InSan Yoga is dedicated to maintaining the Ashtanga Yoga tradition and lineage as taught by the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and his grandson, R. Sharath Jois, Director of KPJAYI in Mysore, India. Santina Giardina-Chard honors the unique transmission of knowledge from teacher to student, known as “parampara”. With impassioned gratitude and reverence, Santina is humbled by her teacher’s blessing to carry on this sacred observance.
“We practice Ashtanga Yoga for the inner transformation. We create stability of the mind through the body.” — R. Sharath Jois
Ashtanga Yoga is an ancient system of Yoga that was taught by Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta. This text was imparted to Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900’s by his Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari, and was later passed down to Pattabhi Jois during the duration of his studies with Krishnamacharya, beginning in 1927.
Ashtanga Yoga is steeped in ancient tradition that dates back many thousands of years in a seamless line of gurus and teachers, which now reaches its apex in the philosophical and applied teachings of the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and his grandson R. Sharath Jois, current Director of KPJAYI, in Mysore, India.
Ashtanga yoga is generally practiced six times a week, which includes one or two led classes. During the Led classes, the student is encouraged to let go of all forms and simply practice according to the precise Vinyasa (breath/movement synchronicity), Tristhana and methodical pace. The student’s personal practice involves a defined series of postures practiced consistently and diligently for many weeks, months, years. Through daily practice, a systematic opening of the body begins, revealing fault lines and asymmetrical patterns which can be attended to directly or indirectly.
With devotion and consistency, the practice supports a tender and gentle unfolding of the pysche. The practice heightens our awareness around the emotional, psychological and psychic entanglements or “stuckness” areas, which are more often then not intertwined with the other. Over time, opening and experiences of the physical body are reflected in the mental state and the very fabric of the psyche, and vice versa, and thus a holistic form of healing emerges.
Importance of the Ashtanga Yoga Lineage
The tested and tried Ashtanga Yoga tradition invariably offers a strong and stable body and mind. Following the precepts of this challenging yoga system is said to inhabit the thoughts and habits of daily life, offering powerful tools for the student to create an existence of dignity, courage and grace.
“The yoga tradition exists in many ancient lineages, but today some are trying to create new ones, renouncing or altering their guru’s teachings in favor of new ways…Many attempt to scale the peaks in the Himalayas, but not all succeed. Through courage and surrender, however, one can scale the peaks of knowledge by the grace of the guru, who is the holder of knowledge, and who works tirelessly for his students.”
The unbroken transmission of knowledge from teacher to student is known as “parampara.” Parampara is a Sanskrit term that describes a system in which knowledge is passed down in a continuous, uninterrupted way. Therefore, to traditional Ashtanga Yoga teachers and students, Parampara cultivates a mutual respect and strong bond between teacher and student over long periods of time.
“Knowledge can be transferred only after the student has spent many years with an experienced guru, a teacher to whom he has completely surrendered in body, mind, speech and inner being. Only then is he fit to receive knowledge. This transfer from teacher to student is parampara…The bonding of teacher and student is a tradition reaching back many thousands of years in India, and is the foundation of a rich, spiritual heritage. The teacher can make his students steady – he can make them firm where they waver. He is like a father or mother who corrects each step in his student’s spiritual practice.”
Vinyasa is the system of linking movement to breath. When we salute the sun, Surya Namskar, there are a total nine vinyasas. In the first vinyasa, we inhale while we raise our arms over our heads and place our hands together. In the second vinyasa, we exhale while we bend forward and put our hands right next to our feet. This synchronization of breath to movement is thought to aid in internal cleansing.
Eventually pain and stagnation are eliminated when the blood circulates freely as we link our movement to breath. Our internal fire is stoked and impurities are removed from our organs as we create more heat and sweat.
The Method: Tristhana
Tristhana is a Sanskrit word that defines the three places of focus and attention during daily practice—the breath, the pose (asana) and the gaze (dristhi). When all three aspects are simultaneously practiced, this Tristhana method naturally transforms a physical practice into a moving meditation. Ideally, a certified or an authorized teacher guides each student through each posture at an appropriate pace with correct alignment. These postures create flexibility, while strengthening and purifying the body, mind and the conditioned framework of the psyche.
The gazing point, Dristhi, is the place you look at while in any yoga posture, which helps to visually focus and center the mind. There are a total of nine dristhis: the nose, navel, hands, thumb, between the eyebrows, up, right side, left side, and feet. Focusing on each dristhi while moving through the asana practice helps practitioners stabilize the chattering and fluctuations of the mind.
The breath is a crucial aspect of Tristhana as it offers stability. The proper breathing technique used in the Ashtanga Yoga system is through the nose only. The inhale and exhale should be methodical and even, with the length of each inhale being the same as the length of each exhale. Deliberate, stable breathing supports our nervous system and internal fire, which is thought to increase heat and burn away the toxins and impurities in the body.
The breathing system also includes uddiyana and mula bandha, which are lower abdominal and anal locks, respectively. These root locks seal and retain energy in the body, offering strength and lightness throughout. It is believed that breathing is not correct without the proper use of these bandhas, as it is intrinsically linked to the functioning of the root locks.
The Relationship Between Teacher and Student
Through the tradition of Parampara, the student yields their mind, speech and body to allow themselves to be a conduit for the lessons and direct teachings of the lineage. A teacher spends many years watching the student learn, absorb and retain the fruits of the practice, and only when the teacher decides whether the student is in turn ready to teach, this direct knowledge transfer is considered Parampara.
The Role of the Teacher and Student
Through the tradition of Parampara, the teacher must guide and teach each student directly and as precisely as he/she learned from their teacher. Conversely, the responsibility of each student is to diligently practice the teachings of their teacher with utmost devotion and commitment.
The student’s faith in the teacher is inspired by their profound inner work. The teacher’s character virtues and integrity are what entrust confidence in the student. The teacher’s own ego-transcending spiritual practice, or Sadhana, through the Ashtanga Yoga method, nurtures an internal healing and transformation. Ideally, the teacher has embarked on his/her own individual journey where the barriers of their internal terrain have presented themselves; thus enabling him/her to use their individual practice to work through these obstructions.
Direct experience, called Pratyaksa in Sanskrit, is the highest form of knowledge. It is from this experiential knowing that the teacher is clear enough to compassionately support the student to embark on their own Sadhana. Therefore, the teacher has a responsibility to foster discernment and clarity in each student, and most importantly, within their own psyche potentiality.