At the end of the workshop I attended at Dragonfly Yoga last week, we talked about bandhas. I studied bandhas in my YTT (including reading the definitive book on mula bandha) but it’s not something I usually think much about.
In the workshop, Alexis explained that bandhas are a physical lock we can engage in the body that work to channel the flow of energy (or prana) in the body. The most important bandha is the mula bandha, or the root lock (see the link above). Other key bandhas are the uddiyana bandha in the stomach and the jalandhara bandha at the chin/neck.The uddiyana bandha is engaged by pulling in the stomach, trying to pull the belly button in toward the spine. Jalandhara bandha is engaged by tucking the chin and lifting the sternum, feeling the throat pull back toward the spine.
Engaging the mula bandha stops the energy that is naturally flowing downward and out of the body, channeling it back up and into the body to be used. Engaging the uddiyana bandha keeps that energy flowing up and into the chest; engaging jalandhara bandha stops the energy at the throat, like putting a cap on a bottle. The effect is that energy swirls around in the body in ways that normally don’t occur. There are a wide variety of reasons that this is a positive thing. Practitioners of kundalini yoga work intensely with this energy both physically and spiritually.
What interested me most in the bandha discussion was that Alexis mentioned how people who move their bodies with a lot of grace and strength are using their bandhas. I know this is true in yoga: engaging a bandha in a pose, or not doing so, has a big effect on my energy level while holding that pose; I can hold a pose longer and stronger if I’m using my bandhas. However, Alexis also related this to other disciplines like dance. One of the other students who had a dance background said that this is totally true and ballet dancers are constantly “pulling up” in order to move the way they do; she said that, when a male dancer lifts a woman, she’s so “pulled up” and strong through her core that she’s practically holding her own weight. I’d imagine that bandhas are used in other physical areas as well, like sports and martial arts, even if they’re not called by that name.
On the drive home, I found myself singing along with the radio and realized that I had my uddiyana bandha engaged! Not with the full stomach scoop shown in the link above, but still, more than just tightening my abs. As soon as I noticed, this began to make perfect sense – I had some training as a singer when I was younger, and that core strength is so important to holding and sustaining a note; it makes sense too from a yoga theory perspective, because the uddiyana bandha channels energy upward, just as the singer is channeling breath and sound up and out into song. Of course the voice will sound stronger and purer with the energy generated by uddiyana bandha fueling it! I was so excited. I hadn’t thought of this when I was learning about bandhas in my YTT; it was Alexis mentioning how bandhas are used in other fields that made me notice. Now I have a stronger understanding of what uddiyana bandha is and what it does in the body.