In Ashtanga or power vinyasa yoga there are four important actions that-- when approached with sensitivity-- will increase the potency and boost the healing potential of the practice.
1. Ujjayi breathing is the foundation of power vinyasa yoga. Ujjayi breathing is often translated as uplifting or victorious breath. It involves making the inhalation equal to the exhalation, and stretching it out a little longer than usual. It is done by creating a hissing sound or an oceanic sound by narrowing the air passage in the throat, and ‘drinking’ rather than sniffing the breath.
Long, even breathing also increases the internal fire and is said to purify the nervous system. Also, it gives the mind a place to focus upon, creating an anchor to the present moment. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (a helpful manual for any student) states that to control the mind you must control the breath. Having the breath long and steady is also an important key to avoiding injury.
2. Uddiyana (Upward Flying) and Mula (Root) Bandha, as well as occasionally Jalandhara (Net) Bandha are energetic seals or locks that protect the body from misalignment, unhealthy pain, and dissipation of energy. They are often overlooked and not presented clearly. Pattabhi Jois said these are the anal and lower abdominal locks which seal in energy, give lightness, strength and health to the body, and help to build a strong internal fire. Without bandhas, breathing will not be correct, and the asanas will give no benefit. When mula bandha is perfect, mind control is automatic.” Guruji was fond of saying, “No mula bandha, no Yoga. Mula bandha you must always take.”
3. Drishti is “looking place” or sometimes called gaze. In power yoga you are usually given a specific place to look (ie tip of nose, navel, etc) that helps to keep the mind focused and centered. This action promotes dharana (concentration), which leads to the heights and depths of yoga. Guruji taught that it is the breath, bandhas and focused gaze that, “builds the bridge, to carry the essence of your practice from the yoga mat into your daily life.”
4. Vinyasa means literally “to place in a special way or order.” According to Guruji it means “breathing and movement system.” It serves practitioners to keep the mind and body constantly joined through the breath. In vinyasa yoga (sometimes called flow yoga) there is a specific breath for each movement. An example of vinyasa is the well known sun salutation (surya namaskara). Usually expansive lifting movements are done while inhaling and contracting descending movements are done in concert with the exhale. Vinyasa also helps to maintain and build heat throughout the practice so that one begins to sweat and purify the body through the sweat.
Through the four keys to power yoga practice (ujjayi breath, bandhas, drishti and vinyasa) the body is purified and made stronger, lighter and healthier. In the words of Krishnamacharya, the aim of yoga practice “is to make use of the human body to contemplate on God.”