This is the manner in which Ashtanga Yoga is taught at the Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute (KPJAYI) in Mysore, India. Students learn the traditional sequence of asanas (postures) on an individual basis, one by one, yet in a group setting. The practice/class remains silent with soft spoken one on one individual instruction. The asanas are taught in a progressive system, where each builds strength and stamina, developing the student for the next asana. This is a very powerful and safe way of learning Ashtanga Yoga. The students then memorize the sequence, which becomes their personal practice.
1. VINYASA: Breath and movement system.
2. POSTURE / BANDHA: Internal muscular locks (mula bandha, uddiyana bandha, jalandhara bandha).
These contractions are intended to protect the spine and internal organs and control energy flow. There are three main bandhas involving three muscle groups: perineal, abdominal, and cervical (neck). Contraction affects nervous, circulatory, respiratory, endocrine, and energetic systems. Energetically, bandhas are used as means of untying granthis (psychic knots or blockages) which exist as tension, anxieties, repressions, and unresolved conflicts. Bandhas help control breath, and breath controls consciousness.
3. DRISTI: Eye gazing-focal point.
Breathing Method: The breathing technique or pranayama performed within this practice is called Ujjayi Pranayama which means “Victorious Breath”. Ujjayi is an even, steady rhythmic breath that begins at the back of the throat with sound and the mouth closed. This cultivates an internal heat which brings about sweat for the purpose of detoxification.
Deep Free Breathing – these techniques are maintained throughout the entire practice, making it a moving meditation.
If we practice the science of yoga, which is useful to the entire human community and which yields happiness both here and hereafter – if we practice it without fail, we will then attain physical, mental and spiritual happiness, and our minds will flood towards the Self.
— Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
Mula Bandha is discovered at the end of the exhalation, a slight natural drawing in of the genital region and perineum. It is an action on the pelvic floor by the muscles of the pelvic belly, while the pelvic floor itself remains passive. This muscular action occurs in the groins (sloping lateral hollows from the edges of the pubic bone toward the hipbones). If you put your fingers on groins, you’ll feel a pencil-like line of muscle pushing gently UP and OUT while the rest of the belly draws Back without tightening. It is the ONLY deliberate activation of abdominal muscles, any other will interfere with breathing and prevent internalization intended by the bandhas. It may be helpful to remember that it takes time to bring this area under conscious control, at first you will contract the anus and genital organs as well in order to lift the perineal/cervical muscles. With dedication and time, the application of mula bandha becomes lighter and more sensitive.
Mula Bandha has many benefits. The lifting of the pelvic floor gains muscular support for the lower digestive organs, while broadening the back of the pelvis and keeping the sacrum safe. It enforces all Parasympathetic (relaxation) responses, lowering heart rate and decreasing blood pressure. It rebalances the Hormonal system, and provides root energy necessary for a firm foundation. Energetically, it seals prana internally at the lowest portion of the sushumna nadi (central energy channel), preventing downward flow of prana. It also stimulates energy in the lowest chakra (Muladhara), awakening the latent power of kundalini shakti, which enables the individual to develop his/her innate potential.
Combined with Mula Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha is responsible for the lightness of movement in Ashtanga Yoga. Perhaps the easiest way to find this bandha is to stand with knees bent, hands braced on thighs. Exhale to the maximum, pressing in with the abdomen, then with the chest. When the breath is completely expelled, pause, holding the breath out with a relaxed abdomen, and do a mock inhalation with the chest, feeling it lift and expand. This creates a vacuum, causing the upper abdomen to form a deep concavity that extends up and underneath the rib cage, and sucks the diaphragm and abdominal organs to a higher than usual position in the torso. This can happen only if the body is sealed above and below-above at the glottis, (Jalandhara Bandha, see below) and below at the perineum (Mula Bandha). This is the fullest expression of Uddiyana Bandha; during asana practice it is the easiest to cultivate in Downward Dog (Adhomukha Svanasana).
This drawing in of the abdominal wall supports and protects the internal organs and lower back. It results in a softness and stillness of the lower abdomen and provides a “platform” for the incoming breath. Additionally, the lift of the diaphragm massages the heart muscles, toning them and the abdominal organs, which increases digestive fire and eliminates toxins from the digestive tract.
Jalandhara Bandha is utilized by flexing the head forward so the chin is tucked into the suprasternal notch (the little concavity above the sternum at the pit of the throat). This bandha is emphasized in sarvangasana (shoulder stand) and in padmasana (lotus posture). It regulates the flow of prana to the heart, head, and endocrine glands in the neck (thyroid and parathyroid). It also relaxes the brain, clears nasal passages, and humbles the intellect.
Energetically, the lunar plexus is in the center of the brain and creates coolness. When jalandhara bandha is engaged, the cool energy of the lunar plexus is NOT allowed to flow downward or be dissipated by the hot energy of the solar plexus. In this way, the elixir of life is stored and life is prolonged.
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