For the past few blog entires, I have talked about the elements in the Ashtanga Vinyasa Primary Series: Drishti = your gaze. Ujjayi = yogic breath. This entry will focus on the Bandhas.
The Bandhas, or locks, refer to the regulation of energy flow, or pranic flow, in the body. When the locks are engaged, it regulates blood flow and energy in the body to centralized locations to bring more energy to the entire body. I like to think of it as a way to charge up the body; to fully experience this life force (Prana) in the body, and to use this energy for a productive and healthy way of living. There are three main locks used in the Ashtanga practice: Mulabandha (The Root Lock), Uddiyana Bandha (The Abdominal Lock), and Jalandhara Bandha (The Throat Lock). I will discuss the second lock.
Uddiyana Bandha means flying upward and is engaged primarily when you exhale. As you release breath, you draw the bellybutton in toward the spine and up to contract the abdominal muscles. Focusing on this area of the body also brings energy to your Third Chakra (Solar Plexis) which I believe is your Power Center. This is your core: you place of power, strength, movement, drive, action, and energy. When we bring attention and awareness to this area of the body, we feel charged up, ready for action, ready to move forward. Engaging the abdominal lock allows us to feel physically strong. It is a way to brace the body when we are ready to take on challenges.
Have you ever felt a lack of motivation or drive when you knew you needed to move forward with a task? Sometimes it's hard to stir up that energy to take action. Perhaps a re-charge to the Third Chakra can help.
Boat Pose is a great posture to experience that surge of energy running into your core center. Start by sitting on your yoga mat with your legs extended out in front of you. Bend the knees slightly so your heels are on the mat. Hold onto the backs of your legs with your hands. Gently lean back so your heels lift off the floor. Continue to hold onto your legs as a way to lift yourself up to extend your spine. Inhale as you lift yourself up. To engage the abdominal lock, exhale strongly (perhaps even through your mouth to expel all the breath) and pull your bellybutton in towards your spine. You may feel your abdominal muscles contract. Continue this breathing routine to further engage your core. After a few breaths, you may be able to release your legs and extend your arms and hands forward. Hold for another 5-10 breaths before you relax.
This is one way to experience Uddiyana Bandha. The sensation brings pranic power and energy to the center of your body. You can also practice this lock in other more commonplace situations like sitting or walking. You don't need to breathe as strongly or as loudly in those cases, but you can engage the abdominal lock when you're sitting at your office desk. Allow a surge of power rush through you when you're meeting deadlines on the job. Engage the lock when you're walking down the street. You'll find that you stand more upright, your posture is improved, and you exude a sense of confidence.
One last note: if you're looking to get six-pack abs for the summer, practicing Uddiyana Bandha can help develop your rectus abdominus muscles, too!