TOPIC OF THE MONTH
September 2020, September 2012, July 2011, May 2006, August 2004
a little thing that makes a big difference
Most people’s journey to understand the bandhas usually starts with them being physical, and they put a lot more physical effort into them than necessary. The next feeling shifts to finding some lightness in movement with them which for many shift to finding a deeper inner lift in the core of the body. Over time that too shifts.
Over the years I started connecting my bandhas to my breath and bonding the two together feeling the bandhas come alive in my body, making them feel almost like a spiritual practice. Now through research I discovered they also have a profound effect on balancing the autonomic nervous system.
Bandha — like so many words of yogic vocabulary can not be exactly translated. It means to tie, to control, to block, to hold, to join and to contract — all at the same time.
The Sanskrit term bandha has been translated as a means to bond or bridge together, they are about connection–inner connection, building a bridge to take us from the outer to the inner. Yoga needs to have an inner contemplation to be yoga.
Bandhas serve multiple functions in our body, or can have multiple identities; like us! You can be a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a friend. Bandhas too can have different identities depending on the job they are performing; from balancing the nervous system to helping with digestion, improving circulation, toning the glands of the body positively affecting hormonal balance, they help us breathe better supporting the respiratory system, they engage our core muscles, and help to protect the spine and back supporting the muscular and skeletal systems. That’s 8 out of the 10 systems in our body that bandhas effect, and who knows they probably even support the reproductive systems and the urinary system in some way too.
Our Bandhas connect us to our gut
Our human energy powerhouse is in our gut, many of our cultures recognize this, for example the taoist qi or chi, the japanese ki, the Egyptians call it ka, and the Hawaiians call it Ha (breath) or mana. In yoga we refer to our energetics as prana or shakti. Our bandhas of which 2 of the most used bandhas originate in our gut, help us tap into this energy. From the yoga perspective the point of the bandhas is to awaken and control these subtle yet powerful energies in our body.
Being conscious of this energy and making the mental effort to stay connected with it throughout most your day will have amazing benefits to your energy levels, your attitude, and your health.
On a physical level bandhas do refer to various muscular contractions intended to influence the nervous systems which in turn influence the health of the body.
Connecting with your bandhas requires more mental effort than physical effort, although the body will understand it much sooner than the mind will! It take years to develop it as a daily habit, and even though they are more subtle and advanced, begin the process of learning them early in your practice, while still a beginner. They are a subtle, constant lift, in the beginning everyone tends to squeeze too much — or not at all, or go between having them and losing them. All natural in the process of learning.
Bandhas in yoga, are more energetic. They move energy and matter in our body and give us lightness helping us move easier throughout our days, and they are a tool to assist with mind control.
On a physical level bandhas are muscular contractions that serve to influence the circulation of the blood, lymph and hormones. The bandhas are movers; bandhas move matter and energy, matter movement stimulates energy movement and energy movement stimulates matter movement.
Bandhas are little movers
Bandhas move energy, lets make it not so esoteric. Moving energy means blood flowing (particularly venous blood getting back to the heart), neurons communicating via their synapses, lymphatic fluid moving through the lymph vessels transporting toxins to the nodes where they are ameliorated, hormones secreting and traveling to their receptors, among many other “things” that need to move in our bodies like cytokines, white blood cells, and macrophages of the immune system.
The mild pressure the bandhas put on our abdomen help move all these fluids in our body keeping us healthier.
Bandhas and your PNS
When you read about bandhas in the yogic texts they are spoken of in a lore esoteric language. This is due to their effect on our nervous system making us parasympathetic dominant; the calming side of your nervous system is called the Parasympathetic Nervous System.
Both mula and uddiyana bandha put pressure on nerves to our parasympathetic nervous system which stimulates it and strengthens it.
- Mula bandha puts pressure on the pelvic splanchic nerve, which is the PNS nerve connected to the external anal sphincter, it’s job is to relax one for going to the bathroom or sexual functions; none of these happen when you are stressed.
