Why Tristhana Is An Essential Part of Ashtanga Yoga Practice

Tristhana is an important aspect of Ashtanga Yoga practice and indeed any type of yoga practice. The term tristhana literally means three places of attention. The three important places that we talk about are: posture, breath and the gaze. The three are practiced together and provide for purification of the body, the nervous system and the mind.

Asanas (postures) and vinyasa make up the physical practice of yoga. These components give flexibility and strength to the body and also help to purify it.

In order to use the asanas correctly the bandhas or energy locks must be applied. In the vinyasa practice of ashtanga yoga, the two lower bandhas are the ones that must be engaged – that is mula bandha (root lock) and uddiyana bandha (upward abdominal lock). The bandhas are also useful for pranayama (breath control techniques). They are described in detail in two particular scriptures – the ‘Hatha Yoga Pradipika’ and ‘Gheranda Samhita’ and have the purpose of preventing energy from escaping from the body. The bandhas are an important gateway to the spiritual plane because when we practice tristhana then we move our awareness from being focussed purely on the physical plane and asanas, to being focussed on breath, gaze and also energy locks. Hence we open up the spiritual energies within us.

‘Rechaka’ is exhalation of the breath in Sanskrit and ‘Puraka’ is inhalation. In any type of yoga practice rechaka and puraka should be steady, even and also of the same length. Krishna Pattabhi Jois taught that this steady breathing helps to purify the nervous system. He was referring to the fact that the steady and slow breath helps with lowering not just the breathing rate, but the heart rate too. This helps bring the nervous system to a point of balance and relaxation.

Drishti (gaze) is the point where you focus your attention during yoga practice. By being aware of a particular point, you can focus your mind to a stillness and bring yourself into a state of meditation which is ultimately the focus of yoga practice. The sage Patanjali teaches ‘yoga chitta vritti nirodha’ or that yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. Focussing the awareness on a single point brings the mind to stillness. The Ashtanga system of Yoga teaches nine drishtis. These are: the nose, the point in between the eyebrows, the navel, the thumb, the hands, the feet, upwards, to the right and to the left.

The method of tristhana allows yogis to develop control of the senses and also to develop a deep awareness of themselves. The yogi becomes more internalised and moves towards ‘pratyahara’ or sense withdrawal. The yogi also becomes aware of his or her emotions and the inner functionings of the mind. By remaining in Trishana during the Vinyasa practice of Ashtanga Yoga, the yogi develops steadiness of the body and steadiness of the mind.