In every vinyasa practice, there are three main points of focus that are necessary in order to deepen, grow, and steady the mind-body-spirit. In Sanskrit this word is called “tristhana.” It literally means “three standing points” and should be at the forefront of your awareness throughout your entire practice on the mat.
We’re always coming back to the breath in yoga. It’s not only the foundation for life itself, it is one of the most fundamental parts of the yoga practice. The breath is always true to the present moment. When we bring our mind to focus on the breath, we are able to drop back into the present and check in with our physical self at any given moment.
In vinyasa yoga, or a yoga flow class, each single movement of the body is synced with each flow of the breath. For example, to begin a sun salutation, we inhale and reach our arms up toward the sky. The speed of the arms reaching up toward the sky should follow the length of one inhale. Then, our next exhale instigates the body’s action of folding forward. Again, the one movement should be just as long as the one exhale itself. Do your best to make each inhale and exhale the same amount of time as well (i.e., if your inhale takes 6 counts, your exhale should also take 6 counts).
The breath should always be done through the nose, deeply and purposefully while producing a low hissing sound (known as ujjayi). This is done by slightly contracting the muscles in the throat. It’s the same action as fogging up a mirror, except you keep the mouth closed. This specific breathing technique lights up your digestive fire, aiding in the body’s ability to purify the organs and remove toxins.
When practicing with ujjayi breathing, it’s important to breathe steadily, smoothly, and calmly. This will keep our heart rate low and promote a sense of ease and peacefulness in our nervous system while we practice challenging asana, and allow the body to find greater mobility and strength.
The next point of focus in our yoga practice is the asana itself. Asana should be practiced with mindfulness of the entire body in the present moment. Our dedicated vinyasa practice will begin to strengthen the intuition and wisdom of the body, allowing us to deeply connect to and honor what the body is telling us on any given day. It’s our job to listen.
The bandhas, or internal locks, have an incredibly profound effect on the body’s ability to execute a pose or transition in vinyasa yoga. They bring stability and power to the yoga practice. By implementing the engagement of bandhas into our vinyasa practice, we begin to gain control of our body in a new way. The bandhas allow us to conserve energy, become light and float effortlessly between poses, and protect our joints from injury. They tone our inner body and bring deeper connectedness to our inner world.
The two main bandhas I find most important to acknowledge here are moola bandha and uddiyana bandha. Moola Bandha is essentially the act of activating the entire pelvic floor region. Uddiyana Bandha is a soft pulling in and up of the lower abdominals. Eventually they become subtler energetic sensations. Ideally, after very consistent practice for a very long time, these two bandhas will be lit up and activated without end throughout the entirety of your vinyasa practice. That’s right. The bandhas are engaged the whole time in every asana.
Every pose has a specific point at which we’re supposed to look at. In Sanskrit, this is called the dristhi. There are many gazing points; upwards, third eye, nose, right side, left side, belly button, hand, thumb, big toe. The dristhi keeps the spine in a healthy anatomical position and it’s a powerful tool for making your practice a moving meditation. Of all three pillars of focus, this one may seem the easiest, but you’d be surprised how many shifty eyes there are in a yoga class. When the eyes shift, it indicates the mind has shifted— thoughts have taken over and you’re no longer witnessing the oneness of the moment. To keep your gaze on a single point for the entire duration of a pose takes serious focus and mental control. But when it is done, your yoga practice will move to a whole new level of inner presence and deep connectedness to mind-body-spirit.
If in any pose the dristhi isn’t accessible yet, you can always return to the neutral gazing point of the tip of the nose.
Incorporate Tristhana on the mat to feel your yoga practice deepen and enrich your relationship with yourself and the world around you.
Asana practice is a powerful vehicle for transforming your life from the inside out. But what truly makes it work is dedication, consistency, and surrendering to the process.
Keep practicing. All is coming.
For love, with love.