- Uddiyana bandha puts pressure on our vagus nerve, which is calming and balancing to our nervous system, and makes up 80% alone of our PNS.
When we are in the calming side of our nervous system healing occurs, digestion is stronger, and immunity is better.
Bandhas give us lightness and ease of movements
When we engage with our bandhas; those little muscular contractions in our pelvis and abdomen we are kind of picking ourselves up from the inside. Our body is not such a dead weight for our arms and legs to carry around, suddenly movement is easier, not only do you run up the steps feeling light and energetic it is also easier to pick yourself up in a vinyasa or sun salute. Just try movement with the core support of your bandhas, it may be an eyeopening experience to feel the lightness and ease of movement this gives you which motivates you to move more throughout your day.
Bandhas, How to Employ?
I have heard many descriptions of how to engage your bandhas and most of them I don’t agree with. I like to employ them with my breath, then I have a subtle connection all day long with my bandhas and breath. Before I get into details on how to “do your bandhas” lets just feel them with our breath.
Bandhas and Breath Connected – a little breathing exercise to help you feel your bandhas
Connecting bandhas to breath helps to feel the bandhas from the inside preventing using too much external muscular effort for them.
- Sit with a relaxed abdomen, eyes closed, tongue on the roof of your mouth. Inhaling and exhaling both through your nose only, and keeping your abdomen relaxed; feel your abdomen expand with each inhale and relax inward on your exhales. Feel this in your body for a few breaths.
- Start to become more active with your exhale; as you exhale follow the natural inward upward movement with your abdominals tucking up in under your ribcage. As you become more active in your breathing process you will get a deeper exhale that is a little quicker as the lifting of the bandhas pushes the air out at a slightly faster pace. Relax on your inhales and let your belly drop. Sit with this breath for a few breaths.
- Now becoming more active with both the inhales and exhales; as you exhale and connect with the inward upward lift of your abdomen; now HOLD that inward upward lift and inhale. As you inhale instead of you abdomen expanding your lower ribs will expand instead. Feel this expansion in your back ribs, side ribs, as well as your front ribs. Sit with this breath for a bit.
- Taking it just a little deeper, as you inhale think of lifting from the anus upward; Inhales moving from the root of your spine upward where they meet the exhales continuing with the inward upward lift under the ribs where it stimulates vagus nerve. Feel your breath moving up and down your spine, feel your breath moving in your body. In yoga it is said the bandhas help pull apana upward (apana is downward moving energy) and prana downward to where they can meet in the body.
Pulling together your breathing and bandhas fills your body with prana, prana is your yogic energy that helps you feel awake and alive and energetic. Prana is intelligence at a cellular level, intelligence is called buddhi in Sanskrit, which comes from the root “bud,” which means to wake up, and so it is the energy of waking up.
As you find the bandhas in your musculature, try to relax the external muscles and feel the lift from the inside out. The bandhas help you do your practice from the inner experience–not the outer experience. This is very liberating as you are not limited to what your physical body can or can’t do.
Mula Bandhas is the root, we establish our support and grounding with help of the mula bandha.
Pattabhi Jois explained the bandhas as “squeeze your anus”. Many others try to explain the bandhas as a kegel exercise or a lifting of the pelvic floor or perineum (mula bandha) and an inward upward lift of the abdomen (uddiyana bandha). These are ok descriptions to help you connect with the muscular control you have of your pelvic floor and abdomen.
More simply explained “squeeze your anus” is the better description of how to do mula bandha, the pelvic splanchnic nerve connects to the external anal sphincter and that is the nerve we want to stimulate with mula bandha.
It is more of a lift than a squeeze of the anal sphincter, and it is subtle. Your mula bandha should not make you a tight ass, meaning don’t squeeze your glutei or butt cheeks, it is an internal contraction. Over time you want to be able to hold it lightly and steadily much of your day. When all else fails to just that, squeeze your anus, giving yourself another tool to find calm.
