Bandhas: Lock Your Way to Real Core Strength
When I learned to teach yoga, I got kinda yoga fat. I know there is this idea of a yoga butt at home, but I think it’s for people who are not doing anything previous to taking up an asana practice. I came to yoga straight off 6 months of training for a boxing match. I was muscular, I had exceptional cardio, and I was strong af. One month of daily Ashtanga asana practice and sitting on a clay floor taking notes all afternoon made me doughy.
Apparently it’s pretty common. It’s all in the breath after all and for most of my adult life I was breathing through the top third of my chest almost exclusively. When I learned to breathe like a yogi, from below your belly button, all the way up to your clavicle and then to exhale in the same direction, I essentially let my gut out for the first time in 20 years.
I continued to gain weight after that first 6 weeks in India. I was a raw vegan and getting fat – wtf was going on? Now I look back and see that I was not actually getting fat, my body was just changing very rapidly. I was now incorporating a lot more oxygen into my body and starting to think of my being as more than just a physical and mental experience, but also a spiritual and emotional body. I was releasing a lot by crying frequently (in the beginning at almost anything) and I was starting to think of food as spiritual sustenance more than protein/carb ratios. But I am vain, so so vain. I was vain then and I still am now (but a lot more then) and losing my rockin’ boxing bod was hard on my mind and ego.
Bandhas saved me. Not only did they help me to train my core and work with my breath, controlling and growing the prana (life force energy) in my body, but they have an added bonus of tightening up your midriff.
Bandha‘ (bond, arrest) is a term for the “body locks” in Hatha Yoga, treated under the heading of mudra. Specific bandhas are: Mula Bandha, contraction of the perineum. Uddiyana bandha, contraction of the abdomen into the rib cage. Jalandhara Bandha, tucking the chin close to the chest. Together they are Maha bandha.
The first bandha or lock, Mula Bandha is hard to get cause you are essentially contracting the space behind your cervix (if you can even picture that). In the beginning, I just tightened my vagina and anus till I figured out the more subtle experience of it.
Uddiyana Bandha is way easier, you suck in and up on your tummy into your rib cage. Most women have done this wearing a belly exposing top all day long before. And Jalandhara Bandha is when you lock your throat into a deep divot or depression. You will feel them lock together if you try them all at once. The throat lock pulls down while the rest pull up.
If you want to start incorporating bandhas into your regular practice, it’s easy. Uddiyana bandha can be easily done in down dog and mull bandha is a great meditation tool since you can try to engage it for longer and longer throughout the practice – helping you to remain focused on one area of your body. You will also create a lot of heat internally this way and that has a huge payoff in an Ashtanga practice.
In no time you’ll lose that prana belly and start to get your pre-teen flat one back. If you have experience with bandhas you’d like to share, please do so in the comments below.