically "bloomed" from the inside-out. Correct alignment and action within the asana comes from the intelligent application of the breathing system. Said another way, the sequence of asanas is a continuous flowing energy pattern which is filled and brought alive by the intelligent action of prana carried by the breath.
In summary, our approach to practicing and teaching Ashtanga Yoga and Vinyasa Krama Yoga is:
- The breathing system (Ujjayi, Vinyasa, and Bandhas) coupled with dhristi, is the power source and engine for the entire practice. It provides both the energy and the rhythm of the practice, while also becoming the single point of focus for the Mind during the practice.
- Within the sequential sequences of Ashtanga Yoga and Vinyasa Krama, (i.e., Primary Series, Intermediate Series, and Advanced Series, Moon and Lion Sequences) the asanas are flowers within a continuous garland, which bloom from the inside out through the conscious and willful application of the breathing system.
- By repeatedly bringing our attention to the correct application of the breathing system, while maintaining an internal gaze, we become increasingly aware of its energetic properties in subtle but tangible ways. We gradually improve our ability to sense energy, increase its intensity and power, and direct it in appropriately during the practice.
- Tristana is the simultaneous union of these elements. The physical and mental results within the practice can be profound feelings of flow, fluidity, lightness, and strength infused with grace and joy; all experienced through the lense of a calm and quiet mind.
- This entire process is the embodiment of the four internal limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. Namely, complete attention on the correct application of the breathing system will result in a gradual withdrawing of the senses (pratyahara), which leads to focused concentration (Dharana) over extended periods of time. Sustained concentration transforms into meditation (Dhyana); and sustained meditation transforms into an experience of Samadhi, where we can consciously experience the Source as ourselves.