An explanation I have enjoyed is of viewing mula bandha as a bottom up approach to mind control. It is a “restraint of the root of the mind” kind of like a citta bandha — not so much just an anal squeeze. That sums up mula bandha right there for me as yoga is really about “what are you thinking?”
Continuing upward with Uddiyana Bandha
There is some debate whether the uddiyana bandha we practice during postures is a continuation of mula bandha or a separate exercise. In many yogic texts uddiyana bandha is described as a cleansing technique done by a complete “sucking up” of the lower and upper abdomen (others call this uddiyana kriya). For our purpose I am going to refer to uddiyana bandha as separate work from mula bandha, and uddiyana kriya as the cleansing exercise.
Uddiyana bandha involves the abdominal muscles, primarily 3 of the 4; it uses the transverse abdominis (the innermost muscular layer running horizontal), and the internal and external obliques (muscles that extend from the hips to the ribs and from the ribs to the hips at an “oblique” angle). In my personal training days I described the external obliques as “putting your hands in your front pockets” and the internal obliques which lie just under the external obliques as “slipping your hands into your back pockets”. These 3 ab muscles are our primary stabilizers and support for our spine.
Uddiyana means “to fly upward”, so your uddiyana bandha is not a contraction or hardening of your abdominal muscles, but a pulling inward and upward; hooking in just under the rib cage, akin to picking yourself up by your bootstraps. Your uddiyana bandha is what gives the lift and lightness in movements making movements effortless.
This information is only on the surface. Under the surface of uddiyana bandha is the vagus nerve. A major nerve that wanders all through the body from gut to brain; monitoring senses, monitoring organs and communicate what it finds to your nervous system. Uddiyana bandha pings the vagus nerve. When breathing with uddiyana bandha it helps one to relax and be calm.
Uddiyana bandha is supportive of deeper breathing. Engaging the abs uddiyana bandha does it assists in deepening the exhale giving a more complete exhale and that in turn allows a deeper inhale brining in more oxygen to the body. Uddiyana bandha connects body, mind, and breath.
Tongue on the Roof of your Mouth aka Jiva Bandha — another bandha! And it too effects your vagus nerve.
In yoga as we are learning the breathing system we are often taught to put our tongue on the roof of our mouth, known as Jiva Bandha. On a physical level this relaxes the jaw and places it in a favorable position to release stress around the jaw, also calming to the vagus nerve as it is monitoring our jaw for tension.
On an energetic level this has benefit in helping you connect to your mula bandha. In TCM there are two master meridians in the body that originate from the pelvic floor (called the master meridians because they are in charge of all the meridians); they are called the conception or central vessel and the governing vessel. Both meridians begin at the perineum. The central vessel travels up the front body through the soft tissue and ends on the tip of the tongue. The governing vessel travels up the back body through the hard bony tissues of the vertebrae, over the cranium and ends at the roof of the mouth. Placing the tip of your tongue just behind your front teeth completes this circuit helping connect to the energy of the mula bandha creating a nice energetic flow, combining the soft and the hard.
Which is where Jiva Bandha helps to be balanced, it combines the hard and the soft as Patanjali explains in the sutras; keeping a balance in your asana practice between the work without tension; strength in a relaxed manner (Sthira Sukham Asanam YS II:46). When practicing pranayama and asana with Jiva Bandha it causes an upward pull on the back of the tongue releasing tension in our face and jaw, common tension areas and yet another way to help stimulate the vagus nerve. Relaxing the entire face when practicing is ideal. The vagus nerve connects to your facial expressions, by relaxing your face and eyes you send the message to your vagus nerve to stay calm and rejuvenate.
It’s pretty hard to push yourself in an asana when your face and eyes are relaxed!
Jiva Bandha and your breath
You can NOT breathe through your mouth when doing Jiva Bandha, so it will support deep nasal breathing.Jiva bandha will improve breathing over time by gently broadening the palate and nasal passages.
