Ajagari with Bhastrika
In ajagari pranyam/kriya we hold our breath in with udara bandha (pushing the abdomen outward) and then after exhale hold your breath out, lift and hold uddiyana kriya with khechari mudra.
It is typically practiced in between sets of bhastrika pranayama, but can be practiced alone.
Combining these two bandhas is very cleansing to the body, and quite energizing as well. It is commonly used for mental clarity and energy.
This pranayama is not common at all, I learned it in pranayama classes with Robert Moses. I could not find any information on it in any of my yoga text books (and I have quite a collection of them), and even an internet search only brought up a youtube in hindi on it, though it was a completely different practice, and a youtube in German on it which is similar to the way I learned but not exact.
Udara bandha is a new bandha for us. It is not commonly done either. This practice comes from the Sukshma Vyayama – Subtle Movements – often practiced by yogis and sadhus in the Himalayan regions. Difficult to find it in “modern yoga” classes for some reason or other unknown to me, it is fun and energizing though you do have to be careful with it.
In udara bandha one inhales slowly and deeply and then holding the breath in you bloat the whole abdomen region by pushing the abdominal wall out as much as possible.
Our abdominal region contains largely the small and large intestine as well as the stomach, liver, kidneys, spleen, etc. – is referred to as udara in yoga language.
Doing kumbhak (breath retention) and pushing the abdominal wall out in udara bandha increases the pressure in the udara.
This has a whole lot of health benefits. It causes the heart rate to drop very low and then shoot up very quickly, like a work out for the heart without running. It strengthens the heart, exercises the diaphragm, sucks blood down from the upper body into the udara improving circulation. It also has strong effect on the vagus nerve, which has so many benefits from strengthening the calming side of our nervous system to improving heart rate variability. But more importantly it is helping to connect the subtle body to the physical body via the nadis in the region leading us slowly to the deeper aims of a hatha yoga practice.
Caution is advised when practicing udara bandha (in the more advanced classes it is done in a standing position). The blood pressure and heart rate can change so abruptly and with such intensity that it can cause the practitioner to feel faint and if you don’t stop and take a breath you could fall over – so one needs to be very careful – it happens all of a sudden. Thus it is also preparation for a “no thought” state. But needs to be done slowly over time, due to this caution we will only be doing it while sitting.
As ashtangis we are already familiar with uddiyana bandha, here we do it as a kriya instead of a bandha. When we do it in asana practice as a bandha we are breathing with it, when practiced as a kriya we perform it more strongly and while holding our breath out.
After a long slow exhale, hold your breath out, lift your ribs and suck your abs up under your rib cage, turn your tongue back to khechari mudra. This breath hold is more challenging; start slowly with it, hold your breath out with uddiyana kriya for about 8-12 seconds.
Uddiyana kriya and bandhas in general are little movers, they improve everything that has to move in our body improving circulation, especially the return of venous blood to the heart, which is tough work for the body to do. It has a big benefit to our immunity, which is one of the reasons we are learning it. The pressure in the abdomen improves lymphatic circulation strongly — which is where 80% of our immune system is.
Uddiyana also helps us digest or detox, when you suck your abdomen upward you are putting pressure directly on your liver and stomach, so if you have any food in your stomach it will help with digestion, although it’s more comfortable to do on an empty stomach and in that case it will improve detoxification.
And uddiyana kriya and bandha also has a strong effect on our vagus nerve improving heart rate variability and strengthening the parasympathetic nervous system givings us more equanimity, calm under pressure.
More on Ajagari
Ajagari is a kriya, kriya means “completed action for a specific result”, they are commonly breathing exercises, though some kriyas can be more cleansing in nature. For example Kriya Yoga, another popular from of yoga, is the last 3 niyamas:
- Tapas means discipline and refers to increasing heat in the body for detoxification
- Svadhyaya means self study — of mind and body interoception including meditation and realizing how your thoughts effect your physiology, and how your thoughts and words effect those around you
- Ishvara pranidhana means surrender to self, or universe, or higher belief — basically surrender your ego. Don’t think your way is right for everyone, or your opinion is best for all. Realizing we can all have different opinions and still be friends!
Ajagari is a kriya with the specific the specific result of increasing energy, immunity, and vitality. It is a very energizing kriya pranayama. It can actually be quite stunning, your heart races and then drops, you could even start to feel a little lightheaded — if you do you exhale and take a few breaths. In yoga it is used to increase your prana.
Ajagari means python, because during udara bandha your stomach is expanded like that of a snake that just ate, and during uddiyana kriya your whole abdomen is drawn in like that a hungry snake.
Working into ajagari:
Settle in to your meditation position.
- Start with 10 gentle bhastrikas, then hold your breath in for 30 seconds. Repeat 1-2x
Take 2-3 deep slow breaths and continue:
- Practice udara bandha by itself first: Take a slow deep inhale, hold your breath in and push your abdomen outward. Pay attention to what you feel in your body and heart. Release your abdomen, then exhale. Keep your holds rather short 10-20 seconds. Repeat 1-2x
Take 2-3 deep slow breaths and continue to Uddiyana kriya:
- Uddiyana kriya – take a slow inhale and a complete exhale. Hold your breath out, lift your ribs and suck your entire abdomen up under your ribs, feel as if you are reaching your navel to your spine. If you can add one more challenge to this, turn your tongue back to khechari mudra. This one’s harder, so only hold your breath 8-12 seconds. Relax your abs, then inhale. If you inhale before you drop uddiyana your diaphragm will do a little hiccup.
Putting it all together into Ajagari:
- 10 gentle bhastrikas through the nose
- Long slow deep inhale, hold your breath in and push your abdomen outward into udara bandha – 15-20 seconds – relax the bandha
- Exhale slowly, hold your breath out, lift your abdomen up to uddiyana kriya, and add khechari mudra – 8-12 seconds, drop your uddiyana lift then inhale.
Take a couple breaths and repeat only 1-2 more times.