Bandhas Shmandas - Uddiyana Bandha

New on this week!

Core strength: it’s something with which everyone seems to be obsessed. And that’s a good thing, not just for the ever-elusive sexy six pack, but for the practical function it serves in our lives. You see, nearly all the movements we make in the world come from our core and are stabilized by our core. Sometimes we only realize this if we suddenly find ourselves with an injury to our core, and especially if we’ve had to undergo the surgeon’s knife to correct the problem. So, I offer for you this week a look at two levels of building and maintaining core strength, the shtula and sukshma of core strength, if you will. 

First, our free video of the week offers you a chance to work on the more shtula level of your core, helping you to discover greater strength throughout the muscular level of your abdomen. Check it out for free this week only right here.

Once you’ve got the gross level down pat, though, it’s time to consider the more sukshma level of core strength. And it’s in exploring the subtle layer of things in our yoga practice that we often start to really bridge the gap between our lives on the mat and our lives off the mat. You see, I’ve found that a great way to learn how to bring a yogic awareness from the mat into our lives lies precisely in developing a relationship with the bandhas, those energetic locks that we ascribe to different physical locations in the body. Bandha awareness is critical not only to maintaining healthy alignment in yoga postures, but also to containing energy, developing a greater connection to more subtle areas of your body, refining the depth at which yoga works in your body, and making yoga available to you at any time and place. 

"Dang, that sounds pretty good! Where can I get me some of them bandhas?”

Well, if you remember, we've already looked at mula bandha, or the root lock. (Scroll down to the show notes for that now infamous podcast...) This is the foundational bandha, and is usually most heavily emphasized in yoga asana practice, so be sure to check out that post if you missed it the first time out. Now, we're ready to work with uddiyana bandha. This is mula bandha's partner, if you will. These two bandhas are for most us inextricably linked: when one is engaged, the other usually comes along with it. (Note: uddiyana bandha should not be confused with uddiyana kriya, which is a cleansing pranayama practice that is quite advanced, involving drawing the whole belly back and up strongly, and should only be done under the supervision of an experienced teacher.)

Uddiyana means "upward flying," which is an apt description for this bandha indeed. The physical approximation of this energetic lock is usually described as a feeling of drawing back and up in the low belly. Commonly, we hear that the location of this action is between the navel and the pubic bone. While that is certainly a wonderful area of the body with which to be connected, I like to refine it further. To me, the subtle action of uddiyana bandha happens in a very small area just above the pubic bone, with a feeling of drawing in and upward. 

Getting so specific is a tremendous help if you have a tendency to push too far, engaging muscles to the point of tension and even strain. This creates unnecessary tension in the body when we really seek to practice postures with ease and integrity. Moreover, if the practitioner attempts to keep the larger, broader area of the abdomen fully engaged, it can be much more difficult to breathe fully and easily, thereby defeating the point of practicing asana altogether.  

This very subtle refinement of uddiyana bandha combined with mula bandha, has allowed me to find greater stability in challenging postures: mula bandha providing centering and containment, while uddiyana bandha offers stability and lift. When you see someone in a posture that looks steady and light, almost effortless, you can be sure that he or she has strong awareness of these bandhas. Contact with the root bandhas can change the feeling of poses dramatically: eliminating sloppiness and "noise" feelings from unintended areas of the body that become affected when postures are done without precision. What's more, a deeper relationship with mula and uddiyana bandha has offered me a world of relief from some of my otherwise more persistent lumbar and sacroiliac pains. 

So, I would like to give you an even more particular anatomical description of uddiyana bandha, but we must remember that these are energetic locks, and any anatomical location is merely an approximation of something you must feel for yourself through practice. As a beginning, I'll refer you back to the exercise we did to find mula bandha, by sitting in virasana on a block. As you sit with your eyes closed, follow your breath closely as you contact mula bandha, that lift in the floor of your pelvis. Notice if you simultaneously feel a slight, yet distinct engagement just above your pubic bone - this is uddiyana bandha. It might feel as though that slight lift in the floor of your pelvis wraps forward over the pubic bone to form the bottom of your container, your pelvis. You might also notice that you can contact these upward-moving engagements without tensing the rest of your abdomen. Your belly can remain soft enough to breathe freely as your focus remains on maintaining your experience of these bandhas.

Lastly, I have to emphasize that it won't be helpful to fret over trying to find the bandhas to the point of frustration. If all of this sounds like ethereal gobbledygook, then let it wash over you and keep going. Subtle aspects of our yoga practices always come to us in perfect time: it's just that some seeds take longer to germinate than others. If this practice of developing a relationship with the bandhas resonates with you currently, take this work with you wherever you go. Fortunately, we can practice bandha awareness at any moment. Steal brief snippets of your own time here and there to sit with your breath and your bandhas. Before you know it, they'll become as integral to your practice of asana as your muscles and bones. And who knows? You might just one day find your yoga popping up at all sorts of other moments in the rest of your life off the mat.

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Also Mentioned In The Show:

Honoring the passing of TKV Desikachar

Find your vision with last week's feature, Meditation Station: Visioning

The first installment of Bandhas Shmandas: Mula Bandha 
(Yes, it's THAT episode...)

Fun with the voice of The MOJO Show, Mary Grant!