People of European descent tend to have a more narrow face, which in turn leads to narrow nasal passages. A dentist with the last of Mews (I think they are now in their 3rd generation of dentists, his family created a technique known as “orthotropics”) coined a term called “mewing“, which is basically jiva bandha while pressing your back molars together. This practice broadens the palate and widens nasal passages allowing you to take in more oxygen with each inhale, which also benefits sleep as it reduces snoring. Jiva bandha will improve facial structure, mouth breathers faces tend to get long and narrow.
So now you have a trifecta approach by keeping a little awareness with jiva bandha, mula bandha, and uddiyana bandha most of the day to help breathe better, stay calm, and move lightly.
Pulling together Jiva, Mula and Uddiyana Bandha:
Seated in your meditation position, exhale fully and connect your uddiyana bandha to your exhale, tilt your pelvis forward and inhaling lift your mula bandha, exhaling rock your pelvis backward into a posterior pelvic tilt pulling in the lower sides of the abdomen and draw your front lower ribs in and down, hold these muscular contractions and inhaling bring your pelvis and rib cage into a neutral alignment feeling length on the back, front and sides of your body, ribs now floating far above the hips. Continue to breathe maintaining this posture.
Now to yourself say the letter “N”. That puts your tongue in jiva bandha position, add your jiva bandha and soften your face and eyes.
As you sit up tall pay attention to keep the front lower ribs in and down, this keeps you connected with your uddiyana bandha and prevents rib cage popping.
You want just enough toning and lift of lower abdomen to leave belly unrestricted for breathing (this distinguishes Uddiyana Bandha from just tightening your abs). The bandhas should not restrict the action of the diaphragm, it supports it and aids to better exhale. The bandhas give lift and extension to the spine, this provides greater ease and more room to breathe.
NOTE: These actions should feel natural and supportive rather than forced or constrictive.
Inside Out Benefits of Bandhas
The bandhas affect most every major system of the body.
The Bandhas and our Nervous System
The biggest effect of the bandhas is their affect on our vagus nerve toning our PNS (Parasympathetic Nervous System), keeping us calm and in a state where our immune system can function and our digestion is stronger. Deep diaphragmatic breathing with a long, slow exhale connecting with the uddiyana lift is key to stimulating the vagus nerve all day long.
Stimulating the vagus nerve gives the relaxation response, slowing heart rate and blood pressure, especially in times of stress or performance anxiety. Breathing deep with the inner support of the bandhas is soothing to the nervous system, enhancing body and mind control.
Vagal Nerve Stimulation by keeping a tone in your bandhas may be one of the reasons some people have a little more grace under pressure.
- Equanimity is a core tenet of many ancient philosophies and religions. Equanimity is defined as “Mental calmness, composure and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.” Equanimity has its biological roots in the vagus nerve and is synonymous with grace under pressure.
Of specific interest here is how we can use our abdominals to apply pressure on the vagus nerve — and how this helps us control our stress levels. As we work with our whole body, health is not only an optimally functioning body (lack of disease) — but also our emotions and how we deal with our predicaments (which impact our bodily health!). Health is a complete state of mental, physical, and social well being. The vagus nerve can play a major role in giving us grace under pressure give us true health of body, mind, and emotions.
Mula bandha has an effect on the endocrine system, the physical contraction of mula has beneficial effects of maintaining hormonal balance and stimulating and regulating the nerves that innervate the lower pelvic region. Many of the nerves that regulate the pineal and pituitary glands are in the pelvic region, the toning of mula bandha positively affects those nerves. Bandhas also help hormones to circulate and find their receptors to attach to where they can do their job.
Both bandhas greatly effect the lymphatic system by moving lymph in the gut, the lymph does not have a heart to pump it, instead it has to be moved with breath and pressure of some type. Moving lymph is important to the immune system, it is the drains of what the immune system is saving us from.
Bandhas and your Digestion
Both bandhas support digestion, not only by regulating stress but with their pressure on the digestive processes. Strong abs will help nutrients pop through the small intestines into the bloodstream where they can be put to use. No matter how good you eat, if you do not digest well and absorb your nutrients you are not going to experience good health.
