Engaging the Will

We worked on the bandhas in yoga this week. Bandha means lock in Sanskrit, and the bandhas are places in the body where you can tighten and hold in an intense, continuous way. They feel to me like a deeper layer of engagement and alignment, below muscular energy and loops — a more refined way of holding yourself and therefore holding a pose. They are challenging, but they can make maintenance of a challenging pose easier.

As always, awareness and engagement help things fall into place.

I was familiar with mula bandha — that’s the root lock (mula means root), the one in the pelvis, at the base of the body. Female yogis often approach it by comparing it to a Kegel exercise — the muscles you tighten to stop the flow of urine, and something our ob-gyns, midwives and doulas encourage us to do around pregnancy and childbirth. My teacher Emma, however, asked us to think of it as a larger space than that — when you engage mula bandha, everything in the square between your two sitbones and your tailbone and pubic bone should lift, come deeper up into the body. Emma compared it to gathering up a piece of fabric from the middle with your fist, but holding onto it relatively loosely; you’re not clenching, but you are lifting. Coupled with the pulling to the midline that muscular energy gives you, mula bandha creates quite the foundation upon which to place any pose. It can actually make you feel lighter on your mat, because the energy you’re concentrating at your base takes some of the pressure and weight out of your legs or arms (in an inversion).

Then comes uddiyana bandha, centered in the upper abdomen — and my new favorite thing.

Uddiyana means to fly up, or rise up, and what you do here is pull the lower ribs up, back, and then down into the back of the body. You’re rounding your lower and mid back, but you’re doing it by using your upper stomach muscles. It’s related to kidney loop, which in Anusara means a puffing up of the back body. I’d done this kind of movement before but hadn’t thought about it in quite this way — the idea of making it a lock helps you to do it more forcefully and with more intent than you might otherwise. I don’t think I’d engaged kidney loop quite as soundly before.

Uddiyana bandha is kind of amazing, in my humble opinion. It not only tones and works your abs (something I certainly need) but also gives you a different kind of awareness in the core of your body, which is not only a good thing in general, but something that can be hugely beneficial in all sorts of asana.

Here’s something I found on a site called MindBodyGreen:

“Uddiyana bandha can be one of the most transformative aspects of your yoga practice, especially as you get more advanced. It moves the energy upwards with much more force than mula bandha, thus allowing you to invert and jump more easily, as well as float forward and back more lightly and twist more deeply.”

I don’t want to say this could be a magic bullet, but…my handstand needs this.

Today we did assisted inversions — handstand, pincha and headstand — and I’m telling you, when I activated this bandha in those poses, I literally felt something slide into place. It was incredibly satisfying and very encouraging.

Emma said uddiyana bandha is associated with the third chakra and the idea of your will. I’m planning to will it to continue to help me in inversions.

(There’s one more lock: jalandhara bandha, in the throat. Since this is a strange place for me — I tend to tuck my chin — I can’t wait to see what engaging this bandha might do.)


One Comment on “Engaging the Will”

  1. leslie says:

    after class last night, my core felt so alive. i’ve never been known for fire in the belly, will try to remain aware of uddiyana bandha. may it help me to arrive at heretofore unattainable asanas too.


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