Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Bandhas February 27, 2014

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 12:39 pm
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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.

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Yoga and the Pelvic Floor October 10, 2011

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:10 pm
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I keep seeing the pelvic floor muscles come up throughout my research on yoga and sex. We rarely think about these muscles, and don’t use them often (although they sure come in handy on an emergency run to the bathroom). However, the pelvic floor muscles are incredibly important for sex, for childbirth, and just in general for keeping our internal organs where they’re supposed to be.

The pelvic floor is just that: the muscles at the bottom of the torso, supporting the internal organs and the spine. These muscles control the passage of waste matter out of the body; they also include the muscles lining the vagina, so having a healthy pelvic floor can increase pleasure during sex for both partners. A healthy, strong, flexible pelvic floor can also really help a woman during childbirth. As women age and enter menopause, the hormone balance in the body changes, which can cause the pelvic floor to thin and weaken, which is why June Allyson sells Depends. This is why it’s important to keep the pelvic floor healthy throughout your lifetime!

The best plan is to keep the pelvic floor muscles in good shape, so you don’t ever have to worry about incontinence or the health problems that could occur if these muscles are weakened or torn. This means not just toning and strengthening, but making sure the muscles are flexible. However,the pelvic floor can be stretched out, weakened, or torn during childbirth; it could also be affected by a variety of other issues like obesity, hysterectomy, or even just constant straining on the toilet. Whether your pelvic floor is healthy or not, exercise can really help to get it in shape or keep it that way.

Most of us have heard of Kegel exercises. Named for Dr. Arnold Kegel, these are simple exercises in which you squeeze and relax your pelvic floor muscles. You can read more about Kegel exercises here or here. An even simpler exercise to work your pelvic floor is just squatting. The action of squatting is great for these muscles.

Of course yoga and pilates both include exercises and stretches that really help the pelvic floor. In yoga, the mula bandha or root lock can be employed to strengthen and stretch the pelvic floor. In a pose like Goddess or Chair, for example, if you’re doing the pose properly you’ll probably be activating your mula bandha, and it can be used in many other poses. To learn more about mula bandha, this book is a pretty exhaustive review of the topic, covering the benefits of employing mula bandha along with several techniques for doing so.

One simple pose that’s good for the pelvic floor is Cobbler or Bound Angle pose. Sitting on the floor, bend your knees, bring the soles of your feet together, and cup your hands around your feet. Just sitting like that is good, or you can bend forward. This pose stretches the hips and soothes menstrual or urinary problems, and helps with anxiety and fatigue too.

For more information on the pelvic floor, check out the wikipedia article or this really informative article written by a midwife. Or check out this excellent post on finding and moving your pelvic floor, complete with a video, over at anytimeyoga.

 

books: Moola Bandha: The Master Key, by Swami Buddhananda June 25, 2011

Filed under: books — R. H. Ward @ 1:58 pm
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Moola Bandha: The Master Key, by Swami BuddhanandaMoola Bandha: The Master Key describes a system of muscle exercises and locks that lead to a release of pranic energy in the body and ultimately to spiritual enlightenment. Swami Buddhananda defines a “bandha” as a bind, restraint, or lock. The idea is that “by locking or contracting certain muscles on the physical level a subtle process of ‘unlocking’ goes on simultaneously on mental and pranic levels” (2). By working with bandhas in conjunction with pranayama breathing exercises, a variety of physical benefits are said to occur, calming the heart rate and blood pressure, harmonizing the function of bodily systems, and creating a sense of relaxation. Bandha practice is also said to improve flow of pranic energy in the body, activating the chakras and leading to the release of kundalini energy and to heightened states of consciousness.

The most important of these muscle locks or bandhas is moola bandha, or perineal contraction, the subject of this book. “Moola” means root or foundation, and moola bandha refers to the contraction of the muscles at the “root” of the spine/trunk at the perineum. The physical contraction of moola bandha is useful in treating problems of the lower abdomen such as digestive or sexual disorders. However, moola bandha also involves a spiritual/psychic contraction of the mooladhara chakra. This has the effect of activating our latent sexual energy and channeling it upward for spiritual awakening.

The first half of the book gives background on bandhas and moola bandha in particular, as well as on mooladhara chakra and kundalini energy; it situates moola bandha in the context of ancient scripture, discusses physical aspects and pranic effects of moola bandha, and describes how moola bandha can be used in a therapeutic context. Thus prepared, the reader can move on to the second half of the book, which details several practices of moola bandha, including specific instructions and illustrations. This provides the real meat of the book – everything that came before is simply building to this point. The section on practices opens with techniques appropriate for any beginner, then moves on to gradually more advanced techniques as the aspirant progresses in her practice. Attention is paid to the anatomic differences between men and women as applied to the practice of moola bandha, making this book a good resource for truly any spiritual seeker.

(From a personal standpoint, I realized while reading this book that I won’t be making any forward progress on my spiritual journey, at least not through moola bandha, until I can get over my inner 12-year-old boy. This book is about clenching all the muscles in pelvic region! The author uses words like “heighten”, “sensitivity”, “stimulation”, and “contraction” all on the same page (65). Kundalini energy is depicted as a big snake. The beginner practices instruct one to focus on the genitals – really focus your awareness intensely, breathing into the genitals – and then to contract and relax the genitals rhythmically. After this practice, one is intended to go on to meditation. Meditation! After sitting and focusing intently on the genitals, contracting them rhythmically, who’s going to be in the mood for meditation next? (The short answer here is: probably not me.) On the other hand, improved muscle control in the genital region can’t really ever be a bad thing, so I figure I’ll try out the exercises. Whether it leads me to becoming a calmer, more enlightened person or not, my husband won’t be complaining.)