Digestion and elimination rely greatly on the pelvic floor (mula bandha). The pelvic floor muscles must go through a series of contraction and relaxing in a coordinated way to allow you to go to the bathroom and move waste through your digestive system. If your pelvic floor muscles are weak or damaged, your body is more likely to have irregular/not complete bowel movements. No one wants this, this is one of the reasons why mula bandha has been called “the destroyer of decay”.
The pressure on the intestines from slightly holding your bandhas in is like an abdominal massage helping to move trapped air out and stimulate the peristalsis effect (wavelike muscular contractions) of the small intestines helping food to move along its way and nutrients squeeze through the intestinal walls to the blood. Keeping a little good tension in your abdominals stimulates your agni or digestive fire, helping your body digest, assimilate, and then rid itself of toxins.
Ayurveda says that 85% of our health depends on our digestion, this is because no matter how well you eat, if your digestion is weak you will not be able to break down the food you eat and absorb the nutrients from it.
Uddiyana bandha and your Muscular System
Physiologically uddiyana bandha provides muscular support for pelvis and spine, it lifts the lower abdominal organs up off the pelvic floor releasing pressure on the pelvic floor, bandhas keep the organs from prolapsing, this allows the organs to operate better and will do more for your waist line than any diet! The bandhas develop elasticity and tone of the intercostals muscles (muscles between the ribs) and diaphragm, which enhances deep thoracic breathing.
Uddiyana Bandha also effects your Skeletal system by supporting your spine and protecting your back. Connecting with your Uddiyana bandha when you have to lift something, shovel, swing an axe or golf club will offer lower back protection.
Bandha and our Circulatory system
Another major benefit of breathing with bandhas (all day long–or at least til 9pm 😉 Is the venous blood return. The vena cava collects blood from our body below the diaphragm, this blood has to be pushed against gravity, making it slower to circulate. When you breathe with bandhas the contraction of the abdominals helps to propel the venous blood upward to the heart and lungs where it can be purified and recirculated better and quicker.
The bandhas move energy in our body and help us feel alive and energetic. As you sit and breathe with your bandhas feel the energy in your body and pay attention to the experience of it.
Bandhas and your Respiratory System
Breathe behind your heart. A common phrase I use when I teach, if you have proper lift of mula and uddiyana bandha your breath will no longer be dropping into your belly, it will instead be expanding the entire thorax. This type of breathing encourages deeper lung gas exchanges, giving your body more oxygen with each breath. The lower lobes of your lungs have larger capillaries and thus more blood with more oxygen, deep thoracic breathing gets you more oxygen in each breath. Thoracic breathing will also strengthen and soothe the nervous system.
Through the practice bandhas combined with other yogic disciplines we learn to channel nervous energy at will so we can act in a more graceful, flowing way.
Combining Inner Lift with Outer Lift
Jalandhara bandha is our “Pranayama Bandha” — The 3rd bandha that is rarely talked about (there are many bandhas). Jalandhara bandha is using your chin to create a “seal” at your throat. It is most important on breath holding, on inhale holds and longer holds.
Jalandhara bandha; jalan means net or network or trellis referring to the network of arteries and nerves in our neck, and dhara means stream or flow or pulling upwards. Essentially we are trying to block the flow of information upwards through the act of pressing our chin to our neck.
Most people refer to this bandha as chin lock, the full bandha is only used during pranayama when holding your breath. The bandha is a combination of lifting your sternum and dropping your chin to the crook in your chest.
In yogic lore when this is done during a pranayama breath hold combined with the lift of mula bandha it pressures both ends of the spine keeping energy moving in the spine and to keep our nectar of life from flowing downward from our crown chakra and getting consumed in agni our digestive fire.
This bandha is also said to purify the throat chakra improving how we express ourselves. And it is interesting the vagus nerve connects to the larynx in this area as well, the larynx controls the expression of emotions in our voice. This does put some science to how the pressure of Jalandhara bandha positively effects on how we express ourselves.
