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  • Ashtanga Yoga Plymouth

What’s bandha?

The three focal points of breath, bandhas and dristi (gaze point), known as the Tristhana method, is unique to Ashtanga Yoga, and helps to actively draw the senses inward turning the sequence into a ‘moving meditation’.....Bandha can take a while to find and understand, but here’s a lovely clear diagram of them....

They are worth pursuing as the more we practice the more we realise bandhas are a multi-faceted concept that we can use to explore different aspects of our yoga practice, from jumping back to working on our concentration, and that ashtanga yoga is about so much more than just the physical body and is actually also a movement of energy. Once we realise this our practice expands and grows, and begins to be a complete meditation......

In Sanskrit bandha means to lock, to hold. The ancient yogi philosophers said that when we master the locks, we master the physical asana practice, the practice on the outside - floating in and out of asanas, holding for long periods of time, and managing new postures.....And also the practice on the inside - consistent single pointed concentration, steady and long breath, and a calm, clear mind. 

In addition the bandhas help us regulate and control all our internal systems....hormonal, sexual, metabolic, digestive....

Mula Bandha is the root lock. To find it, put simply, as I say in class, imagine you badly need to pee and the muscles you instinctually contract to pull up and hold in are generally considered Mula Bandha, or at least the Mula Bandha region. So, if you are a man, contract the perineum, the area between the anus and the testes. If you are a woman, contract the muscles at the bottom of the pelvic floor, behind the cervix. 

Mula Bandha should be held throughout our entire practice as it is the lock that allows our energy to flow up, not down and out. If our energy is forced to flow up it will stay inside us and grow exponentially, leaving us with that amazing feeling of ‘floating’ as we walk out of class. It will also allow us to float IN class, as an engaged Mula Bandha allows us to feel lighter on our limbs, and so our practice feels more buoyant. This lightness prevents us from becoming fatigued when holding a challenging posture or doing what seems like the millionth chaturanga!

Moving up from mula bandha we have the second bandha, Uddiyana bandha. This ‘flying up lock’ sends our energy flying upwards as well as our diaphragm, stomach, and abdominal organs. The Gheranda Samhita states to perform the bandha we “contract the abdomen above and below the navel and toward the back”. During our asana practice it’s the toning of the belly, gently drawing it toward the spine but not up and under the rib cage. This allows for normal breathing to occur while the bandhas are activated. Its a gentle ‘stillness’ in the abdomen rather than a strong hardening, and this continual light engagement of our internal muscles has the very important additional benefit of supporting our spine. [There is another version of uddiyana bandha that is to very dramatically draw the full abdomen inward and upward, from the lower belly to above the navel, and can only be done when we have exhaled and are holding our breath. This version is often used during pranayama practice, a stand alone breathing practice]

So eventually the harnessing of the energy of the bandhas results in an 'effortless' and light practice. Remembering that, as I say in class, the postures are just shapes (although the postures of the Ashtanga primary series have the additional benefit of being grounding and cleansing) that we make to connect with the breath and also to harness this very important energy of the bandhas, thereby bringing balance to the body.....and once the body has balance, we have optimal health.....

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