If you’ve taken any classes at Koa I’m sure you’ve had a basic introduction to Mula Bandha and Uddiyanan Banda. These are the body locks we activate during practice. If you’ve heard the words once or twice in class but aren’t really sure what the heck is being talked about I’d recommend you read ‘Introduction to Body Locks Part 1’ first. I cover more general information about the body locks. I also look more deeply at the root lock, Mula Bandha. In this segment, I will be focusing on the abdominal lock, Uddiyana Bandha.
Uddiyana Bandha means ‘upward flying lock’. Uddiyana Bandha is located in the abdomen and is associated with the third chakra, Manipura. Manipura represents the power of the body and being able to honor and express the body’s power without fear. Activating Uddiyana Bandha builds strength in the core and adds heat to the fire within the body.
While Mula Bandha is a more subtle internal activation, Uddiyana Bandha can be both an internal and external activation. Uddiyana Bandha engages all the abdominal muscles and skeletal muscles, lifts the heart and pulls energy up and into the body. Learning to activate Uddiyana Bandha will come a little more naturally for most of it. At its very basest form it’s the same contraction we do when we are sucking in our gut for a picture or to squeeze into a too tight pair of pants. However there are some important differences. I had been practicing Uddiyana Bandha for a few months before I really understood what, where and how I should be contracting my muscles. In an early morning Rocket class, Imani introduced a different technique that really helped me understand what it should feel like.
To begin, stand with your feet wide apart, toes pointing out to the corners of the mat. Bend slightly into your knees and bend forward at the waist. This isn’t really a squat or a forward fold. If you were to extend one arm to the floor you would look like a football player lining up for a play. You can rest your hands on your knees with bent elbows. The important thing is to get into a position where you can feel gravity pulling your belly towards the floor. Breathe naturally as you learn to activate the lock. As you exhale, pull your belly button back and up into your abdomen. Think about pressing your belly button against your spine. You can also think about tightening up all of the muscles of your abdomen. Use your muscles to hold your core strong. Release the lock as you inhale and fill your abdomen up with breath.
Pulling Uddiyana Bandha back firmly towards your spine will help protect and strengthen your lower back. It will also help detoxify and massage the organs of the torso and help increase liver function. It will also improve digestion and increase the circulation of blood, oxygen and energy throughout the body.
The overall goal is to use Mula Bandha in conjunction with Uddiyana Bandha and Ujjayi Pranayama (victorious or ocean breath). I described in part one how it works: inhale to activate Mula Bandha and exhale to activate Uddiyana Bandha. This can be done when breathing and practicing at any speed. I find the most difficult part is to alternately activate and release the locks. It’s a lot easier to activate the locks and keep them activated. I’m sure this isn’t exactly cheating… I have found that practicing during a weight circuit at the gym has helped me learn to work them better.
I am a member at Planet Fitness in Plant City. They have a 30 minute cardio/weight circuit set up that creates a great environment to hone your yoga skills. The circuit consists of 10 different strength machines and 10 cardio-step stations. It uses a red light green light system. The light turns green and you start working the station. The light turns red you switch to the next station. You alternate between cardio and strength. The green light is on for 60 seconds and the red is on for 30 seconds so at the end you have a quick full body workout. I incorporate Bandha and Prana practice into in by maintaining ujjayi pranayama throughout the 30 minutes. I keep my breath slow and even. On the strength machines I focus on using good yoga postures and I work hard to activate and release the locks. I match my breathing to my movements of the machines using an isometric style of lifting. My focus while doing the circuit is more about combining all the different techniques and not on building huge muscles. I also always try to maintain some of the common details of proper yoga positions. For example, I keep my spine neutral and inline, I pull my shoulders down and away from my ears and pull my shoulder blades together, I keep my hips square and so on. As a result of all this work I have noticed improvement across all areas of my physical fitness.
As mentioned above, Uddiyana Bandha is associated with the chakra Manipura. I find the association very poetic especially when looked at it through a primitive lens. In most animals, humans especially, the abdomen is the most vulnerable area of the body. When we feel threatened we tend to collapse in on our belly. Strengthening Uddiyana, ‘flying upward’ encourages us to open ourselves and to develop strength in our core. As we strengthen the physical component of Manipura we strengthen the mental and emotional components. We become more confident, less fearful; we are able to release jealousy and sadness. Most importantly, we become able to recognize and honor the strength within ourselves and therefore one another.
“Whenever you feel threatened or afraid, you should place your hands over your third chakra, right in the middle of your stomach, and breathe very deliberately and slowly until you feel calm. In doing so, you will actually begin to feel stronger and more protected. Breath gives us life and it is the source of our power.”