During pranayama this bandha is very important and has many benefits, compression on the throat; pressing of chin into the hollow in the collarbones:
- Prevents air moving upward and causing pressure above the glottis, this is important as pressure in the eustachian tubes is not good.
- Puts pressure on the carotid artery which helps to keep heart rate lower — when you hold your breath your body sends distress signals to your brain increasing blood pressure and speeding up heart rate. In the area of the carotid artery are receptors that monitor oxygen supply to the brain, which is why the yogis want to put pressure there, the signals that our body sends to our brain about less oxygen coming to the brain will be blocked by this pressure allowing us to hold our breaths comfortably just a little longer.
- Pressure on the larynx would also put some pressure on the vagus nerve since the vagus nerve innervates the larynx, this would also help to calm your voice and calm your body.
- The stretching of the cervical vertebrae at the nape of the neck pulls on the spinal cord relieving pressure on the cranial nerves and relaxing the nervous system.
- Compression on the thyroid, helping to balance the action of the thyroid. If you are hyper-thryroid there are some concerns with fully engaging this bandha. If you have access to an Ayurvedic doctor (a traditional dr. may not be familiar) it please check with them if you are hyper-thyroid.
Practicing sarvanganasana and halasana (shoulder stand and plough postures) will help prepare one for jalandhara bandha, this is why some experience in asana must precede pranayama and breath retentions.
HOW TO PERFORM JALANDHARA BANDHA
- Take a big inhale – Begin by lifting your chest or sternum up
- Then as you begin to tuck your chin, lengthen the back of your neck upward as you push your head back (this is head retraction) – your ears should be aligned over your shoulders at this point
- Hold your breath, swallow your saliva, and drop your chin in and down into the notch in your collar bone. I have to separate my jaws (while keeping my lips slightly pursed) to get my chin all the way in there.
- This is better on inhale holds because the chest is lifted and expanded. On exhale holds do not force the bandha as it could strain your neck.
Tri-Bandha – When all three bandhas are performed together they support the movement of energy in nerves housed in our spine, another way of saying this is that it helps move kundalini upward and out of our spine. All three (or four including jiva bandha) bandhas engaged will stimulate the vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system at various points in our body increasing the calming effect.
Jalandhara bandha in asana ~
Jalandhara bandha is only fully used during retentions, however we can use the posture for it to help improve our neck alignment in many other posturesespecially forward bending postures when your head does not meet your knee(s). Some can not let their head to hang down due to discs putting pressure on nerves, and it can become problematic in time for neck vertebrae. Instead you use this bandha and head retraction to keep the back of your neck long and neck in line with your spine until the day your head reaches your knee.
Sometimes when we focus too much on our bandhas we collapse our chest and round the shoulders, or when we focus too much on lifting our heart and lengthening our spine we arch our back and sag our abdomen outward, best to combine both movements for the best results. This is counter intuitive as when we pull in our abdomen our habit is to drop our chest and vice versa when we puff out our chest we tend to arch our back, initially you will have to put your attention into this alignment until it becomes natural. Lengthen the spine and ever so gently add the inner lift of the bandhas keeping the spine in a lengthened neutral alignment.
Using the LIft of Jalandhara outside of pranayama and asana
We do not use the full jalandhara bandha outside of pranayama, but we can take from it the alignment and lift of our sternum, neck and head for a healthy posture that promotes good energy movement in your spine and attitudes all day long (When we slouch in our posture our attitude tends to slouch with it thanks to those bars-receptors in our neck!).
Good posture for breathing deep all day long, keeping our spine healthy, and keeping a happy attitude is to level our pelvis or very slightly tilt our tailbone upward, while lifting our heart and broadening our collarbones — without popping our ribs out.
I like to refer to this as combining inner lift with outer lift; we have the inner lift of the bandhas from our pelvic floor upward combined with the outer lift of our heart center and relaxation of our shoulders and neck–this is the posture we want to be in most of our days. We have the energy of our mula and uddiyana bandha keeping our pelvic and spine areas toned and in good alignment combined with the lift of our heart and broadening of our collar bones which keeps us open hearted and happy faced.
I like to picture this as a Lotus Flower. Our spine is the long stem, the blossom starts at our heart. The lotus flower grows out of the mud and muck–It uses the muck as fertilizer and rises upward, opens to the sun and blooms. We can do the same, we can use the mud and muck in our lives as fertilization and rise above our challenges in life and bloom 🙂 May we all behave as the lotus flower, using our fertilizer wisely, rise above, and bloom.
Taking our alignment upward
Let’s practice how we build that. Sitting in your meditation posture; relax for a few breaths;
- Let your belly be soft and move with your breath. Engage your jiva bandha.
- Slowly start to follow the movement of your breath with your body
- As you inhale let your pelvis roll forward (anterior tilt of your pelvis)
- As you exhale slowly roll your pelvis back to neutral; ‘picture your pelvis as a basin filled to the brim with water -don’t spill any water!’ Take a few breaths modulating your pelvis with your breath.
- On your next exhale hold your pelvis in neutral alignment without letting it move with your breath. Your tailbone will just be slightly lifted. As you inhale hold your pelvis steady now.
- Inhale and add your mula bandha lift
- Emphasize your exhale and engage your abs aka uddiyana bandha and pull the lower corner of your ribs in and toward each other –kinda stitching your ribs together. Feel your ribs now expand with your breath instead of your belly.
- On your next Inhale lift your sternum and
- Exhale pull your head back into head retraction lengthening the back of your neck upward
- Without popping your ribs, Exhale and draw the bottom inner tip of your shoulder blades slightly toward each other and inward toward your heart — to cradle your heart. This creates lift of your chest, your upper arms will rotate outward slightly, and your collar bones will lift and broaden.
- Hug your shoulder blades to your back ribs.
- Smile and behave as the lotus flower.
Most of us sit in “forward head posture” (chin jutting forward) all day, shortening and tightening the back of the neck, collapsing the chest, and rounding the shoulders, when the chin juts forward it puts pressure on all the nerves at the base of our skull creating a strong excitation of mental processes. By adjusting your head position the brain relaxes:
Lengthen the back of your neck and bring your ears in line with your shoulders, dropping your chin only slightly, as you do this you will feel a release of tension at the back of your skull.
As you adjust your shoulder blades and your head and neck alignment, feel a lengthening upward from the center of your spine through the crown of your head.
Sit with your breathing and bandhas from above to below and feel the energy moving in your body.
In a tangible form, Mula and Uddiyana bandha keep the pelvis and lower spine in good alignment, the beginning stages of jalandhara bandha brings our alignment upward from our heart center to the crown of our head.
PRACTICING FROM THE INSIDE OUT
In Ashtanga yoga our form of downward dog is a bit different than other styles of yoga. This is due to the connection of the bandhas during our practice.
If you look at the pictures, you can see the picture of Pattabhi Jois in down dog–how he is pulling into his inner energy. Compare that with the picture of the “no bandha” downward dog–that pushes energy out of your body as you let your back and abdomen sag it over arches the lower back leading to back and hip pain. I also snuck in a picture of myself in down dog, this was my last practice in Nepal in 2011 and I did not realize my picture was being taken . . . but it was nice to see my downward dog pose, and notice that I indeed had my bandhas pulling into the inner energy.
When you do your practice pulling in to your inner energy you feel energized and alive from your practice. When you focus on the inner experience–you are not limited to what your physical body can do. As Frank (friend and previous teacher at my yoga studio) says, he just connects to his breathing and bandhas and goes into his practice — he does not worry about where his body is in the postures. Men with thick muscles sometimes need more time for the flexibility to come, this attitude
has given Frank longevity and happiness in his practice. This way of practicing reduces frustration about being flexible or not, about being able to do the “tricks” or not. Practicing this way fills your body with energy and vibrancy.
And remember just like your breath, your bandhas can go with you wherever you go 😉 Do your bandhas subtly and gently throughout most of your day . . . well except after 9pm then you can relax and just let it all hang out . . .